Direct mail isn’t dead. It’s dormant. Eclipsed by cheaper, faster, ubiquitous email, direct mail is generally perceived as the dinosaur of marketing tactics — though don’t tell that to financial services, telco, publishing or B2B marketers.
There’s a lot more juice left in direct mail, according to new neurological research conducted by Temple University’s Center for Neural Decision Making and sponsored by the U.S. Postal Service. (Add a big grain of salt here since direct mail accounts for one-third of USPS revenues, roughly $20 billion in 2014.)
Direct mail has lost significant volume in recent years. This has actually opened up opportunity for marketers, since there’s much less competition in mailboxes. The combination of big data to personalize physical communications linked to experimentation with sizes, formats, textures, colors, and sequences has yielded strong results for many brands. Similarly, the availability of better lists, data co-ops, and behavioral data has made the higher cost of direct mail worth it in many circumstances. Consumers can still be surprised and delighted with a well-crafted, personalized direct mail piece containing a relevant and timely offer.
The Postal Service and Temple University weren’t messing around. To produce their report, titled “Enhancing the Value of Mail: The Human Response,” they used a variety of techniques to understand the impact of direct mail. They started with a consumer survey and added eye tracking, core biometrics (skin sensors), and brain scans (MRIs) to compare physical and emotional responses to survey answers. The operative hypothesis, based on two research studies by Britain’s Royal Mail, was that physical media generated deeper brain activity and thus greater engagement than digital media.
The combination of research techniques looked at nine attributes ranging from attention, time spent, and engagement to memory accuracy, memory speed, and willingness to purchase. Survey results showed no preference between digital and physical media. But neuromarketing indicators revealed different and significant subconscious and physiological responses.
In eight of the nine categories, the study concluded that while digital ads grabbed attention faster, physical ads hold attention longer, prompt more emotional responses, and play a more direct role in stimulating demand and desire leading to purchase. The argument is that direct mail has added consumer impact and selling power that justifies the cost difference.
It’s an interesting and provocative pitch. The scientific aspects make a compelling case to consider direct mail in a marketing mix where a product or service is new, complex, or requires an element of tangibility.
Danny Flamberg, EVP Managing Director of Digital Strategy and CRM at Publicis based in New York, has been building brands and building businesses for more than 30 years.Prior to joining Publicis, he led a successful global consulting group called Booster Rocket, as Managing Partner. Before becoming a consultant, he was Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP, SVP and Managing Director at Digitas in New York and Europe and President of Relationship Marketing at Amiratti Puris Lintas and Lowe Worldwide.
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