Direct mail has long been one of the best ways to drive action because it’s physical and data-driven. Canada Post's recent research paper confirms that.

Interview with Melissa Morin, Manager, Market Development – Direct Marketing at Canada Post, on the “A Bias for Action” neuromarketing study from July 2015.

  • Please describe this study briefly.

MM: “A Bias for Action” is a study we conducted in partnership with True Impact Marketing, a leading neuromarketing research and strategy firm in Canada. In it, we used neuroscience tools, including brain imaging and eye tracking, to compare the effectiveness of physical (direct mail) and digital (email and display) forms of advertising by way of their impacts on the consumer’s brain.

  • Why did Canada Post decide to commission this study?

MM: The market context within which direct mail is sold has changed dramatically over the last decade – and, as a result, the relevance and value of direct mail has shifted. We recognised the need to evolve our value proposition to respond to the new challenges marketers are facing in today’s digitally connected world.

Through our conversations with marketers, we found that new digital platforms were giving them more opportunities for customer interaction than they’ve ever had. They also told us that all this digital interaction – tweets, clicks, follows, etc. – was not driving enough action. From store traffic to sales, direct marketing’s end game has always been to generate action. In this, we saw a tremendous opportunity for direct mail.

Direct mail has long been one of the best ways to drive action because it’s physical and data-driven. And in today’s world, where customers are moving fluidly between on- and offline platforms, it offers a new benefit: connectivity. That is, applications like augmented reality, near-field communication and QR codes are turning mail into a powerful launching pad for digital experiences and sales.

We decided to reframe direct mail’s value proposition for today’s connected world, using thought leadership to show marketers how it combines the power of physicality, data and connectivity to drive more consumer action. This white paper was one of the first creative assets we developed to support this strategy. Our goal was to get marketers to rethink the importance of physicality in marketing campaigns, and neuromarketing allowed us to explore this area in a way that was both deep and innovative.

  • Which advertising metrics did you focus on?

MM: We focused on the two key indicators that an advertisement will be effective (drive action): ease of understanding and persuasiveness. We examined the brain imaging metrics that correspond with each of these indicators. To assess ease of understanding, we measured participants’ cognitive load (the mental effort required to understand a stimulus). To gauge persuasiveness, we looked at their motivation (the feeling of wanting that drives urges and decision-making). We also looked at participants’ visual attention to the media presented to understand how quickly messages are absorbed in physical and digital advertising formats.

bias for action

  • Which specific media were measured?

MM: We measured direct mail and digital media in the following formats. We selected these formats because they are all written, targeted forms of marketing and therefore serve comparable marketing objectives:

Direct Mail

Digital Media


Email on laptop


Email on smartphone

Dimensional mailer

Display ad (non-static) on laptop

Envelope with scent

Display ad (non-static) on smartphone

Dimensional mailer with sound

  • What were the main outcomes of this study?

MM: Going into this study, we knew direct mail has long been a powerful way to drive consumer action – but we wanted to better understand why it’s so effective. Our hypothesis was that it stimulates the mental processes that guide consumer behaviour better than digital media. This study validated this hypothesis. In short, we found that:

  • Direct mail is easier to understand than digital media. It requires 21% less cognitive effort to process.
  • Direct mail is far more persuasive than digital media. It generates a motivation score that is 20% higher than digital media – even more so when the direct mail creative appeals to more senses beyond touch.
  • Direct mail is more memorable than digital media. Brand recall was 70% higher among participants who were exposed to direct mail ads rather than digital ads.
  • Direct mail is visually processed quicker than digital media. When considered in concert with its higher motivation and lower cognitive load, this suggests it gets the message across faster.
  • What do these findings mean for Canadian businesses trying to reach consumers?

MM: Today’s connected consumers are interacting with brands constantly across channels, and digital platforms have a very important role to play in enabling this interaction. But when it comes to creating a lasting impact and driving action, direct mail comes out on top. These findings suggest that by strategically integrating direct mail into cross-media campaigns, brands can maximise customer value by capitalising on the best of both interaction and action.

The significant uplift on brand recall that direct mail enables also suggests that it can play a role in helping marketers accomplish upper-funnel objectives, such as brand awareness and familiarity.

  • Some sectors are leaning more towards physical advertising than others. Which sectors do you hope to influence the most with this study?

MM: We didn’t conduct this research with a particular set of industry verticals in mind, as marketers across industries are challenged to optimise their marketing mix in a rapidly changing media landscape. That said, we were particularly excited to bring these new insights to our e-Commerce customers, who are using our parcel and logistic solutions but have not yet tried direct mail. These digital-first merchants are starting to recognise the value of extending into their customers’ physical worlds by creating omnichannel experiences, and this research shows them why physical experiences are so important in marketing. We hope it will inspire them to include direct mail in their e-Commerce growth plans.

  • How does Canada Post support the integration of offline and online media in direct marketing campaigns?

MM: We’ve introduced a new thought leadership platform, Smartmail Marketing™: The Science of Activation. Smartmail Marketing is our term for direct mail campaigns that combine the impact of physical experience, data and cross-media connectivity, and The Science of Activation anchors our business in one most the important objectives of all marketing activity: Activation.

This platform includes new research, like “A Bias for Action,” and new products, like our new Mini Catalogue, a low-cost solution tailor-designed to help e-Commerce merchants drive online traffic and sales. We’re also developing new case studies, best practices and other marketing tools that help marketers drive more customer action through Smartmail Marketing.

To learn more visit Canada Post's Smartmail Marketing website or watch the campaign's promo video below.