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Eve Padula

How Direct Mail Engages Multiple Senses

Tactile, sensory elements create a competitive advantage

Oct 4, 2021 12:22:28 PM


Electronic messaging now substantially outnumbers printed communications, and e-mail spam messages are considerably more numerous than printed junk mail. Clearly, direct mail is the less-cluttered channel.


Direct physical mail is a tactile form of communication that can appeal to multiple senses, including touch, sight, and even smell. Despite their popularity, electronic communications fall short of well-designed printed direct mail in terms of impact. Marketers of printed communications can (and should) incorporate the sensory elements of direct mail to create messages that stand out and prompt engagement, even in today’s digital world.


Creating a Lasting Impact

Savvy marketers understand that targeted and relevant direct mail can stand out and attract attention. When used correctly, direct mail communications can also be more impactful than electronic messaging. The statistics tell the story:


  • According to a report from Data & Marketing Association (DMA), up to 90% of direct mail gets opened compared to only 20% to 30% of e-mail.
  • Data from Canada Post suggests that direct mail requires 21% less cognitive effort to process than e-mail.
  • Based on direct mail statistics from Marketing Profs, 75% of consumers can recall a brand after viewing a piece of direct mail. Meanwhile, only 44% can do the same after seeing a digital ad.


Because many consumers have become overwhelmed with digital communications, printed direct mail is considered a trustworthy marketing channel. When consumer respondents to Keypoint Intelligence’s most recent Annual State of Marketing Communications Research were asked why they might read direct mail rather than digital, the second most popular reason was a belief that providers who sent printed communications were more serious about winning and keeping their business. Diving deeper into the data, it is especially interesting to note that respondents under the age of 35 were particularly likely to feel this way (31%). It is now more important than ever for marketers to be smart and strategic in their use of printed communications—even for younger audiences that grew up in a digitally-driven world.


Top Reasons for Reading Direct Mail


Appealing to Multiple Senses

Whereas most digital communications primarily appeal to the sense of sight, printed direct mail offers a tactile experience that electronic messaging simply can’t match. Thanks to ongoing technological innovations, today’s digital inkjet devices can now produce printed communications that deliver eye-catching special effects and embellishments. Images as well as text can be enhanced with attention-grabbing neon colors, an embossed finish for a 3D effect, metallic inks or glitter effects that really shine when exposed to light, or foil stamping for a more elegant appearance. Because of the way its appearance changes in certain lighting conditions, a direct mail piece with metallic ink, glitter, or foil stamping delivers a more interactive visual experience than an e-mail.


Unlike electronic communications, printed direct mail pieces literally land in the consumer’s hands and therefore engage the sense of touch. Direct mail that is treated with a velvety coating will feature a highly appealing soft touch, but these communications can also be produced with a rougher coating for a different effect. Printed communications incorporate special textures to make certain elements stand out, too: a furry coating on an image of an animal or a dimpled rubber feel to enhance a picture of a basketball, to name two. Coatings or textures can create a unique look and feel that you can’t help but notice.


Direct mail can also engage the sense of smell. Although many print geeks (myself included) might say that we simply like the smell of paper itself, there’s really no reason to stop there. Direct mail can be infused with all sorts of scents. For a personal example, I’ll admit to having a minor obsession with shower gels. I often wonder why the large bath care chains don’t send more direct mail pieces that highlight their newest scents. Think about it…e-mailing me about a new fragrance that has undertones of cinnamon and vanilla is a start—but even with that description, I still won’t know if I’ll truly enjoy the scent. If you send me a postcard that smells like the real thing, I’ll be able to tell in about five seconds if it’s something I’m interested in purchasing…and all the better if I can order said product online and have it delivered to my doorstep!


Our Take

With so many improvements to digital print technology over the past few years, marketers of printed communications are limited only by their imaginations as they seek ways to make their direct mail stand out. In today’s electronic age, we’re overloaded with images from computer screens and smartphones. This level of distraction means that we’re not always paying attention to what’s in front of us, but special effects in print can capture our attention—and, at times, even our imagination. Tactile elements like textures, foiling, or scents are different and unexpected, and this can make people more likely to engage with the messaging. Competition is fierce, but the good news is that brand owners can create printed pieces that surprise recipients with unexpected elements and truly stand out as a result.


For more information about the complete findings from Keypoint Intelligence’s 2020 Marketing Communications Research or 2021 business research, please contact your Keypoint Intelligence account representative or send an email to sales@keypointintelligence.com.