• Print media, the brain, and Canada Post

    September 21, 2016 | Ian McLeod
  • Canada Post has had its troubles in recent years, largely because of the shift from paper to electronic transactions.

    The federal corporation’s annual reports show volumes dropping from 10.8 billion pieces of mail in 2009 to 8.9 billion in 2015. Your friends don’t send many Christmas cards any more, and your credit card company wants to send your statements on line.

    canada-post-report-coverAs part of a survival strategy, Canada Post has been working to retain its direct mail customers, the people who send us credit card offers, fundraising appeals or pizza flyers. A 2015 Canada Post marketing study, A Bias for Action, recognizes that digital media play a valuable role in connecting businesses with customers, but it argues that print media are more powerful than digital media in motivating customers to action.

    This conclusion is based on findings from the field of neuroscience. The authors of the 2015 study, from a neuromarketing agency called True Impact, describe the brain scanning and optical tracking used to compile their research and then present their findings:

    • Direct mail is easier to understand and more memorable than digital media. It requires 21% less cognitive effort to process and elicits a much higher brand recall.
    • Direct mail is far more persuasive than digital media. Its motivation response is 20% higher – even more so if it appeals to more senses beyond touch.
    • Direct mail is visually processed quicker than digital media. When considered in concert with its higher motivation and lower cognitive load, this suggests it gets the message across faster.

    Through 2016, Canada Post has promoted these claims across Canada, led by the corporation’s General Manager of Influencer Marketing, Jennifer Campbell. She spoke at the Canadian Internet Marketing Conference in Squamish in May 2016 was and was featured at the Marketing Evolution Summit in Toronto on September 21, 2016. A brief video posted on YouTube sums up what Canada Post calls its (trademarked) SmartMail Marketing approach.

    canada-post-task-force-coverUnfortunately for Ms. Campbell and her team, a September 2016 discussion paper on Canada Post operations ignores the SmartMail Marketing initiative and dismisses the potential for direct marketing mail, or Admail.  The document, issued by a four-member federal task force, is intended to guide upcoming public consultations on the future of the Canadian postal service.

    Despite AdMail making up 56 per cent of mail volumes, it contributes only 19 per cent of Canada Post’s revenues.

    All public opinion research focus groups conducted with Canadians indicate that AdMail is viewed as “Junk Mail”. The fact that AdMail now makes up the bulk of mail delivered to the mail box is proving an irritant among Canadians. Most of the AdMail received consists of flyers that are often directly recycled and at times litter the neighbourhood…

    The task force goes on to predict increasing consumer resistance to Admail, and an increasing shift to electronic marketing as a greener alternative. It makes no attempt to assess the marketing effectiveness of direct mail, and it shows no appreciation for the marketing and communications needs of local businesses, causes or governments.

    Our work at Main Street Communications falls short of neuroscience, but we work closely with clients in crafting effective information pieces to mail out to membership and potential supporter lists. It’s a form of human contact that can’t be duplicated on line. We don’t personalize every item, but we try to bond with audiences through an ongoing focus on the value of participating and giving. A printed report in the mail is a form of recognition by itself, an enduring, tactile product that’s easily shared with family and friends.

    Canada Post’s managers, by the way, are not alone on the neuroscientific mission to rescue print media. The US Post Office issued its own report in 2015 on direct mail marketing and neuroscience, and reached similar conclusions; for example, “Physical ads caused more activity in brain areas associated with value and desire.” In another case, market researcher Scott McDonald, in a white paper for the US Association of Magazine Media, has argued that “reading online tends to be faster and more superficial than reading on paper.” He’s optimistic about the continued loyalty of younger and older readers to the printed word.

    You may have noticed that Sears Canada has revived its mailout catalogue, first issued in 1888, in an effort to protect its market share, as has retailer J.C. Penney in the United States, joining the ranks of Ikea and others who believe in the power of printed paper.