Is it better to market by e-mail or on paper?

Over the past six months or so, I’ve been experimenting (sometimes with my translation partner and sometimes on my own) with cold-marketing to potential direct clients. Because a great deal of our work is in a very targeted subject area (international development), it’s not hard to find potential clients but it’s often hard to know how to contact them. Here are some thoughts on whether you’re better off making the initial contact by e-mail or on paper; I’m not even going to touch cold-calling because I am the worst phone salesperson ever. Ever. Really. But if you’re interested in low-stress cold calling, The Freelancery has some excellent scripts that you can work from.

The great thing about e-mail marketing is that:

  • It’s fast. If you’re reading a business news article and see a tidbit that shouts “potential client” to you, you can fire off the e-mail right there.
  • It’s less formal. You can get away with “Just wanted to tell you that I loved staying at your inn this summer; if you’re ever inclined to translate your website/marketing brochure/menu into English, I’d love to talk,” whereas it would seem a little weird (at least to me) to print out a paper letter with that sentence and pop it in the mail.
  • The recipient can easily forward the message. I’d say that at least half the time I cold-contact, I don’t hit the right person on the first try. Especially with larger entities, it can be hard to tell who hires freelancers for the kind of work we do. But your prospect can quickly forward your message to the right person.
  • It’s cheap. If you’re looking at a paper marketing campaign to a few hundred prospects, the paper, envelopes, business cards, stamps, etc. add up over time.

But then again…

  • Unsolicited marketing e-mails always feel a little spammy. The person might just delete the message, or might receive so much e-mail that they just don’t have time to respond. In some countries, sending unsolicited marketing e-mails may be technically illegal, and it’s never fun to break the law to find new clients.
  • If you don’t personalize your e-mails in some way, the recipients may assume that they were auto-generated, or that you’re just sending the same blanket e-mail out to thousands of potential clients. And if you do personalize them, it takes time.

So what about good old paper? On the plus side:

  • In an era when most people’s postal mail is 95% ads and bills, a lot of people respond really favorably to something fun or personal in the mail. I know I do when I’m on the receiving end; a client recently sent me a “thank you” postcard for a large rush project, and I pinned it on my bulletin board to inspire me when I sit down to translate.
  • It shows a classy touch. A marketing letter with a little handwritten note at the end and a business card enclosed is kind of the anti-spam.
  • The recipient has something tangible to keep. If the person needs your services months or years later, it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to locate an e-mail, but if they keep a file of business cards in their desk, you’re probably still in there.
  • You can write more. Not many people want to read a 400-word e-mail, but you can get away with a 400-word paper letter because it’s still one page.
  • Nice postcards and brochures appeal to people who are visual. You really don’t want to send a massive PDF to someone you don’t know, but you can send them a cool postcard and they’ll love it.

But then again…

  • Paper marketing campaigns are time-consuming. In the time it takes to personalize a paper letter, print it, sign it, stuff an envelope with it and your business card, put the stamp on and mail it, you could probably send out five quick e-mails.
  • Paper marketing campaigns can get expensive, at least compared to e-mail. Sending out marketing letters doesn’t cost much, but if you get into fancy postcards or brochures, you could be spending as much as a dollar per potential client just for the printing, not to mention graphic design.
  • Paper marketing campaigns also require more research; it’s pretty easy to find an e-mail contact on someone’s website, but sometimes you have to search for the right mailing address.

I don’t really have a verdict on this one. My translation partner and I did a modest (maybe 150 potential clients) direct client marketing campaign in the winter and spring and we did get some business from it, but it took a lot of time to put together. Now I’m experimenting with shorter, punchier marketing e-mails to see how that works. Any thoughts?

10 Responses to “Is it better to market by e-mail or on paper?”
  1. patenttranslator August 15, 2012
  2. Carolyn Yohn August 16, 2012
  3. manomyger August 16, 2012
  4. Medical Translation August 21, 2012
  5. Alliandre August 21, 2012
  6. Laura Forryan August 23, 2012
  7. Lyne Archambault August 25, 2012
  8. Gabe August 27, 2012
  9. englishandportuguese September 10, 2012

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