LONDON: Digital media may have changed advertising but people still value the physical attributes of older channels such as mail and catalogues, according to new research.

Royal Mail MarketReach employed a variety of research techniques – including ethnography, quantitative and neuroscience research, interviews and analysis – over an 18-month period to produce a report, The Private Life of Mail, in which it argued that sending a direct sensory experience of a brand can mark a pivotal moment in the customer journey.

"Mail also has the kind of benefits you might have associated with above-the-line media, such as creating strong, emotional connections and brand associations," claimed Jonathan Harman, managing director at Royal Mail MarketReach.

People respond to mail more positively than their stated attitudes might suggest, the report said, as its physical nature "triggers largely subconscious responses".

This is the "endowment effect" in which a sense of ownership of an item they can see and touch leads to a person valuing it more highly. Royal Mail MarketReach's own research found that a majority of people consistently placed more value on mail than email.

They were, for example, three and a half time more likely to take physical mail seriously and more than twice as likely to have a better impression of a company that contacted them this way.

Reinforcing the notion that mail has more impact than people admit, nine out of 12 households participating in an ethnographic study claimed to ignore all mail, "yet all 12 can be observed interacting with mail" the report said.

This was confirmed in a quantitative follow-up which revealed that 62% claimed to reject advertising mail outright, but when asked about what they had actually done with the mail in their homes at the time of the survey, 64% had opened a piece of mail that day, and the majority who did went on to interact with it.

The tactile nature of mail can also transmit brand values, as the report noted how participants had discussed how layout and paper quality affected how they felt about the sender.

Data sourced from Royal Mail MarketPlace; additional content by Warc staff