With 43% of total marketing expenditures still being invested into direct mail marketing, what exactly is it that gives direct mail marketing its secret sauce?
Could The Secret Sauce to Direct Mail be Reciprocity?
The psychology of reciprocity has been deeply studied in the world of marketing. The basic concept of reciprocity goes like this; if you give something to someone, they feel obligated to give you something back in return.
In an initial 1974 experiment conducted by Phillip Kunz, a sociologist at Brigham Young University; Kunz decided to send out 600 hand written letters to completely random households during the holidays to see what would happen. Remarkably, around 200 letters were received back, some of which detailed more than 3 pages in length; remember, these were complete strangers.
“What happened to Kunz,” emeritus psychologist Robert Cialdini explains, “Is the direct result of the rule of reciprocation”. He goes on to add, “We are obligated to give back to others, the form of behavior that they have first given to us, and so if someone passes you in the hall and says hello, you feel compelled to return their greeting. When you don’t, you notice it, it makes you uncomfortable, out of balance. That’s the rule of reciprocation.”
So when it comes to direct mail and its comparison to other forms of marketing, why and how does reciprocity play a role?
When done the right way, direct mail is targeted, local, personal, and compelling, with a relevant message and call to action for the end prospect; but perhaps most importantly, it’s tangible. As it turns out, people value that, in fact, people value something 24% more when they can see and touch it. This is important to note because in an age of technology, mailers are getting increasing attention.
Now getting back to what Cialdini stated on reciprocity, “…you feel compelled to return their greeting. When you don’t, you notice it, it makes you uncomfortable”, with mailers this effect may be getting amplified. In a more recent neurological study 20 volunteers were put under an fMRI and had their brains examined while being exposed to different forms of both physical and virtual material. The results from the research, “strongly suggests that greater emotional processing is facilitated by the physical material than the virtual.”
Among other findings, the study seems to have found strong emotional triggers when the brain is exposed to physical content over digital. “More processing is taking place in the right retrosplenial cortex when physical material is presented. This is involved in the processing of emotionally powerful stimuli and memory, which would suggest that the physical presentation may be generating more emotionally vivid memories.”
Could this explain why direct mail continues to make such a powerful impact in the digital age? Perhaps it does, or perhaps the secret sauce remains a secret. Whether or not we’ve unlocked the mystery behind direct mails success, one thing is certain. Direct mail works, and it’s here to stay.