USPS OIG investigates “neuromarketing”

From the USPS Office of Inspector General:

Advertising mail accounted for over $20 billion — or 31 percent — of the U.S. Postal Service’s total revenue in fiscal year 2014. However, marketers have increasingly numerous choices of media available to them in today’s rapidly growing digital world. Understanding physical ad mail’s unique qualities and how people respond to them could enable the Postal Service to identify potential new opportunities to maintain and enhance this critically important source of revenue.

The Postal Service Office of Inspector General (OIG) worked with Temple University’s Center for Neural Decision Making to study people’s responses to physical and digital media in the consumer buying process, including memory of products advertised and intent to purchase. But instead of just using surveys, which rely on people’s stated or conscious preferences, we also monitored physiological and neurological activity to understand the subconscious response. Known as neuromarketing, this rigorous scientific method uses technologies like eye tracking, heart-rate measurement, and MRIs to measure a person’s reaction to various stimuli.

Our study builds on work done by the U.K.’s Royal Mail showing physical media generates greater activity in certain parts of the brain than digital media. The results revealed some distinct neurological and physiological responses to digital and physical media:

  • Participants processed digital ad content quicker but spent more time with physical ads.
  • Participants had a stronger emotional response to physical ads and more easily recalled physical ads, both crucial when making a purchase decision.
  • Physical ads triggered greater brain activity responsible for value and desirability for featured products, which signal a greater intent to purchase.

The full results, detailed in Enhancing the Value of Mail: The Human Response, could help companies improve their marketing strategies and also help the Postal Service better understand the effectiveness of ad mail.

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