blank, empty, envelopeFor Today’s Target Marketing Challenges, Direct Mail is Declared a Winner

Without a doubt, the last decade sparked an explosion in the world of digital media advertising. Ten years in, however, marketers are just beginning to feel the shrapnel. When every Tom’s, Dick’s, and Harry’s is peddling shoes, sporting goods, and shaving accoutrements across one’s screen, the result is a mind-numbing, visually-dizzying static. Today, one is inundated by emails, tweets, sponsored Facebook posts, pop-ups and banner ads from marketing minds across the globe. The challenge for marketers, then, has been how to rise above the digital din and get content to their desired demographic.

A recent neuromarketing study conducted by Temple University’s Center for Neural Decision Making suggests that for comprehensive customer engagement, direct mail may be the answer.

Stamp of Approval
Subjects of the study were monitored with fingertip sensors to gauge heart rate, respiration, and perspiration—each a measure of emotional engagement. Visual stimulation was studied with eye tracking, and MRI scans were employed to access deep brain activity. Subjects were then shown a selection of both digital ads and traditional direct mail advertising. The results, in an era where digital reigns supreme, were undeniably surprising. While digital advertising proved to grab the viewer’s attention more quickly, a direct mail or “physical” ad consistently engaged the viewer longer, and elicited a much stronger emotional reaction.

The study’s participants demonstrated better recall of content with postcards than emails. More impressively, perhaps, MRI results indicated that the physical ads activated the brain’s center of desirability and value far more effectively than their digital counterparts. This research suggests that physical ads could be a more direct route to ultimate purchasing decisions.  

All Hail the Snail
Better still, it seems that traditional mail elicits a favorable response across generations. For baby boomers, correspondence arriving each afternoon at their doorstep harkens back to a simpler era. There’s a personal nostalgia factor that accompanies a beautifully crafted letter, the opening of an envelope, the sight of a postage stamp. And there’s a raw, tactile pleasure in holding a tangible, physical piece of correspondence. Just ask any diehard bibliophile the perks of a book over an eReader and you’ll get an earful.  

Quite surprisingly, millennials—the generation born between 1982 and 2004—have greatly aided in the resurgence of snail mail. A Nielsen report from 2011 revealed that 92 percent of millennials surveyed claimed direct mail pieces directly influenced their retail purchasing decisions. In comparison, only 78 percent of millennials credit email marketing with any weight of influence. Just as the traditional wristwatch and vinyl record albums became trendy must-haves for today’s youth, direct mail is a novel pleasure to consumers born into a world where old-school correspondence faces extinction.

Finally, a direct mail piece benefits from having little competition. While computer and smartphone screens are wallpapered with marketing messages, clamoring for attention, the brick and mortar mailbox waits patiently for content. As more and more of us pay our bills online, shop online, and communicate online, our front porch mailboxes are rarely opened. When a physical ad—a postcard, perhaps—is delivered there, it is often delivered alone.

Does Old School Still Rule?
So, with new research proclaiming the benefits of direct mail marketing over today’s digital content delivery, do marketers go full-on traditional with their media strategies? Absolutely not. As long as there are computer screens and smart phones, tablets, pads, and pods in the universe, digital marketing will remain the most cost-efficient way to reach a mass audience. But for emotional connection with your target market, and for prompting purchasing decisions, old-school direct mailings have a distinct value.

A prudent marketer, then, might consider a marriage of the two. In multichannel strategies, both digital ads and physical ads should coexist. Industry experts recommend experimenting with color palettes and design aesthetics as well as size when implementing direct mail pieces. Since physical ads have a longer shelf life and may very well end up on their recipient’s kitchen counter for days, make sure they engage the eye. If done well, your company’s postcard may earn its own spot, beneath a magnet, on the family refrigerator—a daily reminder of your brand, your name, your appeal.

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