The Science Behind Direct Mail’s Effectiveness

Believe it or not, there is scientific proof that shows why direct mail is so effective. Multiple studies have been done on how we interact with different types of media, ranging from printed advertisements to videos and more. You process the information you read on a piece of paper differently than the content on a computer screen.

So which is more powerful? The Instagram reel you saw in your feed about a new brand of organic wine or the postcard you received in your mailbox with a photo of the wine bottle?

The two main studies we found on this subject revealed some shocking truths — mainly that people recall direct mail pieces more than digital ads.

Enhancing the Value of Mail: The Human Response

The USPS worked with the Temple University’s Center for Neural Decision Making to oversee a study that compared people’s differing responses to physical and digital media during the consumer buying process.

The study used eye-movement tracking and biometric measurements, such as heart rate and respiration, to gauge attention and emotional engagement with both digital and direct mail.

They found:

  • Direct mail has a more significant emotional impact than digital ads, resulting in a stronger recall up to one week later.
  • Participants experienced more excitement and desire for the valued items when interacting with direct mail.
  • While digital media captures consumers’ attention quicker, it was the physical mail pieces that had a longer lasting impact and easy recollection.
  • Strong evidence suggested that a physical mail piece would be the superior option that could lead to a purchase.
  • Consumers recall the direct mail pieces more because they activate the parts of our minds that control emotion.

A Bias for Action
By: Canada Post

Canada Post partnered with a research and strategy firm, True Impact Marketing, to measure the effectiveness of physical (direct mail) and digital (email and display) advertising media by observing their impacts on the consumer.

The tests included two methods of tracking including eye tracking tests that collect data about attention spans and stimuli from a small camera.

They found:

  • In a test that compared the impact of similar direct mail and digital media marketing campaigns, participants’ recall was 70% higher when they were exposed to direct mail versus a digital ad, which had a recall of 44%.
  • Researchers found direct mail held participants’ attention for 118% longer and stimulated 29% higher brand recall than digital advertising.
  • The study validated Canada Post’s hypothesis that direct mail is more effective at driving consumer action than digital advertising.

It’s important to note that these studies don’t recommend completely disregarding digital advertising, nor are they recommending businesses solely market with direct mail. They only reveal that digital media, like social media advertising, is not as effective as people have imagined.

Further, these tests prove that direct mail is a powerful marketing method that can elicit more attention from prospects and could cause higher response rates due to the lasting impact mail has on recipients.

A better strategy would be to combine both direct mail and digital media. Yet, you should keep in mind, they have different response rates and could be utilized in different ways based on this data.

For example, due to the fact that these studies show people spend more time and attention looking at mail, you could use social media as a way to remind customers to buy but rely more on mailers to encourage prospects to take the action of picking up a phone or making a purchase online.

When they have a postcard in their hands, they are ready to ingest the information and make a more informed choice on seeking out the company and its products and services or not. A digital advertisement could be used to nudge them in the right direction and support a stronger connection with the brand on social media platforms or a website.

To learn more about combining the power of direct mail with digital advertisements, check out our Everywhere Small Business campaigns. They include sending mailers out to your targeted prospects and then placing follow-up digital ads on Google, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, and more to increase brand awareness.

To speak with a marketing consultant and get expert advice on direct mail marketing, call 800-628-1804.

FREE DOWNLOAD: Postcard Marketing in an Online World Ebook



  • Wow what a great article! The fact that it is research-based is awesome! As proof, I still have a postcard for window replacement on our table even though I plan on using a different company.

    Thank you for the insight!!

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