The art of using analog media for communication has become increasingly scarce in an era where digital technology predominates. Technologies like email, instant messaging, and social media have revolutionized the way we communicate, making interactions more convenient and instantaneous. In our relentless pursuit of efficiency, however, we may be unwittingly sacrificing the emotional impact and lasting impression that physical mail can create. Physical mail is often more memorable than its digital counterparts, and combining digital and traditional communications will frequently yield the best effect.

    The Power of Tangibility

    People are drawn to physical products for various reasons. It all comes down to how our brains work, how we perceive things with our senses, and the practical benefits that these products can offer. For example, some people claim that traditional vinyl records sound better than CDs or digital streaming services. At the same time, however, the appeal lies beyond the arguable logistics of sound waves. While the instant gratification of clicking a hyperlink on Spotify may be undeniably efficient, it's within the deliberate ritual of engaging with an LP that the true magic unfolds. The act of methodically navigating through the steps — the careful selection of a record, the gentle lowering of the needle, and the gradual emergence of music—becomes an experience that is steeped in profound satisfaction.

    Likewise, physical mail has a unique, tangible quality that differentiates it from digital messages. Holding a letter or a postcard in one's hands creates a multisensory experience that engages more parts of the brain. Humans are sensory creatures, and our sense of touch plays a crucial role in how we interact with the world. When we touch products instead of simply viewing them, it’s a palpable experience that engages multiple senses simultaneously. The tactile feel of the paper, the sound of tearing an envelope, and even the act of unfolding a letter all contribute to a stronger brand or product association.

    According to recent research from Keypoint Intelligence, consumer respondents across all age generations were more likely to engage with a printed direct mail piece as opposed to a digital marketing message. Engagement prompts consumers to take action and can thereby improve response rates.

    Figure 1: Likelihood of Engaging with Print or Digital (By Generation)

    Perceived Value
    The notion of standing out in a world washed with digital noise is very much alive today. The 70 mm (analog) screenings of Oppenheimer delivered the ultimate experience due to the amount of content the film format can hold — twice as much information, in fact, as the standard 35 mm digital counterpart. With only 30 cinemas equipped worldwide to show 70 mm films, the movie’s producers created scarcity for the best viewing options. Moreover, the film's story is so important to its creators that instead of saving money and going only with the cheaper and easier digital format, they decided to offer it in an additional noteworthy format. Seventy mm delivers richer colors, better details, and more life-like imagery to bring viewers a unique cinematographic experience. Although it could be argued that these benefits might be indiscernible to the average movie-goer, there's a conscious appreciation for the labor and technology behind the story.

    The same can be said for direct mail. When we receive an email or text, it is easy to overlook or even delete it in a flood of other digital messages. In contrast, physical mail tends to stand out more due to its greater scarcity in today's fast-paced digital world. Mailed items must go through a process before they can be delivered, and the extra steps involved in producing a printed message elevate its value beyond any digital equivalent.

    Physical products have the potential to evoke strong emotional responses. Think about how you feel when you see a card from someone you know in your mailbox. The fact that someone took the time to send a letter or select a thoughtful card leaves a lasting impression. When direct mail communications are done well, the effort of crafting a physical mail piece conveys a level of sincerity and care that is often lacking in digital communications.

    Bridging the Gap: Combining Physical and Digital Mail

    While digital products offer convenience, direct mail can be accessed without the need for specialized technologies. People of all ages and technological backgrounds can interact with physical communications, making them more inclusive and easier to engage with. Additionally, direct mail can deliver authenticity and trustworthiness. In an era of online scams and counterfeit products, something that can be held in your hand provides reassurance about its legitimacy and quality.

    Physical mail has its undeniable charm, but we must recognize the convenience and efficiency of digital communications. After all, the producers of Oppenheimer innately recognized the need to make the movie available in a format that all theaters could show. The key to maximizing the impact of both analog and digital lies in their strategic integration. The same can be true of direct mail. Marketers using both mediums are finding greater success than those using just one. Here are just a few examples:

    ·An email can be sent to remind the recipient about an upcoming event that was first mentioned in a direct mail piece. This additional touchpoint can enhance engagement and improve response rates.

    ·A physical piece can be embedded with an interactive digital QR code or augmented reality feature. This adds a modern twist to traditional printed communications and also enables the collection of valuable information.

    ·Social media can also be integrated with physical mail. Direct mail recipients can be encouraged to share their physical experiences on social media, opening the door to better conversations about print.

    If you're looking for a way to encourage your audience to engage with your brand via both online and offline platforms, consider organizing contests or giveaways related to your mailed content. There are several creative ways to blend analog and digital messaging.

    Our brains process and retain information more effectively when multiple senses are engaged. Studies continue to show that physical print has a higher recall value than digital messages. Virginia Clinton’s publication in the Journal of Research in Reading compared the process of reading on paper versus reading on screens. The results found that reading from screens had a negative effect on reading performance relative to paper. Numerous studies and reputable research paint a similar picture of reading comprehension in the digital age—paper is better for recognition and retention.

    The Bottom Line

    There's something special about receiving a tangible item. Whether it's the joy of unwrapping a gift, the nostalgia of flipping through old photos, or the excitement of unboxing a new gadget, tangible items create a stronger emotional bond with the recipient. It's more than just a physical item — it’s an experience.

    In a world where digital messages disappear in an instant, physical mail stands out as a memorable and unique way to communicate. It has a tactile appeal that digital messages can't replicate. In today’s world, though, it’s not about using one form of communication over another. Marketers must learn to master the dynamic combination of traditional and electronic mail to ensure that their messaging is etched into recipients’ memories. By adding another medium to direct mail, businesses can make a bigger impact on their audience.

    Karen Kimerer of Keypoint Intelligence has experienced the many challenges of expanding current market opportunities and securing new business. She has developed a systematic approach to these opportunities, addressing the unique requirements of becoming a leader in our changing industry. She is well-versed in 1:1 marketing, web-to-print, direct mail, book publishing, supply chain management, data segmentation, channel integration, and photo products.

    This article originally appeared in the September/October, 2023 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.