If you’d asked us ten years ago, we marketing folk would probably have said that our brochures and postal mailshots were on their way out. More and more people were getting digitally connected, websites were well established and getting faster, emails were all but ubiquitous. We couldn’t be blamed for thinking our print would be going the way of paper order forms and letterheads.
Yet here we are and our print is still going strong. This despite the fact that over 50% of the population have constant access to the internet via smartphones and tablets. At Theatre Royal Winchester, which I market, questionnaires, filled in by about half our customers, tell us the season brochure is still the number one source for their decision to buy a ticket, it can be as high as 60% of customers in the case of a play.
Digital has undoubtedly had an impact. The website is the second most mentioned of the theatre’s marketing tools. E-shots are now the third best way of selling individual shows.
So why does print maintain such a hold in our digital world? There are some practicalities. Brochures are usually easier to navigate than websites, try as we may to tailor the UX to the visitors’ needs. You can flip through, dip in, and hang on to it through the season. But there’s more to it than that. Research suggests our brains may be wired for print.
Take this study sponsored by Canada Post and carried out by True Impact Marketing1. It found Direct Mail requires 21% less cognitive effort to process than Digital Media, meaning that it is both easier to understand and more memorable. Print created 20% higher motivation to act than digital. The ratio of these two factors means print is much more likely to lead to consumer action.
More than that, the impact lasted longer- recall of the brand was 70% higher for direct mail than digital. And print gets its message across more quickly.
In a study from Temple University2 using brain scans, physical did better than digital on the time a customer spent on an ad, the emotional reaction, how quickly and confidently they remembered it, how much they subconsciously wanted it and valued it. Digital only scored better on focusing attention on key elements. Other factors like the amount of information processed, how accurately they remembered it and how willing they were to purchase were even-stevens.
This could be the clincher. The ventral striatum area of the brain was activated more by print advertising than digital media, indicating that the former was more successful than the latter at create desire and a sense of value.
Brain scans were also used in a case study by Millward Brown in collaboration with Bangor University3. It found ‘physical material is more “real” to the brain. It has a meaning, and a place. It is better connected to memory because it engages with its spatial memory networks.’ ‘Physical material involves more emotional processing, which is important for memory and brand associations.’ ‘Physical materials produced more brain responses connected with internal feelings, suggesting greater “internalization” of the ads.’
Two more studies show the power of print. One found that comprehension is higher when people read print4. The other showed that digital readers browse and scan and don’t pay sustained attention5.
Even though print may be a better marketing tool than digital in oh-so-many ways, digital comes into its own when you compare cost. You may not sell so many tickets per e-shot as per mailshot but you can send out thousands of them for the cost of a handful of posted or even door-to-door delivered leaflets. With this in mind, Direct Mail is probably best if you’re selling a luxury item or a service with an accumulated long term value, such as a subscription, contract or repeat business. For something like a theatre show, I find it’s best to hit customers first with an email and, only if they don’t respond, send a mailshot, and even then only to the best prospects.
Direct mail selling individual shows may fall down on the ROI but, in one piece of print, a brochure can cover dozens of products, thus spreading the cost and maximizing ROI. The power of print means your brochure could be your strongest marketing tool.
1 Canada Post / True Impact Marketing, Understanding the Impact of Physical Communications through Neuroscience, February 2015
2Predicting Advertising Success Beyond Traditional Measures: New Insights from Neurophysiological Methods and Market Response Modeling. Journal of Marketing Research, August 2015
3Using Neuroscience to understand the role of Direct Mail. Millward Brown
4Reading linear texts on paper versus computer screen: Effects on reading comprehension. International Journal of Educational Research, Vol 58, 013, Pages 61–68
5Ziming Liu, (2005) “Reading behavior in the digital environment: Changes in reading behavior over the past ten years”, Journal of Documentation, Vol. 61 Issue 6, pp.700 – 712
This article is written by Paul Lewis, owner of the Winchester-based marketing consultancy Seven Experience. The views expressed are those of the author. A version of this article has appeared on the Seven Experience website.