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We hear a lot of talk about ROI, or "Return On Investment", when evaluating direct marketing programs.
Catalogers know that paper drives more total sales, and more total profit, than any other form of direct marketing.
E-Mail marketers know that e-mail drives the best "ROI", measured as "total profit divided by total cost". E-Mail marketing has almost no cost associated with it, making it a tool marketers must use, and use properly.
Paid Search marketers know that they reach customers at a "time of need", thereby providing the most "efficient" form of advertising known to-date. No other form of advertising cuts out the waste of uninterested shoppers like paid search ... except I guess for natural search, which has no cost associated with it.
Portal marketers know that they make the brand known to customers who have not purchased previously. They know their investment is best measured on a "lifetime value" basis ... short-term metrics are not appropriate for portal advertising.
In the table attached to the top of this article, each form of advertising has various strengths and weaknesses. Your job is to evaluate your advertising objectives.
Objective: Drive large volume of sales/profit from existing customers.
Solution = Catalogs.
Objective: Precisely target merchandise to existing customers.
Solution = E-Mail, Paid Search.
Objective: Precisely target merchandise to customers in-need.
Solution = Paid Search.
Objective: Make your brand aware to potential customers.
Solution = Portal Advertising.
Objective: Acquire new customers.
Solution = Catalog, Portal Advertising, Paid Search
I didn't even talk about affiliate marketing or shopping comparison marketing, which also fit into this story.
Obviously, there are many different objectives and solutions, my list above is abbreviated and short. Strategically, consider what you want to accomplish, and allocate your advertising mix on the basis of total sales, total profit, and your objectives.
Don't be swayed by folks who tell you that one form of advertising is "better" than another. Each type of advertising has a purpose. Each type of advertising excels within one specific set of metrics.