Cranium Connection – The Effect of Direct Mail on Humans

Last year, the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General (OIG) worked with Temple University’s Center for Neural Decision Making to conduct a neuromarketing study. They wanted to find out how consumers reacted physiologically to printed and digital media. Yes, the scientists looked at actual deep brain activity to understand how humans react to marketing materials. Most analysts base their direct mail studies solely on responses to survey questions. This research is entirely different.

Small businesses with limited advertising budgets are especially interested in how they should optimize their marketing dollars. Knowing when to use digital and print media in the sales process will empower them.  This research helps marketers separate what consumers say from what they feel.

The study included techniques such as eye-tracking, heart rate monitoring, MRI scans, and measuring the electrical conductivity of a subject’s skin. Though fascinating, we don’t recommend the published report as a how-to guide for developing marketing strategies. The document is full of scientific terminology. But the conclusions are definitely relevant to decision-makers considering their company’s marketing investments in digital and print.

Here are highlights from the survey’s findings:

  • Self-reporting through surveys revealed little difference in the impact of print and digital media.
  • Participants chose to spend more time with physical ads, but exhibited more focused attention on certain aspects of the digital ads. This suggests digital is more effective if marketers have only a few seconds to impress.
  • Despite the time difference spent with the ads, consumers absorbed the same amount of information from both. However, their physiological responses showed they were more emotionally engaged and interested in the printed material.
  • Testing consumers a week after exposure to print and digital ads showed participants could recall the content of the physical material better than the digital ads. For longer buying processes involving thought, comparison, or collaborative decisions, print may be the better choice.
  • Though participants reported an equal desire to buy the advertised products presented in physical or digital ads, activity in the part of their brains responsible for valuation and desirability indicated stronger feelings for the products and services advertised via printed material.

To gauge willingness to buy, the researchers allowed study participants to purchase the advertised items and services, using part of their participation fee to do so. This translated a stated intent into action, a more valid measurement of advertising success.

Unlike most studies about direct mail, this one reveals a difference between what consumers say about digital and physical advertising and how it actually affects them subconsciously. It also tells us that both channels have impact, but in different ways.

The researchers suggested additional studies to further define what makes certain campaigns work and others not, using physiological effects as a measurement. We could learn about the use of color, white space, message timing, and more from ongoing work in this area.

Getting those impactful words and images onto paper and delivered to the right people is what we do best at EarthColor. Get in touch and we’ll share our brainpower!

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