Why marketing should be touchy feely

Mark Thomson, media director at Royal Mail, argues that neuroscience should play an important role when planning an integrated campaign.

Flick through the pages of any trade magazine, or even the features section of a national newspaper, and you’re likely to come across column inches dedicated to the latest developments in neuroscience.

There is increasing interest within the marketing community about the potential for neuroscience techniques to assist in the planning of campaigns by understanding the influences and behaviour that lead consumers to make a purchase.

Scanning the blood flow and electrical surges in various regions of the brain can help brands plan effective communication strategies.

It is a commonly held perception among marketing commentators that traditional direct methods of communication are dying out in favour of digital marketing. Yet research actually suggests that combining direct mail and digital channels can increase campaign return on investment by up to 62%.

Furthermore, neuroscience experiments support the theory that direct mail creates significantly longer-lasting impressions on certain areas of the brain compared to digital marketing, and could consequently have a greater impact on a brand’s bottom line.

To prove this point, Royal Mail commissioned academics at Bangor University to determine whether the brain reacts differently to marketing messages delivered through direct mail in comparison to information shown on screen.

The aim was to support the hypothesis that people would engage more with real physical objects than they would while watching a screen.

Participants were shown prompts of physical direct mail and advertising in a digital format. Researchers also asked the UK-representative group about their opinions on the products shown to them, to test whether print or online executions make a message more memorable or preferable.

Certain parts of the brain generated more activity when presented with tangible pieces of direct mail. The parietal cortex of the brain is associated with controlling a combination of visual and spatial awareness.

In other words, a physical piece of direct mail is significantly more multi-sensory than marketing that appears online, due to the increased number of senses that are triggered by simply holding something, rather than merely watching it on a screen.

When a piece of DM was held and read by a participant, their reactions suggested they were experiencing thought patterns similar to those the brain exhibits when processing memories and emotions.

Other studies have shown that emotional processing can generate a positive response to brands and their messages, and enhanced levels of engagement. In contrast, when the participants were presented with digital material the researchers noted the group found it difficult to sustain their attention for the task and found it significantly harder to focus.

Finally, the researchers aimed to distinguish between different regions of the brain that were affected by memories of the two types of marketing material.

Participants were asked to make a quick decision to either ’save’ or ’bin’ a message, based on their opinion formed in the earlier exposure to the material.

When asked to keep or discard items, the physical direct mail provoked activity in the right-middle cingulate, a region of the brain that is associated with decision-making connected to emotions and social issues.

Neuromarketing is evolving as an increasingly important tool in marketers’ armoury, giving previously unknown insights into the way brand messages are processed by the brain.

While past research has shown the important role direct mail plays in the marketing mix, these latest findings suggest it also has the power to create an emotional connection that can ultimately add significant value to a brand’s bottom line.

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