Direct Mail – is it junk or is it a hidden gem?

In the digital era does direct mail still have a place? Our marketing experts investigate the viability and effectiveness of direct mail campaigns.

In the digital era does direct mail still have a place? Our marketing experts investigate the viability and effectiveness of direct mail campaigns.

In the current digital age it has never been easier for advertisers to target an audience; there are abundant opportunities to reach consumers in real time. This means that for a large number of brands, marketing continues 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. There is no down time as your competitors are always on hand to siphon off your customers if you dare get complacent.

Conversely, due to the abundance of digital touchpoints – on top of traditional media channels – it isn’t uncommon to be exposed to thousands of brand messages a day. This makes it harder than ever for a brand message to have an impact. It is increasingly easy for a single marketing message to find itself lost in the noise.

What are digital touchpoints

Digital touchpoints are the numerous online and mobile interactions where consumers engage with a business. This includes interactions across different devices, from smartphones to mobile tablets, social media and websites.

What does this mean for the advertiser?

It means that choosing the most effective channels to connect with your target market has never been more important. Marketers need to devise campaigns which cut through the noise, the message needs to speak to the target audience, it needs to be relevant, it needs to be memorable, and most of all it needs to inspire action.

So, where does direct mail fit in?

In an increasingly digital world, direct mail needs to work hard to retain its relevance. Royal Mail realised this and commissioned a piece of specialised  Neuroscience Research hoping to more fully understand the end users subconscious brain responses. Subconscious brain responses are the responses which underpin consumers day-to-day decisions and subsequent actions. The study measured responses to branded direct mail, email, and social media advertising.

Rather than asking questions which could be argued to contain bias, brain activity was monitored and recorded as the participant interacted with the various items of branded mail detailed below;


Participants brought unopened mail from their homes, to which mail stimulus was added and placement order randomised. Participants were asked to browse mail just as they would at home and given the choice to engage with, or disregard any piece of mail as they normally would.


Participants were asked to browse their own personal emails and were then directed to a bookmarked email account with email stimulus. Participants were asked to browse emails and open only those they would normally open at home. This part of the study was completed using tablets.

Social Media

Participants logged onto their own Facebook accounts – via a smartphone app specifically developed for the study – which enabled stimulus to be delivered into participants’ own live Facebook feeds. This was put in a randomised order, replacing the sponsored ads that would normally appear.

The results

The results of the study illustrates that direct mail activates areas of the brain responsible for longterm memory encoding. This suggests that direct mail still has a part to play within the media mix to boost memorability and potentially increase purchase intent.

The participants who were exposed to a social media advert prior to viewing the direct mail, recorded relatively low memory encoding, however, for those who saw the direct mail first, their brain response to social media advertising was very different. With far higher memory encoding noted. This illustrates that consumers who were primed by receiving mail first, remembered more when faced with subsequent digital advertising.

The time spent looking at social ads backed up these findings. Researchers noticed an increase of approximately a second, from an average of 3.3 seconds for those who had not seen the direct mail, to 4.3 seconds for people who had seen direct mail first. In a busy digital space a second is a long time.

A message that’s remembered is more likely to inspire action

So what does this mean? Direct mail is the touchpoint that people physically touch; in a digital word the power of touch can make a real difference. Rather than excluding traditional advertising when considering the options for an advertising campaign, this research illustrates that advertising campaigns need to be creative and need to embrace a variety of methods to reach the target audience. Mail adds a unique and tangible dimension to the media mix. It is tactile, it is personal and it has the ability to reach people in their homes.

Innovate, innovate, innovate

Direct mail companies have been working hard to keep their offering relevant, although the traditional options are still available, there are now many original and innovative designs to choose from. PRG recently designed and managed a client’s integrated marketing campaign which utilised an extending telescopic direct mailer and a video direct mailer, two innovative and highly creative direct mail options.

A video direct mailer offers the perfect symphony of traditional and digital, you can put your brand video directly into the hands of your prospect, they can watch on a 4k screen, pause, rewind, increase or decrease the volume and most importantly, save to watch again.

In the digital age where it isn’t unusual to see thousands of brand messages a day, encouraging your target audience to pause and review your message without the ‘noise’ of everyday life is undeniably attractive.

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