web analytics

Electronic vs Direct Mail Ads

Retina Scan Of EyeLast spring 2015, the United States Postal Service (USPS) commissioned an interesting study on the ol’ gray matter.  The purpose of the RARC Report “Enhancing the Value of Mail: THe Human Response” was simple. Working with Temple University, the USPS wanted to understand the differences — if any — between how printed advertising impacted our brains versus the impact of electronically delivered advertising; and which media has the greater impact when influencing our purchasing decisions.

To measure responses, the study identified three overall key buying process phases:

  1. Exposure: Determining how a person responds to an advertisement
  2. Memory: Measuring the speed and accuracy of an advertisement
  3. Action: Measuring the value and an individual’s desire for an advertised product (a key purchase predictor.)

Measuring the above buying phases resulted in nine measurable human attributes, with eight out of the night categories favoring printed advertising.

Table 2 from report: Outcomes by Media Type Summary

Attribute Definition Physical Digital
Attention A customer’s focused attention for a sustained period of time on key components of the ad X
Review Time The amount of time a customer spends with an ad X
Engagement The amount of information the customer processes or absorbs from an ad X X
Stimulation An emotional reaction to an ad X
Memory Retrieval Accuracy Accurately remembering the advertising source and content X X
Memory Speed & Confidence Quickly and confidently remember advertising source and content X
Purchase & Willingness to Pay Whether and how much the customer is willing to pay for a product X X
Desirability A subconscious desire for the product or service X
Valuation The subconscious value a participant places on the product or service X

The 48 page report breaks down how the study was conducted (methodology, equipment, etc.) which is interesting from a scientific perspective and providing the necessary credibility to the study’s results, yet it’s the summarised results that marketeers want to see and how this information can be used in their day-to-day marketing endeavors.

Cover of the OIG USPS RARC Report

The Big Picture:

Marketing and advertising decision-makers want to know where physical and digital media are most effective in the consumer’s buying process. While participants in this project showed no preference between physical and digital advertising when responding to surveys, neuromarketing techniques revealed different subconscious physiological responses among participants. The study indicated that digital ads may provide a cost effective option for companies that are trying to get consumers’ attention to quickly understand a marketing message. However, companies that want to generate a more accurate memory of an ad, for better recall during a purchase, would be served best by physical ads. Additionally, the research showed that physical ads generate brain activity associated with a higher perceived value and desirability of the advertised product or service. Recent research shows that activation in this area (ventral striatum) during product evaluation is the strongest predictor of real-world market behavior, like purchases and sales.

Although physical communications can have a greater subconscious effect than their digital counterpart in many regards, digital communication presents its own strengths, and the complementary nature of the two formats can provide a powerful media mix. By understanding the underlying neurological responses and revealed preferences of recipients through carefully controlled neuromarketing studies, companies can use this new type of research to learn how each media purchase can be optimized in an integrated marketing campaign.

Enhancing the Value of Mail: THe Human Response

In this age of multichannel campaigns, it’s important to remember that print media an important channel that should not be overlooked. Other studies continue to show positive results from using postcards, flyers, marketing kits and catalogs; especially when integrated into the various electronic channels at our disposal.