Don’t count the postal service out of your marketing initiatives just yet.

(Photo credit: © Giordano.)

I hate it. We all hate it.

E-mail has turned into the digital telemarketer during dinner. It’s too much, too often, and - in my lowly estimation - too cheap.

I wish they’d charge for it so the spammers, slammers and scammers could just go bother someone else.

In the meantime, you and I nearly dread the return from a vacation where we find our inboxes crammed with promised millions, Viagra offers, male “enhancements” and some scandalous promise from the marketing world. (What? Marketers can be scandalous?) So, the legitimate e-mailers of the world are sort of trapped by association. Sort of like all my friends in high school.

Many of you have e-zines for clients who visit your Web site. Great move. That’s an awesome baby step toward the relationship. But itcannotstop there. Or itwillstop there … then retreat.

MarketingSherpa, an online marketing training company, conducted a study of 4,000 e-mail/e-zine publishers and found some startling news about e-mail backlash. If you only use e-mail as a customer contact, they found that “credibility and readership” were most at risk. Seems those might be important.

Postal Mail Is Back

The study also found many online, solely digital-based businesses “finally” resorted to postal mail to drive customers to portal and commerce sites with resounding results. One seminar company ($40 million in sales) that teaches how to make money on the Internet found its biggest response to seminar attendance was from -gulp- postal mail.

Re-read the first three sentences of this article. Now read the rest of this article and the strategies you should considernowto grab your customers’ attention while your competition is looking for the “cheap” way to drive them to boredom.

Almost immediately, we launched a paper-and-ink newsletter mailed to our top clients (CRC and MegaMarketer members receiveThe Contractor MegaMarketerevery month). We’ve been bugging you about this trend, feeling it would only get worse. We were half right.

It got worse, but for two different reasons - distraction and interruption.

Whereas postal mail can be read at leisure, and other media can be chosen to be consumed (radio on or off, channel changed, etc.), e-mail continues to “bing” into place, ever heightening the stack of “unopened” mail, each begging for attention, while some legitimate e-mail lands in the spam folder for no discernable reason.

Case in point: I’m doing a product exchange with a man I’ve communicated with for a couple of months. Today, without warning I see his proposal is in my spam folder. It’s been there for two weeks.Why? Because he had a dollar sign in his e-mail text. This was a proposal discussion.

It's Not A Youth Thing, Megabyte Breath

I was sure I was on the other side of the age group attempting to form a “let’s kill the sender of the next e-mail I didn’t request” party. But no, not by a rather long shot. And the “target” audience that contractors are after hates e-mails more than you do!

So, here’s where I admit I was half-wrong twice in one article. Quoted from a Vertis Communications study on readership habits and advertising response:

“Despite the rise of Web site, e-mail and other electronically based advertisements, printed direct-mail marketing pieces are still widely read, especially by women ages 25 to 44. Eighty-five percent of women ages 25 to 44 (with e-mail accounts) said they read printed direct-mail pieces compared to just 53 percent who read e-mail advertisements. The percentage of young women who read e-mail advertisements has not changed from 2005, when 54 percent indicated they viewed this type of marketing. Numbers for women 45-65 were 94 percent and 45 percent respectively, markedly increasing the e-mail-to-postal gap.”

Double oops. Your “target” group prefers postal mail, and e-mail readership hasn’t gone up at all in three years. Remember, the prediction was that the U.S. Post Office would be nearly shut down by now.

After a year of our printpluse-mail versions of our newsletter, results have been astounding. We “point” from one to the other, engaging people at the level they prefer. Likewise, we point from e-mail to Web, Web to phone, and mail to both. E-mail alone could never accomplish this.

Ever try finding “that” e-mail you so enjoyed four months ago? Sure, I can print it out and save it, but who does? But with “real” mail, I can keep up with it in one location quite handily. Mark it up, dog–ear it, write on it, rip out a coupon and put it in my wallet.

Your Strategy In A Limping Economy

Build a huge, impenetrable fence around your customer base - starting yesterday - using a variety of media. The primary means is direct mail. The secondary means is telephone (as a thank-you to every service visit or follow-up to request referrals). The third means is e-mail identified clearly as from you and not a solicitation.

Postal mail contact frequency per customer should be about four to 12 times per year withat leastfour contacts as “soft sell” and/or educational pieces (newsletters, thank-yous, reminders or other). Two to four more can be “celebratory” (birthday, anniversary, holiday, etc.). The remainder should be direct-response offers.

In addition, you can e-mail up to twice as often (since delivery rates are so pathetic), making sure every contact is run through a spam filter. More trigger words are added daily.

Remember, your credibility is contained in how you contact your customers. If you only communicate in a way that’s cheap and grossly overused, don’t be surprised if you’re thereby “associated.” Combine your contact methods. Let postal mail “drive” customers to the phone and to your Web site. Pound your name into their recall for their friends and neighbors.