Neuroscience Backs Up Direct Mail

There are countless surveys and studies that reinforce how people recall and respond to direct mail compared to other marketing channels. There are plenty of success stories that validate direct mail’s ROI.

But what’s happening below the surface? On a subconscious level, how are people processing brand messages? What inspires them to take action? These are the kinds of questions neuroscience research seeks to answer.

Research commissioned by MarketReach used Steady State Topography technology to measure electrical responses to the brain as people were exposed to direct mail, email, and social media. There were no questions asked. Data is based on brain activity of participants, which was monitored and recorded.

Here is a summary of the study’s key findings.

Direct Mail Is More Memorable

Long-term memory encoding “measures the strength of what’s stored into memory as people experience a stimulus.” Memories stored in the brain for more than a few minutes are considered long-term and can influence purchase decisions and intent. As a result, memory encoding is an indicator of future action.

The study found direct mail activates long-term memory encoding 49 percent more than email and 35 percent more than social media, while 31 percent of addressed direct mail results in the recipient taking action.

Direct Mail Boosts Engagement

The brain is more likely to file something away as a memory when it’s relevant to the individual. Engagement, which shows how a person responds to relevant content, drives memory encoding.

The study found that only direct mail reaches the engagement threshold that indicates the person’s brain response is likely to be strong enough to influence their behavior. In fact, direct mail elicits a 33 percent stronger response than email and a 35 percent stronger response than social media.

As a physical touchpoint, direct mail is more likely to have the undivided attention of recipients because they can control when they engage with it. 94 percent of direct mail is engaged in some way, and an engaged mailing is handled an average of four times.

Direct Mail Improves Social Media Ad Response

When study participants were exposed to direct mail before social media advertising, memory encoding was 44 percent higher than when they had not seen direct mail. They also spent 30 percent more time looking at the social media ad after seeing direct mail first.

These findings show that priming an individual with direct mail can make social media advertising more memorable thus increasing the likelihood of response. As a result, direct mail can elevate the effectiveness of an omni-channel campaign.


This study shows that people respond more strongly to the personal and physical nature of direct mail, but combining direct mail with digital marketing channels like email and social media can deliver the highest ROI.

Of course, if you want to maximize ROI, data matters. Your list matters. The format of your mailings matters. Measurement matters. To make sure your direct mail marketing campaigns are firing on all cylinders, contact us for a consultation and unleash the power of Digital Dog Direct.