Direct mail a ‘power channel’ in the digital age, study finds

Research provides clue as to winning formula: media sequencing matters.

With so many communications channels available in our digital age, marketers often wrestle with which one to use. New research indicates there is an unlikely hero emerging from the din of the digital clamour: direct marketing mail.

According to Connecting for Action, a neuromarketing report just released by Canada Post and Ipsos, “It’s the combination of physicality, data and connectivity that makes direct mail the power channel for customer activation.”

Ipsos, a top global research company, and Neurons Inc., a neuroscience consultancy that applies neuroscience tools and insights to business and social challenges, were commissioned by Canada Post to examine the role of direct mail and various forms of digital advertising in integrated campaigns.

Researchers looked at email, online display ads, pre-roll videos and direct mail — independent of one another, and in a physical-digital combination. They also studied the impact on consumer engagement of the order in which these media are used.

“The study left me with two important new insights,” says Elissa Moses, CEO of the Ipsos Neuro & Behavioral Science Center of Excellence. “First, each media channel is like an instrument in a symphony, with its own unique impact profile and role to play. Second, digital advertising provides value in its own right, but greater value when it’s combined and properly sequenced with direct mail.”

‘Digital advertising provides greater value when it’s combined and properly sequenced with direct mail.’

Jessica Reiter, the centre’s SVP, and Dr. Thomas Ramsoy, founder and CEO of Neurons Inc., conducted the research. Their study showed that digital campaigns integrating direct mail drive 39 % more attention (time spent), 10 % higher brand recall and a 5 % stronger emotional response than single-media digital campaigns.

The research also found that consumer engagement with integrated campaigns may be strongest when direct mail follows digital advertising. Specifically, the study found that compared to the average for other single and combined media campaigns:

  • brand recall was 40 % higher when direct mail followed email;
  • arousal was 26 % higher when direct mail followed digital display; and
  • motivation peaked when direct mail followed pre-roll, proving that the sequenced combination of the media can be a powerful campaign formula for driving consumer action.

The findings suggest that direct mail may serve as a powerful agent for propelling prospects down the purchase funnel when it follows digital ad channels.

How the different channels work together to capture the attention of consumers — connectivity itself — excites Sarah Simpson, Divisional VP of Customer Experience and Loyalty at Holt Renfrew. Making sure direct mail works with digital, “coming up with that whole recipe,” is the marketer’s challenge, she says.

Mark Morin, president of Strategies Relationship Marketing, an award-winning Quebec-based agency, says organizations should be now mindful of the sequence of communications when delivering their message. If done right, “you can deliver that message in a seamless way across a whole series of touchpoints, leading the customer forward in their customer journey,” he says.

Michael Chase, CMO of St. Joseph Communications, is convinced the right combination of media, used in the right order, can deliver explosive results. “When you really look at connectivity and you actually look at how digital and physical work together, it’s a catalyst,” he says.

Digital and direct mail together, says Ipsos’s Moses, are “greater than the sum of the parts.”

Hear top marketers discuss direct mail’s role in an omnichannel universe at