By Antony Miller, Head of Media Development, Royal Mail.
With consumers holding more marketing power than ever, thanks in part to the growing power of social media, brands are finding it increasingly difficult to fully understand people’s motivation for buying a product or service.
Marketers are frequently employing neuroscience to assist in the planning of campaigns by understanding the influences and behaviour that lead consumers to make a purchase.
Scanning the blood flow and electrical surges in various regions of the brain via Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI) can help brands plan effective campaign communication strategies.
Academics at Bangor University were recently commissioned by Royal Mail and research specialist Millward Brown to carry out an innovative study to determine if the brain reacts differently to marketing messages delivered through direct mail in comparison to information shown on screen.
The aim of the investigation was to support the hypothesis that people would engage more with real physical objects than they would if while watching a screen.
Participants were shown both prompts of physical direct mail and advertising in a digital format. All material was edited to show purely the basic elements of the images and text.
This approach ensured the participants would not be influenced by different creative approaches and effects not directly emanating from the intrinsic attributes of the channel. Participants saw half of the advertising in print and half in digital format.
Researchers also asked the UK-representative group about their opinions on the products shown to them, in order to test whether print marketing or online executions make a message more memorable or preferable for the participant.
A measurement of brain activity was taken in the MRI scanner to identify parts of the brain that show increased activity by imaging changes in the blood supply.
The research found that certain parts of the brain generated more activity when presented with tangible pieces of direct mail. The parietal cortex of the brain is associated with controlling a combination of visual and spatial awareness.
In other words, a physical piece of direct mail is significantly more multi-sensory than marketing that appears online, due to the increased number of senses that are triggered by simply holding something, rather than merely watching it on a screen.
When a piece of DM was held and read by a participant, their reactions suggested that they were experiencing thought patterns similar to those the brain exhibits when processing memories and emotions.
Other studies have shown that emotional processing can generate a positive response to brands and their messages, and enhanced levels of engagement.
When someone engages with an emotional response through tangible material, it produces an enhanced recognition that can result in increased attention given to the brand in the future.
In contrast, when the participants were presented with digital material the researchers noted the group found it difficult to sustain their attention for the task and found it significantly harder to focus.
A region of the brain associated with the filtering of irrelevant information, the temporoparietal junction, was activated in the participants when they were shown marketing on a screen.
These findings are supported by other bio-sensory studies which have also found that it takes increased cognitive effort to process material that appears on a screen in comparison to holding material to read it.
So it appears easier for the brain to process messages from tangible direct mail compared to digital marketing material, and subsequently easier to remember.
In the final stage of the experiment, the researchers aimed to distinguish between different regions of the brain that were affected by memories of two types of marketing medium.
This exercise was conducted by asking participants to make a quick decision to either ‘save’ or ‘bin’ a message they were given, based on their opinion formed in the earlier exposure to the material.
When asked to keep or discard items, the physical direct mail provoked activity in the right-middle cingulate, a region of the brain that is associated with decision-making connected to emotions and social issues.
Therefore the research suggests that direct mail has links to emotion-based decision-making.
Neuromarketing is evolving as an increasingly important tool in marketers’
armoury, giving previously unknown insights into the way brand messages are processed by the brain.
While past research has shown the important role direct mail plays in the marketing mix, these findings prove that it also has the power to create an emotional connection that can ultimately add significant value to a brand’s bottom line.
Check out 12ahead, our brand new platform
covering the latest in cutting-edge digital marketing and creative technology from around the globe.
12ahead identifies emerging trends and helps
you to understand how they can apply to modern-day companies.
We believe 12ahead can put you and your
business 12 months ahead of the competition. Sign up for a free trial today.