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The Human Touch

Have we been overlooking the intrinsic value of mail for marketing messages?

Why mail delivers the best marketing messages

As marketers, it’s easy to think we’re living in a dream world where it’s never been simpler to create and distribute brand and marketing messages, but a recent study shows that for all their convenience and affordability, digital channels play second fiddle to traditional, physical mail when it comes to brand message recall and engagement.

Websites, banner advertising, social media, newspapers, email and post present a multitude of touchpoints and channels for marketers to select and exploit. But when consumers are exposed to thousands of brand messages every day, how can a single message still stand out?

For a message to inspire action, it must be remembered. Anything that’s stored into someone’s memory for more than a few minutes becomes important and significant, for it’s these marketing messages that have the greatest influence on later decision making and purchase intent.

Another key factor that drives memory encoding is engagement. If something feels personally relevant, our brains are more likely to put it into memory.

In a bid to find out more, Royal Mail, Britain’s national postal service, commissioned a special report from a group of neuroscience experts. They were instructed to measure the subconscious effect of different media channels, to see how consumers process brand messages and whether the choice of media affects how well they’re remembered.

Three channels – mail, email and social media were compared for the study. Participants (aged between 18-70, evenly split by gender) had their electrical brain activity monitored and recorded through visors and headsets, while viewing content based on actual campaigns from brands across several different sectors.

Brain response was scored, with a reading of 0.7 and above indicating a response powerful enough to impact future behaviour.

  • Mail managed to activate areas of the brain responsible for long-term memory encoding. It was 49% more effective than email and 35% more than social media advertising.
  • Mail also boosted engagement: it was 33% more engaging than email and 35% more engaging than social media advertising.
  • Interestingly, mail also boosted other channels such as social media advertising. People were primed by receiving mail first. Memory encoding for social media advertising was 44% higher when people had seen mail first. And when primed by mail, people spent 30% longer looking at the social ads.
  • Mail was universally strong across age groups.

A qualitative study, conducted alongside the neuroscience, reinforced the value of mail as a physical item and why the power of touch makes such a difference.

Mail’s physical quality ‘reflects the care and effort used in the message’, respondents said, with 70% saying they felt valued when receiving advertising mail, against only 30% for email. The same percentages said it gave a better impression of the company that sent it, feeling ‘human and real’.

Respondents also pointed out that, compared with other media, mail received their undivided attention – not only can they choose when to engage with it, but ‘when you’re reading a letter, it’s the only thing you do’.

Meanwhile, separate independent audience measurement data for mail reveals that mail delivers multiple actions, many of which are commercial:

  • Visit the company’s website
  • Buy something
  • Plan a large purchase
  • Use a voucher or code
  • Order a catalogue
  • Tell others about it


Cutting through the noise, engaging, making the recipient feel valued, delivering ROI – mail certainly seems to have a lot going for it. I myself embarked on my marketing career well before email and social media marketing was a ‘thing’. I can still remember many of the mail campaigns I ran for clients: their creative nature, their themes, their clear marketing messages, their tactile nature and – dare I say it – the successful responses they generated have lingered long in my memory.

Can we honestly say the same thing for email marketing? We’re probably all guilty of the same offence against our fellow marketers: when your inbox is pinging constantly with email offers and e-blasts, the easiest way of dealing with them is the ‘Send to trash’ option…

Intrigued by the possibilities of a ‘retro’ mail campaign to deliver marketing messages for your product or brand? Read the full Royal Mail report. Agro Mavens offers a full-service direct mail capability, including design, print and fulfilment. Drop us an email (or a letter!) if you’d like to discuss an idea.



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