Direct Mail or Social Media: Which Marketing Channel Is Right For Your Small Business?

Imagine this scenario.

One of your salesmen comes into your office to give you his weekly sales update.

“It was a great week” he said. “I had conversations with 138 prospects.”

“Sounds good” you say. “How many of those prospects actually became customers?”

The salesman smiles nervously. “Well… none of them, but if they ever need our services, I’m sure they’ll choose us.”

As unlikely as that scenario sounds, it’s essentially what’s happening with many small businesses when they choose to discontinue their direct mail campaigns in favor of social media marketing.

However, it’s really not the small business owner’s fault.

Some self-proclaimed social media experts have led them to believe that they have to “put all their eggs” in this marketing basket or they’ll be eclipsed by their technologically advanced, media-savvy competitors.

And it’s just not true.

In 2007 many of these same experts predicted the decline of “interrupt marketing” which included broadcast commercials, print ads and direct mail.

They pointed to a growing number of consumers who were either purchasing products on line or seeking useful internet content to aid in their purchasing decisions.

We were told that these new consumers avoided all forms of interrupt marketing in favor of having “conversations” with their favorite companies and brands via social media.

In that same year direct mail accounted for over $58 billion in sales. So you would think that after almost eight years of social media, content marketing and the proliferation of smart phones that direct mail would be almost dead.

If that’s what you think then these facts may surprise you:

• 2013 annual sales in traditional off-line marketing, which includes direct mail, were $93 billion, while online marketing accounted for $62 billion. (Source: Experian)

• Direct mail is still the preferred channel for prospects who receive marketing from local businesses. (Source: Direct Marketing Association)

• The top three actions for people who received a direct mail piece included, 44% visiting the company’s website, 34% searching online and 26% who keep the direct mail piece for future reference. (Source: Direct Marketing Association)

Direct mail is different than social media marketing because most postcards or sales letters contain a specific call to action.

With direct mail you can ask them to buy something or at very least, visit your website, opt in to your newsletter or call to ask about your products and services.

Direct mail marketing also has the advantage of being measurable.

With the right metrics in place you’ll always know how many marketing pieces were sent, how many prospects responded and how many become customers.

Your company may see some return on their social media investment with LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, but since social media is more of a communication platform than a sales tool, it takes time.

By “time” I mean that it takes time for social media to work and it also takes time for the staff member you’ve chosen to complete the on-going task to update content and engage with prospects.

When it comes to social media many small businesses also start with a big disadvantage, because most of their prospects simply have no interest in following them on any social media platforms.

Which is why many of their “fans” are actually family, friends and fake followers. (And you wondered why more of your followers weren’t becoming customers ;>)

To engage on social media you also have to provide compelling content for your prospective customers. If you don’t have anyone on your staff with the skills to write content that people actually want to read, your followers will quickly tune you out.

If you have the time, energy and the skills necessary to create content for social media marketing, I would encourage your small business to do so.

However, if you want to do more than just communicate with your prospects in the hope that they’ll buy from you when they’re ready, don’t forget that old-fashioned marketing channel that can still make your cash register ring…

Direct mail marketing.