This is your brain on snail mail
Print outperforms digital in groundbreaking neuromarketing research
Need proof that direct-mail campaigns still have legs? Look to science. According to a new report by a leading Canadian neuromarketing firm, printed marketing materials have a greater impact on the human brain than the banner ads, pop-ups and email newsletters that target consumers online.
“This is a critical, never-beforeseen customer insight that would be inaccessible through surveys and focus groups,” says Diana Lucaci, CEO of True Impact Marketing, the Toronto firm behind the study, the largest of its kind to date.
Lucaci and her team used the tools of neuroscience — brain imaging (EEG) and eye-tracking technology — to measure customer engagement. The study’s 270 participants reviewed mock ads in both print and digital formats, while researchers measured their eye movements, pupil dilation and electrical brain activity. They also conducted post-exposure memory tests to see which messages had the most staying power. The verdict: “The physical is easier to understand, it’s more memorable and it’s more persuasive,” says Lucaci. “That’s the key when you look at the big picture.” The easy way in The clincher in neuromarketing terms was the so-called cognitive load required to make sense of the digital samples. In these experiments, it took 21 per cent more brain power to process the digital messages. “This is a critical point,” says Lucaci’s report, “because consumers always prefer the path of least resistance, and direct mail offers exactly that.”
Consider the effort it takes to read a digital ad. “There are so many other things happening onscreen that make it difficult for customers to understand your message,” explains Lucaci. “Our brains are not designed to function at that level of cognitive effort.” Replacing multiple screens and other digital clutter with a welldesigned physical copy helps the mind focus.
The tactile quality of print can also help customers retain key marketing messages. In the True Impact report, brand recall was 70 per cent higher for direct mail than for digital advertising.
Even more revealing were the motivation scores, which were 20 per cent higher for print. “The extent to which the physical is motivating was both significant and surprising,” notes Lucaci. Customer motivation was also higher when a tropical fruity scent was added to a printed travel offer. “You add scent and all of a sudden the brain is a lot more reactive,” says Lucaci. Leaving an impression This isn’t the first time neuroscientists have compared consumer responses to print versus digital advertising. A 2009 report commissioned by the U.K.’s Royal Mail, and conducted by researchers at Bangor University, used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans to study how the brain reacts to print and virtual stimuli.
Not only did print ads trigger more activity in the parts of the brain connected with feeling, they also appeared to leave a deeper, more memorable footprint.
Earlier in 2015, scientists at Temple University conducted similar experiments and found that paper ads lit up the ventral striatum — the part of the brain most associated with desire.
If you believe the science, print materials have an enduring and powerful role to play for marketers — even in an increasingly wired world. “Think of your customer as a human being and don’t ignore hundreds of years of evolution,” says Lucaci.
“Our brains prefer tactile experiences because that’s just how we’re wired.”
Replacing multiple screens and other digital clutter with a well-designed physical copy (such as mail) helps the mind focus.