Opt-in email newsletter distribution is the most cost-effective distribution method available, assuming the metric you’re using is messages sent — or even messages delivered, which eliminates bounces (hard, soft, bad domains and user not found). For example, a printed four-color fully customized insurance newsletter with professional content can be mailed first class to 91 recipients for $179. However, the same newsletter in electronic format can be emailed to a list of as many as 1,000 recipients for the same price, $179. Assuming a bounce rate of only 5%, that’s a cost per delivered email of only about 19 cents compared to a cost per postal delivered newsletter of $1.96.
But a couple of other factors need to be considered if you want to make a true comparison. First, there’s the open rate — the number of unique opens as a percentage of the emails delivered. A very successful email open rate is about 25%. The open rate is important in email marketing, because unless the reader opens your message, he/she has no idea of the contents.
However, the open rate for postal mail might not matter as much. If you’re mailing a print newsletter just to reinforce your brand identity — getting the recipient to see your branding and identify you as a frequent, caring and knowledgeable risk and insurance resource — your impression rate is almost 100 percent. As long as your letter is delivered, your clients/prospects will see your branding and realize you’re interested in their business, even if they read no articles.
By the impression rate measure, then, for your email newsletter to be as effective as your postal mail, your list should be four times (100%/25% = 4) the size of your postal list: in this example, 4 x 91 = 364.
If your goal is to engage your readers with your content, however, that’s harder to measure with postal mail. The electronic equivalent here would be getting someone to follow a link, the click-through rate — the number of unique clicks as a percentage of the emails delivered. Generally a good click-through rate is 10% (5-15% seems to be the industry range for business-to-business newsletters). But how do you ascertain the click-through equivalent for a paper newsletter?
It seems intuitive that having the physical newsletter in your recipient’s hands increases the level of engagement. We get some researched guidance on this question from a survey done by S&P about six years ago, before emailed newsletters had become quite as common as they are today, “The Value of Newsletters to Financial Services Companies.” The survey points out that “92% [of recipients] read at least some issues; 83% read most of some articles.” Let’s be conservative and assume that 80% of paper newsletter recipients read some articles and compare that number with a 15% click-through rate for emailed newsletters, the higher end of the industry range. Based on these numbers, you could say that print pulls 80%/15% = 5 1/3 times better than emailed newsletters.
Using this ratio, your emailed newsletter would need to go out to 5 1/3 times more recipients than your print newsletter to be just as effective. In the example in my first paragraph, your email list would need to have at least 5 1/3 x 91 = 485 recipients. Keep in mind that the cost in these examples is always the same: $179 for 91 print newsletters and the same price for any number of emailed newsletters up to 1000.
The only question that remains is whether you’re satisfied in getting only roughly 19% (1/5.3334) of the impact from your list using email as you could with print. To get the most out of your marketing dollar you might want to use a combination of email and print: print for your high-value clients and prospects, and email for clients and prospects who have indicated they prefer this method of communication by opting in to email, as well as for your lower-value clients and prospects.