Does physical media like direct mail leave a longer last impression on consumers’ brains? That’s what a new study commissioned by the United States Postal Service is aiming to find out.
US Postal Service Research
The Office of the Inspector General of the US Postal Service is currently in the process of vetting neuroscience researchers to look into the various different ways the human brains responds to physical and digital media. They are particularly interested in uncovering scientific evidence of the role direct mail plays in consumers’ engagement and buying decisions.
In 2010, Millward Brown completed an independent piece of research, assisted by the University of Bangor but commissioned by the Royal Mail, intended to assess whether physical mail or digital mail made the greatest impact on the human brain.
The Psychology department and the functional MRI scanner were utilised to see how the brain was affected when the individual was presented with either a physical piece of mail, such as a printed message, or were shown a digital communication. The brain was mapped via the MRI whilst these activities were completed with the blood supply used to help identify the parts of the brain which were being lit up as a result. Participants had an average age of just over 30, with 10 females and 10 males each taking part.
They were shown examples of both physical direct mail and digital marketing on a computer screen, which had been edited to show just the text and images. Each candidate was shown the same number of physical marketing and online marketing examples.
Direct Mail vs. Digital Marketing Findings
The results showed that when presented with a physical item, the parietal cortex in the brain became much more active. This part of the brain plays an important role in the integration of spatial and visual data, and the increased activity suggests that the multi-sensory experience of physically handling a piece of mail helps to create a more lasting memory. By generating a more concrete footprint in the brain, there’s a greater chance of the physical paperwork acting as a cue and prompting recollection. By providing stimulation to both the senses of sight and touch it appears that a tangible piece of mail is far more likely to be remembered and recalled.
How Marketing Strategies Need to Change
Marketing strategies need to be able to capture people’s attention in order to communicate a message and encourage emotional connections that are vital to creating a response, whether this is merely engaging with the brand or buying their product. The research by the Royal Mail would suggest that physical communications like direct mail can act as a priming agent, a crucial step that involves generating an emotional response to a message, which will pave the way for future brand recognition, engagement and potentially conversions.
In a predominantly digital world, it may be the case that it is this crucial step that many brands are missing in their marketing strategies. Using digital marketing alone may be not enough to make an emotional and long-lasting connection with customers.
One of the reasons why the USPS is commissioning this brain research into direct mail is to help companies understand its value and how it can be used in their multi-channel marketing campaigns. Unlike other types of marketing, direct mail is affordable to businesses of all sizes, however with increased use of digital marketing forms; many undermine its potential for achieving results.
This is something that the USPS wants to change and is why they are looking for scientific evidence to back up their reasoning and make direct mail more attractive to brands of all sizes and from all industries.
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