Case Study: Direct Mail vs. Email Marketing with Video

Originally posted on the SmartMarket Media Blog

mail-vs-videoHere are some amazing statistics from a client of ours that recently did both a direct mail post card and an online marketing video sent out via email to the exact same client base. They did both methods because they wanted to make sure all of their customers were touched and also because they didn’t have all of their customers email addresses. Due to client confidentiality limitations, we cannot disclose our client’s name.

Business Needs

The business is a service oriented operation with predominantly a business-to-consumer base. They also have a reputation as an environmentally responsible company and try to do what they can to diminish the amount of waste they create. This business was beta testing a new service which would streamline how their customer base would interact with their services. To clarify these changes, answer any questions their customers may have, etc. they needed to reach out to their entire regional customer base of about 16,000 customers. Their objective wasn’t a direct call to action for their customers – but simply to notify and educate them of the new service and to make sure their customers knew who to contact if they had any questions about the service.


Their internal marketing department had already planned to send out a postcard with a follow up brochure to their entire base of 16,000 customers. They did have over 6400 email addresses for a portion of their client base, so we suggested incorporating an email marketing e-newsletter linking to a short interactive video explaining the changes to the service and including helpful links for more information, download a PDF of the brochure or to contact someone at the company. The postcard was sent out first and the email newsletter with links to the video was sent out two weeks later.


Postcards sent: 16,000

Direct replies & requests for further information: 12 or 0.075%
(responses were entirely phone calls about the program)

Costs: includes design & printing of postcard, ink jet printing of addresses and postage = $5,470*

*if you include the design & printing, ink jet printing of addresses and postage for the brochure as part of this campaign  – the overall cost was $12010.

Emails Sent: 6406


  • Open Rate (OR) – 43.8% or 2804
  • Click-Through Rate (CTR) – 44.7% or 1254

Direct replies & requests for further information: 146 or 2.28%
(responses were entirely email responses about the program).

The email responses varied – many were requesting further information, others were thanking the company for how clearly the email, PDF and video explained the upcoming changes to their services and a handful expressed gratitude for the company keeping their message environmentally friendly by using email with the video.

One respondent when asked about the post card remarked that they “didn’t remember ever seeing it” and assumed that they had “thrown it with the rest of the junk mail in the recycling bin”.

Costs: includes email service provider subscription*, web hosting provider & domain for landing page*, design for email newsletter & landing page to host video, PDF and FAQs about program and the online video production = $4176

* Email Service Provider (ESP), domain registration and web hosting were all yearly billing costs included in the overall budget for this one campaign.

Final thoughts

From the perspective of action the clear winner was email marketing with video which garnered a response rate that was 11x higher than direct mail. While their varied customer demographic will never allow for a completely emailed list, the results from direct responses and the ability to track the emails effectiveness through the email service providers statistical tracking data are obvious.

From a cost perspective on the single campaign its also clear that email marketing with video was obviously not only more effective but far less expensive. This is especially noticeable when you factor in that the email service provider, domain registration and web hosting costs (in the amount of $901) were all for one full year, not just this single campaign.

This brings up another important issue, which is that this service was only launched to a fraction of their customer base as part of a beta test of the program. So if they choose to open the program to a wider selection of their customer base – with direct mail all of their production costs will repeat (with the exception of their initial post card design costs if there are no edits to the content) while with email and video they will absorb a fraction of those email service provider and web hosting yearly fees and they may need to tweak the email content but other than that the second blast of this information using email marketing and video is completely paid for and they have endless distribution.

The company’s program director expressed his thoughts on how the campaign worked out by sharing, “E-mail made it so much easier for our customers to respond because they could simply click to reply to get more information. They also loved the fact that the video so clearly illustrated how the new service would work.”

Increasing Donations Using Video & E-Mail Marketing


How Stanford University increased alumni donations.

Seeing how I’ve already talked about how integrating video in your email marketing can increase your click throughs by 175% I thought I’d profile another success story I read about online. Much of the information on this is exerpted from a great blog post by Tyler Willis for MediaPost called “When Juggernauts Collide: Email Marketing Meets Video Marketing” Here are the highlights of what I found most interesting from his post.

“Recent grads are far more likely to give a valid email address than a number (93% of the captive population vs. 38%), meaning that email marketing gives Stanford a better and more widespread ability to connect.”

Snail mail and “dialing-for-dollars” are incredibly inefficient ways to connect with new grads. Namely because direct mail is assumed to be junk mail by most recipients and you only get a response of about 2% (if you are lucky). Phone calling on the other hand is incredibly interruptive, who knows what the end user was doing or what you interrupted them from doing. Email is passive and can be opened or read when the end user is ready to read or respond to it.

Scott Jahnke, the Director of Student and Young Alumni Development, explains why he chose to combine email AND video as part of Stanford’s new alumni drive “Technology gives us the ability to do so much more than just text. How then, can we most effectively tell our story to thousands of people and inspire them to give? I believe that a combination of using email AND video to answer our three questions (why are we asking you for a gift, what is going to change if you give, and how will our organization make that change happen) is the so-called ‘secret sauce.”

“At Stanford, the Young Alumni office produced several inspiring videos of students who had directly benefited from alumni contributions and attached a clear call-to-action to the end of each video, delivered via a Flash overlay that asked viewers to donate.”

This was key, by providing this call to action they were able to easily and effectively drive their alumni to take the steps they wanted them to take. Without a call-to-action, online video doesn’t effectively do it’s job.

“Calling out these videos, and providing a direct link to them in four out of five emails sent during Stanford’s fall campaign, helped increase gifts by 23% over the previous year’s fall campaign.”

This is a great first result and if they continue to refine their approach will probably become even more efficient. Couple this with the fact that they probably dramatically reduced their printing and postage costs from their direct mail campaign and/or their costs if they hired current students to do the telemarketing as part of a work study program. How does that affect their operational costs? Does it make their alumni gifts go longer.

If one of the most respected universities in the United States was able to buck the old trend of typical alumni gift campaigns and get these kind of outstanding results, what could combining the online marketing super powers of email marketing and online video do for your business or non-profit?



5 Question Interview: Zak Barron from Constant Contact


constant-contact-zak-barronZak Barron knows EVERYTHING about email marketing. Alright I could be exaggerating a tiny bit but he is the local email marketing expert for Constant Contact in the New England area and he definitely knows his stuff. He runs frequent seminars on email marketing, interactive training workshops, and industry specific programs. I have had the pleasure of doing a few combined seminars with Zak talking about combining online video and email marketing. I asked Zak if he would be interested in taking the hot seat for one of my 5 Question Interviews and without further ado, here are his answers:


Eric Guerin: I’ve heard Constant Contact’s deliverability to ISP’s (Internet Service Providers – i.e. Comcast, AOL, Yahoo, Gmail, etc.) is one of the highest among ESP’s (Email Service Providers like Constant Contact)…how are you able to maintain such a high level of deliverability?

Zak Barron: Good question Eric. Constant Contact currently has a deliverability rate above 97%. This is a key metric for ESP’s that anyone looking for an email marketing service should look at when making their decision. It’s very easy for a company to say, “We have 97% deliverability” so make sure you ask if that is the ESP’s number or a 3rd party number. Constant Contact uses an outside unbiased 3rd party called Return Path to evaluate our delivery rate. The reason that we are able to maintain this high deliverability rate is because we require all of our customers to use permission based email lists. We have built personal relationships with postmasters at many ISP’s, and they know that we share the same contempt for SPAM email, this also greatly impacts how the ISP’s view Constant Contact as a large sender of email messages.

EG: You mentioned permission based email lists, can you briefly explain what the importance of an “opt-in email list” is and why you would NEVER want to buy an email address list from another company?

ZB: It is critical to a business that it only use email to communicate with those whom have given their permission to receive emails from that business. Given that statement there are 2 levels of permission; implicit, and explicit. Implicit covers anyone that you have a prior business relationship with, but you might not have told them that you are going to begin sending them email campaigns. Explicit permission means that you are actually setting the expectation when you collect the contact information of a customer, or prospect, that they will be getting email campaigns. The main reason that a business needs to build it’s list in this manner is the issue of SPAM. Over the years consumers have become very weary of who they provide their contact information to, and how they react to messages that they have not asked for in their inboxes. With many email clients allowing their users to report unwanted email as SPAM, the ISP’s are able to track the reputation of senders and penalize them if they get to many SPAM reports/complaints by not allowing them access to their(ISP’s) customers inbox. The point is that a purchased or rented list will get tons of SPAM complaints, certainly enough to be noticed by the ISP’s. A business that insists on this practice will find themselves on industry wide “blocklists, or blacklists” which will directly affect the businesses ability to get email marketing campaigns out the door.

EG: That relationship with your contacts is really the key to a successful email marketing plan. Speaking of relationships, how does Constant Contact engage online and build community for their users?

ZB: At Constant Contact we are all about community, and to that end there are 2 ways that we do that, one is with the Constant Contact Connect Up! user community, and the 2nd is the Constant Contact Cares4Kids program.

Constant Contact’s ConnectUp! user community was designed as a forum to share the entrepreneurial energy and passion that drives small businesses and organizations. The community provides a host of tools and technologies that enable you to connect with your peers, exchange ideas and find answers to your questions about email marketing, online surveys and small business issues in general.

As a paying Constant Contact customer, you can bring email marketing and online survey tools to your favorite eligible community organization-at no cost to you! Through Cares4Kids you can help an organization reach new donors, publicize their good works, plan events-and use their precious funding to carry out their mission. It all starts with one quick application.. More than 900 worthy organizations have received free accounts on behalf of Constant Contact’s Cares4Kids program.

EG: Where does Constant Contact see the future of email marketing headed particularly with more and more people using mobile devices to open and access their email?

ZB: If you would have asked me this a year ago, I would have told you that it was going to affect open rates in a major way. The tracking mechanism that CTCT uses is a small image in the body of the HTML email. So this means that all text based email clients are tough to track. With the release of the iPhone, and many other mobile devices that can read HTML, I see open rates actually improving and becoming more accurate, as most smart phones will be switching to the HTML platform.

EG: What is the one hint or tip you could share that most people doing email marketing fail to realize or include in their email marketing campaign?

ZB: I think one of the biggest mistakes that a lot of email marketers make is that they fail to set the proper expectations at the outset of their email relationship with their customers and prospects. Being clear as to the content and frequency of the messages you will be sending is vital. Instead of saying “sign up for me email newsletter” say “sign up for my monthly newsletter.” Half of the battle in email marketing is validating your place in your recipient’s inbox, and setting/managing expectations is key to that validation.

EG: Thanks Zak!



Using Videos in your Email Marketing Campaign

As many of my blog readers and customers know, I am a big proponent of utilizing email marketing as part of your mix to distribute an online video created to market or promote your business, service or product. It is a great tool to touch base with your existing customer base and if that video is done creatively, is a simple and easy way for your customers to pass your message on to friends.

I have been giving regular seminars with Zak Barron of Constant Contact about how best to integrate email marketing with online video. One of the statistics I use is one I got from the Email Standards Project where their research showed that a “…screen grab was clicked on more than 5 times as often as the text link.” Of course being a video production company I latched onto these stats and used them to my benefit. I’ve seen these statistics used as part of Email Marketing Reports and also in a discussion I had on the Constant Contact User Community Forum…but then I wondered…what would my own research find? We already knew from our own monthly newsletters that we were getting really high click-throughs compared to industry standards and most were going to the new video that we sent out every month. Most of those click-throughs on our e-newsletters were also clicking on the screen-grab JPEG image (see “screen-grab sample image above) which “looks” like it will play but actually links to the video on our website rather than using the text link to that same video. Here were our cumulative statistics for our open rate and for our click through rates for 12 e-newsletters which amounts to several thousand emails going out:

Cumulative Open Rate: 48%

Cumulative Click Through Rate: 44%

So then on two occasions we decided NOT to include a video with a screen-grab link in our e-newsletter and instead sent out informative articles, upcoming events or blog posts. All good content…just no video. Our statistics for these two e-newsletters were:

Cumulative Open Rate: 47%

Cumulative Click Through Rate: 16%

It wasn’t a full 5x as often but including video in our campaigns was a very significant 175% increase in click-throughs when video content was included. Another really interesting fact is that our open rate remained virtually the same which basically means there is a 64% decrease in the number of click-throughs on our e-newsletter when we do not include video.

I hope you find these statistics as interesting and useful as I did. Now my head hurts from all that math so I’m going to have to get back to doing something creative but with these statistics in mind…have you included video in your email marketing campaign? What have your results been? Please share your own results by commenting below or pinging this blog post.