In the increasingly digital world we live in it’s interesting to hear that contrary to common perception traditional printed direct marketing is as powerful a marketing tool as it’s ever been.

Royal Mail’s recently published report ‘The Private Life of Mail’ punctures the myth that many subscribe to – that direct mail is all ‘junk’. Quite the contrary is in fact the case – the research demonstrates that mail has a far greater capacity to engage recipients emotionally than even TV. Tell that to John Lewis!

The research was conducted over 18 months and had a number of strands even including CCTV in participant’s homes. More conventionally it encompassed 14 focus groups, 99 depth interviews, telephone and online surveys (with over 9,000 respondents) and a ground-breaking neuroscience study with over 200 participants to understand how consumers’ brains react to different advertising media. In a word, comprehensive.

And what does all that tell us? Firstly, that in our transient digital world mail has a persistency that many other channels don’t. On average mail is kept for 17 days (door drops even longer at 38 days). The study also shows that 39% of consumers actually have an area in their house where they keep mail – and it’s not the bin! A dedicated display area where it’s on show. And furthermore, 23% of all mail is shared between members of the household.

The really interesting bit comes in the neurological study. Using a technique called Steady State Topography (SST) participants wear a headset which measures how activated various areas of the brain are when exposed to different media channels in order to measure their relative capacity to create engagement, emotional intensity and long-term memory encoding. What the study clearly shows is that on each of these measures traditional printed mail is way ahead of email which in turn is comfortably ahead of TV. For long-term memory encoding for example, mail is 72% more likely than TV to create a lasting impression.

Of course, none of that happens in isolation and we’re not advocating a Luddite-like devotion to the traditional methods. Indeed the research shows that the most likely direct response to a mail pack these days is a trip online – 92%. That really just demonstrates that the most effective campaigns get all these channels – new and old – working in harmony for maximum returns. Whether straight from – or to – the heart, it seems we all still love getting letters …