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How many unsolicited emails do you receive at work every day? Perhaps more importantly how many of these do you actually read? An even more difficult question might be how many do you actually enjoy reading and recall? My guess would be a precious few.

Sometimes it seems that whilst online is the default channel for internal and external business communications, the benefits and faults of the channel can be surprisingly evenly matched.

Company cultures that revolve entirely around the keyboard to the exclusion of more direct human contact such as the telephone or, God forbid, talking to each other, are sadly commonplace. Indeed, seeing individuals constantly emailing each other in an office environment when they’re sitting a few yards apart is accepted behaviour.

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Of course the advantages of this e-culture are also very apparent. When it comes to ruthless efficiency, talking to more than one party at the same time and providing an instant (backside covering) record of decisions and agreements it’s foolproof.

On the flipside, however, how often has the message in an online communication been misconstrued because it wasn’t delivered in person? Emails can be at worst cold and impersonal and the dark arts of the forwarded note and the blind cc means they can’t always be trusted.

Bearing all this in mind it’s interesting that email is now the baseline communication for business to business marketeers. The reason of course is down to price – on the surface it’s almost too easy and efficient to reach a professional audience via a targeted email campaign.

However like many things in life that seem too good to be true there are pitfalls along the way. Too many have succumbed to the temptation to over broadcast to this captive market. As inboxes become full to busting the recipients’ temptation to delete en mass kicks in, open rates tumble, your worthy message get swamped in a jungle of spam and the axe of the unsubscribe button beckons.

At this stage re-evaluation is usually a shrewd move:

Make certain sure your targeting is spot on.

Only send an email when you have some genuinely interesting news which is of benefit to the recipient.

Ration the frequency and timing of your communications.

Make it easy and logical for recipients to respond.

The ‘tweaking list’ is endless and rightly so because there is no doubting the power of the channel if used correctly.

However, there is one radical old/new solution that may still be invaluable in this environment. Business to business direct mail has gone from being the channel of choice to a rare exception. Volumes have tumbled dramatically over the last decade and this in itself provides some real positives:

Fewer letters in the ‘in tray’ means greater standout and a far higher chance of getting noticed, read and appreciated AND the old positives of utilising a tactile medium still apply.

Of course unit cost will always be an issue in the comparison between the two channels however the relative importance and buying power of some of the most powerful business prospects could easily justify the expense of production costs and a stamp!

The trick must be to see how the two channels can be harnessed in tandem to produce the most efficient impactful results.