As a marketing company that specializes in using the Internet and Social Media, we find that Direct Mail companies to be our biggest competitor.  It used to be the yellow pages, but with four or five different books, they killed their own market. We call direct mail companies a competitor because small businesses don’t have an unlimited budget.  The owners of a small business have to make a decision whether to spend money for online marketing with us or with a direct mail and print ad company like our friends at Damion Hickman.

So is there a right answer?  Yes there is, but it isn’t the same for any business.  The business itself is one variable.  The second is the customer.  The business and the customer define the best media for connecting the two.  Neither side can select the right answer.

On the side of direct mail, think about a business like Cake Tahoe.  Cake Tahoe is a great little cupcake shop in Truckee, California.  The opportunity with direct mail is to send out post cards to the residents in Truckee with a coupon.  For instance they could offer buy one get one free, or buy a cupcake, get free coffee.

Ganache from Cake TahoeThis is a great opportunity to reach out to new customers who had no idea they wanted a cupcake.  The postcard is an interrupter of their life that offers them something new they didn’t expect.  This is much more difficult to do online than it is with direct mail.  A great direct mail piece is fantastic tool to seek out new customers who didn’t know they were in your market.

The cost of Online Marketing to reach out and have the same effect can be significantly higher.  Some markets, like Reverse Mortgages, will see significantly better results with direct mail.  People don’t search online for the best Reverse Mortgage deal.  Instead, they get a flyer in the mail that introduces them to something they have never known about.  At some point the market might shift, but it might not.

At the other end of the spectrum are “needs” like an attorney after an accident.  When your car is destroyed and you are hurt, you don’t look in your mail box for a lawyer, you go to the phone book if you still have one, or go online and search for accident attorney, injury lawyer and a number of other keywords.  Online Marketing works for the Mastrangelo Law Offices and surprisingly, the Yellow Pages do as well.  This isn’t really true in the case of Reverse Mortgages.

Cake Tahoe could use online marketing to connect to current customers and find new customers who are looking for custom cupcakes, ice cream or coffee in Truckee California online.  The two customers are very different targets.  The key is to know your customers well enough to know which type of customer offers a better return on marketing dollars.

Some businesses like TruSpeed Motorcars are able to use both effectively.  Direct Mail is used to remind existing customers of service intervals, and reach out directly to owners of exotic cars that are out of warranty.  Online Marketing is used to step in front of people searching for “Porsche Service”, or “Performance Porsche Upgrades”.  Each is a potential income source to the business, and each must be respected for who they are.

When you truly know your customers, you can decide whether direct mail or online marketing is the best way to connect with them.