Duane Carey gets 300 e-mails a day. And part of his job is to get people’s attention via e-mail (and direct mail). It’s good to know that Carey, president of IMPACT Marketing & Public Relations, is on the receiving end of lots of annoying cyber spam — just like the rest of us.

As he thinks aloud, Carey, whose firm is based in Ellicott City, believes the marketing pendulum might be swinging away from e-mail and back toward direct (or “snail”) mail. But, no, that’s not the case across the board, he cautions. In the world of marketing, there are no hard and fast rules.

“When you look at the national average for direct mail, the response rate is something like 1.5%,” said Carey. “But we’ve had e-mail campaigns where the response rate was zero. And we’ve been as high as a 42% response rate in a combination of electronic and direct mail.”

Lumpy: In Your Mailbox Soon

What about a postcard versus an envelope? You don’t have to open a postcard, after all. But local marketers are actually trending toward the opposite: what they call “3-D” mail. That means it’s big, very possibly bulky, and hopefully, begging to be opened by a wildly curious recipient.

It’s what Janice Tippett, president of Millennium Marketing Solutions in Annapolis Junction, calls “lumpy mail.” She recently developed a mailing that arrived in a clear, plastic, personalized tube with a promotional product inside.

“Whatever people are doing, they are doing it smarter, meaning it’s personalized with your name and your message. We are seeing a lot less ‘spray and pray,’” she said, referring to the mass mail, e-mail and even phone calls we get that seem to come out of left field — and end up directly in the trash.

Like Carey, Tippett gets a ton of e-mail. “I wake up in the morning, and I probably clean out 30 junk e-mails right away: delete, delete, delete,” she said.

What the business world really wants to know is: How do we get people’s attention? It all boils down to your message, said Kyri Jacobs, executive vice president of Bonnie Heneson Communications, based in Owings Mills and Columbia.

One thing’s for sure: If you’re sending e-mail, the subject line has to sell that message. “You’ve got to keep the person from hitting ‘delete,’” she said. “On the other hand, sometimes a postcard on your desk — that constant reminder — is what finally motivates you to take action.”

Another Brick in the Mail

Duane Carey actually mailed bricks. “No, really,” he said. “We had two bricks glued to postcards with OwnYourBricks.com/[reader, insert your name here].” Carey’s mailing was super-targeted: People who visited the web site would see nicely fashioned office space, featuring a reception desk depicting a flat screen TV — with their name on it.

The integrative campaign got a dynamite response.

In fact, most smart marketers go with a combination of direct mail and e-mail, said Wendy Baird, president of insight180, based in Ellicott City. “Direct mail is definitely not dead. While many online marketing companies would like you to believe otherwise, more than $45 billion was spent on direct mail in 2013 [an increase over the previous year’s spending], according to TargetMarketing.com,” she said. “Even Google uses direct mail regularly to promote their online advertising services.”

What’s the biggest pitfall? Poor design and messaging — and that will spell failure in whatever medium you choose. “You’ve got to have a goal for your communication that reflects your brand, and you’ve got have a call to action,” urged Baird.

Cleverness Is Never Out of Style

People want to be entertained or inspired by the marketers of the world. “Cleverness and good design have always had the advantage over boring or crowded,” Baird said. “Personal e-mails or handwritten notes still reign supreme.”

What is it about the mailbox these days? There are fewer bills and, perhaps, more enticing offers since more people are paying their bills online. “There’s something different about holding something in your hand and letting somebody experience something that’s been delivered through the mail,” said Raymond Crosby, president of Crosby Marketing in Annapolis.

Like his colleagues, he’s enthusiastic about 3-D mailings: “boxes; special, interesting papers and packaging; interesting formats.”

But, once again, that’s not the case across the board, he cautioned. “At the same time, some of the things that perform best are the simplest of envelopes with a personalized letter that’s clear and straight to the point — and asks somebody to do something.”

At first glance, e-mail might seem like a marketer’s dream because it’s cheap. “You can build your own database,” said Crosby, “and the quality of data collection is high because it targets purchasing behaviors, lifestyles and interests. It goes so far beyond age, income and demographics.”

But the risk for deletion is growing as recipients want an empty inbox much more than they want the latest offer for just about anything. It’s best to consult a professional before you spend your marketing dollars, he added. “It’s a highly creative and technical endeavor these days.”