The Postal Service Office of Inspector General (OIG) worked with Temple University’s Center for Neural Decision Making to study people’s responses to physical and digital media in the consumer buying process, including memory of products advertised and intent to purchase. The study monitored physiological and neurological activity to understand the subconscious response using technologies like eye tracking, heart-rate measurement, and MRIs to measure a person’s reaction to various stimuli. Initially, participants were exposed to a mix of 40 different physical and digital ads. In the second session, memory retrieval (item and source memory) of the 40 ads was assessed. The results were conclusive – direct mail has a noticeably greater effect on purchase than digital ads alone.

From the Executive summary in the study: 

“The results of the study showed that participants processed digital ad content quicker. However, participants spent more time with physical ads. When viewing physical ads, participants had a stronger emotional response and remembered them better. Physical ads, though slower to get one’s attention at first exposure, leave a longer lasting impact for easy recall when making a purchase decision. Most importantly, physical ads triggered activity in the area of the brain (ventral striatum) that is responsible for value and desirability for featured products, which can signal a greater intent to purchase.”

Here are the results by media type:

Suggestions from the study are (via Direct Marketing News): 
Test the piece for maximum reaction. Take neuromarketing a step further by doing your own studies to determine how specific elements of a direct mail piece—whether color, shape, or use of white space—elicits the best reaction from consumers.

Explore sequencing options. Neuroscience could also be used, says OIG, to determine the most effective sequence of media elements in a campaign. Does email followed by direct mail work best, or vice versa? Should other media such as television be included?

Consider digital print technology. Test whether using augmented reality or QR codes in mail pieces ramps up conversion rates in multichannel campaigns. A previous OIG study found that such methods resonated well with younger digital natives.

To test the piece for maximum reaction, test whether using augmented reality or QR codes in mail pieces ramps up conversion rates in multichannel campaigns, and experiment with colors and variable print. The impact of a bold image cannot be understated. The new USPS tagline is “Cutting edge technology makes mail more powerful than ever!” so don’t be afraid to experiment!