Paper vs. Digital: Which Medium Triggers the Sale?

Your marketing budget is stretched and pulled to get the most value out of every penny. Where do you allocate your money: print-based content or digital content? Or, both?


Is your decision based on only the sales revenue, or is a greater value and desire for your products and services and improved brand recognition also important?

Three of the world’s major posts conducted scientific research, the first in 2009, and most recently in 2015 to give you data to base your channel decision on. While many people would be quick to say that paper is dead and digital is the only way to go, this research proved otherwise. We’re taking a look at two of them below.

Emotional Response

In 2009, UK’s Royal Mail wanted to know what the communication differences were between printed and digital-based content. Their interest sparked a collaboration with Millward Brown and the Centre for Experimental Consumer Psychology at Bangor University to investigate the brain’s emotional response to printed and digital direct mail using Neuroscience.

Using functional Magnetic Resonance Imagery (fMRI) researchers found:

  • Tangible materials leave a deeper footprint in the brain.
  • Physical material involves more emotional processing, which is important for memory and brand associations.
  • Physical materials produced more brain responses connected with internal feelings, suggesting greater ‘internalization’ of the ads.
  • Greater emotional processing is facilitated by the physical material than by the virtual: It is better at becoming part of memory – generates more emotion that translates into more positive brand associations.

While not detracting from the virtual or digital advertisements, there does seem to be something special when the participants interacted with paper or physical messages.

Marketing Channels that Drive Actions

The marketing game’s end result is to drive action, but do all channels produce equal results? That’s what Canada Post and leading neuromarketing research and strategy firm, True Impact Marketing, wanted to find out. In the largest study of its kind, researchers studied the impact of physical and digital direct mail marketing on a consumer’s brain by using brain imaging metrics.

During the study, two key factors were used to determine the difference of each marketing channel’s effectiveness: ease of understanding and persuasiveness. Each of these key factors was carefully examined using two brain-imaging methods: Eye Tracking Test and Electroencephalography (EEG).

The results revealed:

  • Direct mail is easier to understand and more memorable than digital media. It takes 21% less thought to process and creates a much higher brand recall.
  • Direct mail is far more persuasive than digital media. Its motivation response is 20% higher — and even better if it appeals to senses beyond touch, such as smell and hearing.
  • Direct mail gets the message across faster. Our brains process it quicker than digital media. An important difference in an era when goldfish have longer attention spans than the average human.
  • Direct mail is more likely to drive consumers to act on your message than digital media.

Next week, we’ll look at subconscious responses in the buying decision process and we’ll reveal what the most effective marketing channel is: paper or digital.

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