In an age when advanced neuroscience technologies like eye tracking, fMRI and neural activity analysis are standard for sophisticated marketing studies, (this is like yesterday's focus groups on steroids!) it was only a matter of time before someone studied human response to various media. And specifically, direct mail versus digital mail.
That "someone" was the United Kingdom's Royal Mail.
In the Royal Mail-funded study conducted last year, researchers at Bangor University discovered—natch—that we perceive messages on different media differently. Researchers used fMRI scanners to monitor test subjects' brain activity while the subjects either read a physical piece of mail or looked at the same presentation on a computer screen.
Stay with me, dear reader. This is great stuff. Really!
In the end, the researchers found three significant differences in perception:
- Direct mail generates a deeper emotional response in the emotional centers of the brain.
- The brain sees physical mail as more "real" than digital mail.
- The areas of the brain connected to memory and introspection stayed engaged longer with direct mail.
Drawing conclusions from their findings, the researchers proffered that "the brain is more emotionally engaged and is...reflecting more of a response" when viewing direct mail. Also, because the brain sees mail as "real" (as opposed to digital images) the brain is creating deeper memories.
One researcher stated "From an evolutionary point of view, you pay more attention to something that is real and physical. You want to understand it more than something that is transient, like something on a screen."
I get it. Our caveman ancestors were more concerned about that hungry lion hiding in the grass, than about wispy pictures in the clouds.
Are you there, dear reader? I promise, there's a pay day coming!
So what does this science mean to you, a marketer?
Even in this digital era when email is fast and cheap, direct mail resonates more strongly with the recipient, and stays in his subconscious longer.
As a savvy marketer, then, you should include direct mail in every marketing strategy to maximize your potential. And that's what the researchers said!
But traditional measurement metrics like response rate and ROI don't tell the whole story. Direct mail has staying power that digital does not. Hence, direct mail builds brand recognition better than digital.
In the Old Days, we'd call that a "Lasting Impression." Today, the scientists call it "preferential treatment in the brain." Whatever.
Direct mail may be the tortoise to email's hare, but look who won that race in the end.
[Warning! Here is the research team again.] "Marketers need to start focusing on the overall impact of their direct mail rather than just the response rate. Direct mail has also raised awareness and left an imprint of your brand which we can substantiate with research."
"I don't think that marketers should see direct mail as just a direct response vehicle," the researchers concluded. "It can be both a brand building AND a direct response mechanism."
Bingo! Did you get it? Direct mail is better at getting inside your head...and staying there!
And that, dear reader, is exactly where you want your marketing to be: inside your customer's head.
It's not simply about immediate response rates. Sure, response rates provide the tale of the tape. Was the effort productive? Did you get new business? How much? What was the bottom line? That's what green-shaded bean counters—and your boss—want to know.
But Direct Mail provides more, according to this research. Because it sticks with the recipient longer, it provides an unquantifiable extra: time--time to absorb your message and mull it over. That extra time may be at a subliminal level, but it's there working for you. Hence, the value of oft-touted repeat mailings.
And that's what you, a savvy marketer, need to know: that your repeat direct mail efforts are building brand awareness among those who receive your literature.
This may not be new news, but it's great news. Direct marketers have known it for years: repeating your message builds affinity and responses.
Cutting-edge neuroscience simply proves it.