Why Your Brain Prefers Direct Mail Over Email

In today’s digital age, we are constantly bombarded with emails, texts, and notifications from various sources. It has become commonplace to receive promotional messages and advertisements via email, but have you ever stopped to wonder why direct mail still remains a popular marketing tool? The answer lies in the fact that our brains are wired to prefer the tangible experience of direct mail over the intangible nature of email. In this blog, we will explore why our brains prefer direct mail over email and why it remains an effective marketing strategy alongside your digital campaigns.

The Neuroscience Behind Direct Mail

Direct mail has been around for centuries, and there’s a good reason why it’s still relevant today. When we receive a physical piece of mail, our brains undergo a cognitive process known as “haptic perception.” This simply means that our brains process the tactile and sensory information from the object we are holding. When we hold a physical piece of mail, we are able to engage with it on a deeper level than we would with an email.

According to a study sponsored by Canada Post and conducted by Canadian firm, TrueImpact, direct mail requires 21% less cognitive effort to process than digital media.. This is because we are able to physically touch and feel the mail, which makes it easier for our brains to process the information. The study also found that participants who received direct mail spent 39% more time looking at it compared to email. This shows that physical mail captures our attention for longer periods of time, which is a valuable asset for any marketing campaign.

Another interesting finding from the Canada Post study is that direct mail elicits a stronger emotional response than digital media. When we receive something in the mail, it feels more special and personal compared to an email. This is because direct mail is associated with positive emotions such as excitement and curiosity, which are not commonly associated with email. As a result, our brains are more likely to remember and engage with direct mail compared to email.  One interesting fact to note, according to a research report prepared by the United States Postal Service, 57% of boomers, 45% of GenX, 41% of millennials, and 37% of GenZ would be disappointed if they stopped getting physical mail. There are several important factors that may impact how your direct mail campaign is received by its audience, these include level of personalization and design of the piece.

The Impact of Personalization

Personalization is key to any successful marketing campaign, and direct mail is no exception. When we receive a piece of mail that is addressed to us personally, our brains are more likely to engage with it. According to a study by InfoTrends and Direct Mail Association, personalized direct mail has a response rate of up to 36% higher than non-personalized mail.

Personalization can take many forms, such as using the recipient’s name in the greeting or tailoring the message to their interests. The more personalized the message, the more likely the recipient is to engage with it. This is because our brains are wired to respond to stimuli that are relevant and meaningful to us.

Interesting to note, it has been found that digital messages are often overlooked by the younger (18-30) age ranges due to the fact they are bombarded with digital messages.  Direct mail to this age group is more unusual, yet also more powerful.  A direct mail study completed in 2016, shows that printed advertising generates a higher emotional engagement and more positive feelings than digital advertising in all age groups including the younger generation.

The Importance of Design

Design plays a crucial role in the effectiveness of direct mail and digital messaging. A well-designed postcard or letter can capture our attention and convey the message in a more engaging way than a simple email. When we receive a piece of mail that is visually appealing, our brains are more likely to engage with it.  Choosing an effective image to go along with the personalization, is an important piece in the design of direct mail.  According to The Visual Teaching Alliance,  90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual. Human beings process visual information more efficiently than text.  Be sure to choose an image that will resonate with your audience to improve retention of the information or brand.

It’s important to think about the purpose of your postcard and who your target audience is. Are you sending a postcard to promote a product or service, or are you simply sending it as a greeting? Understanding your purpose will help you create a clear, concise message that will create meaningful connections with your audience.

One of the advantages of direct mail is that it allows for more creativity in terms of design. Along with a multitude of image choices, marketers can use different paper stocks, colors, textures and various sizes to create a unique and memorable piece of mail. Fineline’s secure mailing department has equipment that can print and mail many types of direct mail. Using various paper types and coatings to engage the physical senses, can lead to a heightened experience with the direct mail piece.  This is not possible with an email, which is limited in terms of tangible design options due to the 2D nature.  When planning your direct mail piece think through your design and be sure to:

  • Identify the goals of your direct mail piece
  • Know your audience
  • Organize your copy and use white space effectively
  • Use images wisely as they can be a key component in your design

Digital Marketing Along with Direct Mail

Marketing methods like printing and direct mail, often work effectively when they’re combined with wider digital marketing campaigns. As previously mentioned, direct mail can serve as a cost-effective and highly targeted lead-generation tool. Combining the two methods can have a profound impact on your marketing efforts.  There are several ways you can integrate these two methods:

  • Provide a digital code on your direct mail piece sending the recipient to redeem and online offer.
  • Add a QR code to your mail project where, after scanning, the recipient views a video demonstrating your product or information about your organization.
  • After sending your direct mail piece, follow it up with an email campaign tying the two together.

When it comes to retention of information, repetition is key.  Consumers respond more favorably to ads they have previously seen and effectiveness is maximized at 10-20 exposures.  Therefore, direct mail combined with your digital marketing efforts are sure to improve overall retention and favorability with your customers.


In conclusion, our brains are wired to prefer direct mail over email because of the tangible and sensory experience it provides. Direct mail requires less cognitive effort to process, captures our attention for longer periods of time, and elicits a stronger emotional response compared to email. Personalization and design both play important roles in the effectiveness of direct mail as a marketing tool. By tapping into these factors, and adding direct mail to their digital campaigns,  marketers can create a more engaging and memorable experience for their recipients. So, the next time you’re planning a marketing campaign, don’t overlook the power of a well designed, personalized piece of direct mail and work with your account manager at Fineline to ensure you maximize your budget.

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