Canada Post investigated the marketing channels that cut through the noise best.

To understand how direct mail can help marketers break through the noise, Canada Post commissioned a major ethnographic study that explored how direct mail factors into the lives of today’s consumers and thereby influences the purchase journey. Through this study, and reinforced by a series of additional Canadian consumer surveys and global research into the topic, they found that by combining the intimacy of ritual, the impact of physicality and the power of data-driven relevance, direct mail can mean the difference between contributing to the noise and breaking through it. It helps brands stand out, trigger emotional responses, generate a lasting effect and, perhaps most importantly, influence consumer behaviour.

The findings in this paper were drawn primarily from a qualitative, Canada-wide ethnographic study commissioned by Canada Post and conducted by market research consultancy Phase 5. This foundational study inspired an in-depth review of related secondary research focused on consumer attitudes towards and responses to direct mail – including, but not limited to, various Canada Post-commissioned consumer surveys, Canadian consumer insights from independent market research companies, and direct mail studies from postal agencies around the globe. Qualitative and quantitative findings from this body of research are referenced throughout this paper.

Through this research project, Canada Post and Phase 5 examined the consumer’s mail management experience across physical mail, email and social media (Facebook), with a primary focus on promotional messages. This study was conducted in two stages:

1. In-person observation of mail management rituals and habits

The physical and digital mail sorting behaviour of participants was observed via eye tracking. Eye tracking tests seek to understand how people interact with stimuli by measuring the gaze and movement of their eyes using a small, specialised camera. These tests were used to devise the hypotheses upon which the second part of the study was framed.

2. Semi-structured online forum with diary entries

Subjects participated in a two-week semi-structured online forum with diary entries, where they shared their responses to, behaviour around and attitudes towards physical and digital mail. This was followed by a one-week re-convened online forum to validate experience maps and other findings. The ethnographic study included six audiences of interest.


Three representing mail delivery types:

>Home delivery
>Apartment/condo delivery
>Community mailboxes

Three representing different age groups:

>Millennials (ages 20–34)
>Generation Xers (ages 35–49)
>Baby Boomers (ages 50+)

Key take-aways of the study include:

• Mail advertising is entrenched in a ritual that makes consumers more susceptible to inspiration from brands they wouldn’t normally respond to,

• Mail advertising is noticeable and memorable, helping brands capture consumer attention and stay top-of-mind through the purchase journey,

• Mail advertising imbues messages with emotion and intimacy, suggesting it’s an effective vehicle for transmitting brand values and a conduit for deeper and more-genuine one-to-one customer relationships,

• Mail advertising’s value is extended, and sometimes even multiplied, when it is kept, displayed and shared with others. This enables repeated brand exposure throughout the purchase journey and serves as a visible reminder until a consumer is ready to buy,

• Mail advertising is a powerful trigger for action and can enhance customer value and loyalty.

In the fierce competition for share of consumers’ increasingly compressed attention spans, adding direct mail to the customer communication mix can indeed mean the difference between contributing to the noise and breaking through it.

Access the full report here.