The digital versus physical advertising debate has been going on in one manner or another for a couple decades now. Digital marketing isn’t going away. But, the death of direct mail at the hands of digital* , which has been reported since about 20 minutes after Gary Thuerk of Digital Equipment Corp sent out that first “spam” message on ARPAnet back in 1978, is more than a little overblown.
*Lest we forget: Telemarketing, and fax promos were also supposed to have triggered the demise of direct mail. It’s like a marketers version of Clue (“It was Professor Plum … in the Library … with the junk fax!!!”) except, Direct Mail didn’t get the message and failed to present itself as the game’s corpse.
Since we’ re taking a trip down Memory Lane … those of us … umm … of a certain age likely remember hearing about the “War Room” slogan of the 1992 Clinton campaign, “It’s the economy, stupid”.
That mantra was their internal* reminder to stay on message and not get distracted by other stuff. The economy was, to them, the central issue of 1992 and they did all they could within their powers to never deviate from the message. Sure, other stuff happened along the way (and this is a marketing blog, not a political or historical blog, so, let’s not get ourselves bogged down in the details of a messy 24-month campaign, either), but, whenever possible, they shifted the focus back to the economy.
*No, they did not go out on the campaign trail and call voters “stupid”.
Whatever one thinks about politics, the ’90s, the Arkansas Razorbacks, or President Clinton himself, it’s hard to argue with their campaign goal, which was, in short, to get their candidate elected. They chose their message, they stayed on message, and their guy got elected. That’s a successful campaign.
You may be asking, “But, Tim, what does a political campaign that wrapped up during the final season of The Golden Girls have to do with my direct marketing campaign goals today?”
I’m glad you asked!
Most marketers have one goal: Sell their stuff.
That’s pretty straight-forward, right? Pretty simple (but, not easy) concept. It can take a number of forms … non-profits typically want people to make donations, banks want people to come to them for loans and keep their money with them, colleges want students to take classes with them, surgical supply companies want people to buy their surgical supplies, and so on. In each of these cases, their marketing, advertising, and sales have to motivate a prospect to become some manner of buyer. A buyer has to decide to make the purchase (or donation, etc.).
Where does that decision take place?
While some may have answered “at the office” or “in the kitchen” … Awesome Direct Marketers know the correct answer: In the brain.
Over the years we have offered a thought or five on why postal mail works. But, hey … don’t take my word for it. Take the word of … science! And, we’re not talking plain ol’ science, here … we’re talking neuroscience!
Temple University conducted a study for the USPS in 2015 and the findings* indicated Digital ads were processed more quickly, but, the Print ads had longer engagement with viewers, and a week later the viewers remembered more and had a stronger emotional response to the print ads. Meanwhile a prior study found paper activated the ventral striatum area of the brain more than digital media. That’s important because activity in this small brain structure had the highest correlation with advertising effectiveness. In a nutshell, the physical mail piece hits your brain with power that is not nearly as strong as when you are merely looking at words on a screen. That tactile response matters.
*Here’s a nice summary.
I am not saying Digital is wrong or dying or the equivalent of tossing your marketing budget into a wood chipper. I am saying if you are working with a limited budget, or if you are marketing for new client acquisition, then you may want to strongly consider making Print part of the mix.
Finally, here are a couple visuals for you.
First, a person viewing a digital ad:
Now, someone handling a Print ad:
Which reaction do you want?