DIGITAL VS. PRINT ADVERTISING: WHICH IS BETTER FOR BRAND RECALL?

Many have compared the introduction of the internet to the California gold rush that took place in the mid-19th century.

 

Around 1850, several golden nuggets were found in Sacramento Valley. This discovery ended up attracting more than 100,000 visitors to the area, all intent on discovering a small fortune for themselves. While some of them did enjoy the riches they sought (more than $2 Billion worth of gold was mined during this time), the majority of prospects went home with less money than they arrived with.

 

After all, mining isn’t cheap and only a select few would strike the motherload.

 

The point is, these gold prospectors decided to forego other opportunities right in front of them – like the industrial revolution, which was also taking place during this time – in an attempt to pursue the shiny allure of gold.

 

The same can be said about the debate between digital and print marketing. Digital is new, so people are rushing to invest thousands of dollars into digital marketing strategies. However, if you look at the facts, you’ll realize that, in many ways, a portion of your budget would be better spent on print marketing materials like direct mail.

 

The best results can be seen when both print AND digital are used TOGETHER (more on this later).

Digital Vs. Print: Which is Better for Brand Recall?

 

According to an article published by Forbes, a recent study performed by neuromarketing firm TrueImapct compared the effects of paper marketing (direct mail) and digital media (email and display ads).

 

For this study, they used eye-tracking technology, EEG scans, and personal questionnaires to measure comprehension, motivation/persuasiveness, and how long subjects engaged with the content.

 

Here is what they discovered:

 

“Direct mail requires 21% less cognitive effort to process than digital media, suggesting that it is both easier to understand and more memorable. Post-exposure memory tests validated what the cognitive load test revealed about direct mail’s memory encoding capabilities. When asked to cite the brand (company name) of an advertisement they had just seen, recall was 70% higher among participants who were exposed to a direct mail piece (75%) than a digital ad (44%).” – Source 

 

But perhaps more interesting than the findings themselves is the cause of these findings. Why does print advertising perform better than digital when it comes to brand recall?

Why Is Print Advertising Better for Brand Recall?

 

Incorporates Multiple Senses

 

One of the reasons print advertising is so effective for consumer brand recall is that it incorporates the use of multiple senses. Instead of just reading a message from a screen, your skin cells are exploring the surface of the paper and taking in an abundance of information. You’re getting a feel for the texture, weight, shape, and even the smell of the paper.

 

Combined, all of these elements help consumers remember a brand’s message weeks or even months after it has been taken in.

 

The best explanation of this phenomenon can be seen from a study that is described in an article published by the Association for Psychological Science.

 

In this study, participants were blindfolded and asked to physically examine 168 everyday objects for 10 seconds each. They were told they were going to be tested on each object later so they should pay very close attention to what they felt.

 

Then, the test subjects were asked to complete a haptic memory test. In this test, they held each of the objects they examined before, except this time, they were also given a duplicate of each object with very subtle differences. They were then asked to identify which of the two objects was the original.

 

Impressively, participants were able to choose the correct object 94% of the time! Even a week later when they were asked to complete the same test, they still had an 84% success rate.

 

But chances are when you’re reading a piece of direct mail, you’re not actively trying to remember what the piece feels like.

 

That’s why researchers in the study mentioned above decided to conduct a second study with a new set of participants. This study was virtually identical to the first except that participants were not told to memorize the objects they felt.

 

Just by simply holding the object for a certain period of time (and not actively trying to remember how they felt), these test subjects successfully differentiated between the original and duplicate object 79% of the time!

 

Based on the results of this test, you can see how including physical print advertising materials like direct mail into your marketing campaign is a great way to improve brand recall.

 

Even several days after your initial message, consumers are likely to remember your brand.

 

But touch isn’t the only sense that can make a difference in a customer’s ability to recall a particular brand. The latest neuromarketing research also indicates that smell can play a major role as well.

 

In fact, many companies have experienced fantastic results by using scented direct mail. One of the reasons this approach has been so effective is because scents are strongly linked to emotion and memory.

 

For example, does the smell of rain or freshly-cut grass cause you to recall a specific memory? That’s because the olfactory system (responsible for smell) is directly linked to the limbic system which is involved in processing emotion and memory.

 

If your direct mail piece can elicit an emotional response from the reader, they’re much more likely to remember your brand.

 

Easier to Comprehend

 

A story published by Jill Barshay on hechingerreport.org brings an interesting perspective to the argument that print materials result in higher comprehension levels compared to digital.

 

Barshay writes that for years Virginia Clinton, an Assistant Professor at the University of North Dakota, encouraged her students to read from digital mediums instead of print. Her reasoning was simple – why not save the money that they would otherwise spend on expensive paper textbooks?

 

At first, it seems like this is a good idea – digital learning materials are cheaper, convenient, and they help protect the environment.

 

However, Clinton began to notice that many of her education students told her that they preferred reading from paper.

 

This intrigued Clinton, so she began to investigate. She gathered 33 of the most recent studies comparing print and digital comprehension. Out of the 33 studies analyzed, she found that 29 of them found that readers learned more from paper compared to digital.

 

According to Barshay’s article, Clinton’s analysis is the third study to analyze reputable research and find that paper is better for comprehension.

 

It’s not exactly clear why print material seems to perform better when it comes to learning, memorization, and brand recall, but a common theory is that it reduces potential distractions.

 

When you’re reading on a device, you’re often interrupted by notifications for emails, texts, social media updates, apps, and countless other things. Just a single interruption can knock you out of the “flow-state” and it can take more than 20-minutes to get re-focused.

 

Paper is analog, so these distractions are eliminated entirely.

 

So what does this mean for marketing?

 

The fact that paper is a better medium for learning also translates to the advertising world. Think about it – if you can capture your reader’s attention and enhance how well they comprehend your message, they’re much more likely to invest in your business.

 

In fact, print has an approximate response rate of 9% while digital advertising has an average response rate of about 1% or less!

 

Elicits a Stronger Emotional Response

 

Finally, data suggests that print material is better for generating an emotional response from your audience. Perhaps this is due to the additional senses being activated (as mentioned above) or it might simply be a result of lingering nostalgia from a time when paper was the primary method of communication.

 

Regardless, an article from Forbes cites a 2009 study by Bangor University and advertising agency Millward Brown that helps explain why paper is so effective at generating an emotional response.

 

In this study, they used an fMRI scanner to measure the activity of the brain when subjects were exposed to different advertising mediums (paper vs. digital). They found that the areas of the brain associated with emotion were much more active when the subjects were examining physical materials.

 

The study goes on to outline a few possible reasons for this increased activity (all info provided by this article on Forbes.com):

      • The brain views physical materials as being more “real” because it takes up space. This helps engage the brain’s spatial memory networks.

      • Physical memory 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.

It’s critically important to understand the role of emotion in marketing because emotion is one of the main drivers of action. Without emotion and action, no one will buy your products or services.

 

In Summary…

 

After reading this article, you might be thinking – it’s settled then, I’ll switch to print marketing because it’s better for brand recall

 

But…not so fast. While paper is in fact more effective at capturing attention, improving comprehension, and delivering your brand’s message, the problem is that it has a limited reach compared to digital strategies.

 

After all, you can only send out so many pieces of direct mail before reaching your campaign budget. On the other hand, an email or a social media post is free and has virtually unlimited reach.

 

It’s not a question of if you should be using paper OR digital. The question is how are you going to integrate BOTH of these strategies into your next marketing campaign. 

 

This is called multi-channel marketing and it is an approach that has proven to be much more effective than just using a single marketing strategy. Here’s a quick look at some of the numbers from Zoom Info to help paint a clearer picture:

      • 72% of consumers say they would rather connect with a brand through multiple marketing channels.

      • 90% of customers expect consistent interactions across all channels.

      • 49% of consumers buy from their favourite multichannel brands at least once per week.

By implementing a multi-channel marketing approach, your business can gain a significant advantage over competitors.

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