Why direct mail is better – scientifically proven

We always talk about the benefits of direct mail, but rather than just talking about it, we decided to get really touchy-feely and see whether there were any scientific benefits to physical methods of direct marketing.

To this end, we’ve been very interested in a study requested by Royal Mail to establish how direct mail as a physical media form differed from virtual media in terms of communications effectiveness. They brought in American-based global research agency Millward Brown, who conducted research to investigate how the brain processes physical marketing materials like direct mail compared to how it processes virtual and digital materials on a screen.

They used some pretty high-tech kit, collaborating with the Centre for Experimental Consumer Psychology at Bangor University to use their functional Magnetic Resonance Imagery (fMRI) scanning machines to analyse how the brain reacts to advertising.

The same advertisements were displayed both on-screen and printed onto card to the participants of the study. When the participants interacted with the materials, the fMRI scanner assessed how the medium of presentation changed the processing of the marketing messages.

The key findings of the research were that:

  • Tangible materials leave a deeper footprint in the brain
  • Physical material involves more emotional processing, which is important for memory and brand associations
  • Physical materials produced more brain responses connected with internal feelings, suggesting greater “internalisation” of the ads.

In the words of the study:

“This research strongly suggests that greater emotional processing is facilitated by the physical material than by the virtual. The ‘real’ experience that the physical media provides means it’s better at becoming part of memory. It generates more emotion, which should help to develop more positive brand associations. The real experience is also internalized, which means the materials have a more personal effect, and therefore should aid motivation.”

What does this study actually mean for us? Basically, it shows that we as humans are going to respond better in certain ways to a physical advertisement or marketing piece than we will to non-physical equivalents such as radio or television adverts. So while we’re in an age of digital marketing where we can reach people through media forms like television and the internet, there are still real benefits to traditional forms of marketing such as direct mail pieces.

Not only does direct mail provide a tangible item that’s nice to hold – it’s proven by sound scientific logic to appeal to our senses better than other forms of marketing.
The study can be found in its entirety in the Millward Brown Case Study pdf

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