Digital Doorstep vs. Direct Mail

Increasing Effectiveness with Targeted Outreach

Jun 24, 2024 | Kate Domin - Doximity Marketing Manager

Since the advent of digital advertising, there has been an urge to pit digital against direct mail. Direct mail, the traditional, outdated contender, was predicted to be replaced by each new, shiny digital channel, starting with email in the 1970s. Of course, this binary is reductive and doesn’t reflect how advertising has adapted in the 40+ years since that first marketing email was sent. In fact, many companies still invest in direct mail, resulting in over $39B of advertising spend nationally in 2023. 

However, there is no doubt that digital channels far outstrip direct mail. Statista estimates that advertising spend in 2024 will amount to $421B. Putting these numbers into scale: direct mail accounts for less than 10% of the total anticipated spend. In contrast, 83% of advertising spend is expected to come from digital advertising in 2029. 

So, how can you decide which channels work best for your goals and maximize the impact of your efforts? Let’s dig into some of the key differences between direct mail and digital in healthcare marketing. 

Direct Mail 

There is a reason direct mail isn’t “dead” as so many articles and opinion pieces would like to claim. Research shows that physical mail can sometimes feel more personal, secure, and important than digital communications. However, an adult American receives 41 pounds of junk mail each year, underscoring the need for direct mail to stand out. To run a successful and impactful direct mail campaign, that piece of collateral has to feel personal, meaningful, and relevant to its audience. 

Challenges to Developing Successful Direct Mail 

  • Cost 

Direct mail is notoriously expensive. Beyond significant printing and shipping costs, which add up quickly for large distribution lists, a recent USPS study highlights that audiences increasingly value creative, eye-catching visuals. The same cut-and-copy strategy for direct mail is ineffective, especially among younger audiences, which means more investment in creative content development. 

  • Lead Time 

Due to the nature of direct mail, programs have extended lead times. Considerable time is spent developing creative, printing materials, gathering audience lists, and finally mailing out materials. Not to mention, once materials are out for delivery, there is also a delayed reaction time (and often little-to-no measurable response from your target audience).

  • Targeting 

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of direct mail is identifying and reaching your target audience. For healthcare marketers, reaching physician audiences can be especially difficult. And, attempting to reach precise physician audiences with personalized, highly relevant content via direct mail is particularly painful. 

Advantages of Digital Marketing 

  • Meet Physicians Where They Are

According to Doximity’s physician learning report, 85% of surveyed physicians reported consuming most or all of their medical information online. By reaching physicians on trusted platforms like Doximity, where they’re already in a learning mindset, you can ensure your content reaches them when they’re most engaged and receptive.

  • Content Interactivity 

Digital channels allow for creative and different content approaches, including content that’s interactive and engaging. Interactive content helps capture and retain attention, ultimately increasing the impact of your messaging. 

  • Precision Targeting

Digital marketing programs allow organizations to reach a much more precise audience. For example, on Doximity, organizations can refine their audience by geography, specialty, subspecialty, and more. Unlike direct mail, you know that your message is reaching the right audience. 

  • Real-Time Metrics 

Once digital programs are deployed, marketers are able to see metrics and performance almost immediately. Of course, the impact of programs often builds cumulatively over time, but real-time feedback means you can quickly see what is working and who is most engaged. These insights enable nimble retargeting, creative adjustments, strategic pivots, and other optimization of successful tactics. 

While direct mail may not be “dead,” the digital doorstep has certainly become the more strategic, efficient, and relevant way to reach physicians. Not only can marketers reach a more precise, refined physician audience, but they can do so with more engaging, interactive, and relevant content. And, with access to real-time metrics, marketers can be empowered to move with agility to optimize their programs.