Why Traditional Advertising Is Better Than Digital Marketing (According to Neuroscience)

With the explosion of digital advertising and social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Periscope, Vine and Snapchat, you can be forgiven for wondering if it’s even worth advertising your practice using the more traditional methods of advertising – like printed brochures, magazine advertisements and even direct mail. Typically, these media channels cost a lot more money to advertise on, and can reach less people – so should they be abandoned in favor of using only digital media?

According to recent neuroscience research, the answer may surprise you. Paper-based content and physical “ads” offer special advantages for connecting with our brains, says a paper-based marketing study sponsored by the Canada Post and performed by Canadian neuromarketing firm TrueImpact.[1] The study compared the effects of paper marketing (direct mail pieces, in this case) with digital media (email and display ads).

This study used eye-tracking and high-resolution EEG brain wave measurement, along with conventional questionnaires, to measure response. The three key metrics evaluated in the study were cognitive load (ease of understanding), motivation (persuasiveness), and attention span (how long subjects looked at the content).

 

The Power of Print Over Digital Ads

Direct mail was easier to process mentally and tested better for brand recall. According to the report, direct mail requires 21% less cognitive effort to process than does digital media (5.15 vs. 6.37), which suggests that messages are more easily understood and more people remember them. When participants were asked to recall the company name (or brand) of an advertisement they had just seen, recall was 70% higher in those participants who viewed a direct mail piece (75%) than a digital ad (44%).

As a measure of overall effectiveness, the authors of the report calculated what they call the “motivation-to-cognitive load ratio,” and indicated that values greater than 1.0 are “most predictive of in-market success.”

By their calculation, direct mail scored 1.31 compared to 0.87 for digital media. 

From a marketing perspective, these results actually aren’t much of a surprise. Think about how many emails your inbox is crowded with on an ongoing basis, or how many digital ads you might be exposed to. According to many digital marketing experts, the number of digital advertisements a person is exposed to has increased from one hundred a day ten years ago, to more than 5,000 a day now – whereas our exposure to direct mail and printed materials has moved in the opposite direction. Over the past ten years, practically every business has been engaged in some kind of "print-to-digital" mass exodus. Glossy brochures, direct mail pieces, magazine ads and many other printed items have been replaced by a combination of banner ads, web content, downloadable PDFs and email campaigns.

Are these results anomalous? While these measurements and metrics don't rise to the level of universal scientific standards, they do seem to fit with other research in paper vs. digital space, such as a Temple University Study conducted for the US Post Office,[2] which used fMRI brain scans to compare digital and paper.

Some of their key conclusions were:

Physical material is more “real” to the brain. It has a meaning and a place. It is better connected to memory because it engages with its spatial memory networks.

Physical material involves more emotional processing, which is important for memory and brand associations.

Physical materials produced more brain responses connected with internal feelings, suggesting greater “internalization” of the ads.

One of the most significant findings in the study was that paper advertising actually activated the ventral striatum area of the brain more than did digital media. A previous study of successful ad campaigns found that the ventral striatum was an indicator of desire and valuation.

While not quite the mythical “buy now button,” activity in this small brain structure had the highest correlation with advertising effectiveness.

 

So, what does this all mean for your practice?

Coco Chanel once famously quoted: “In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different.” While digital marketing certainly has a key role to play in the marketing of any aesthetic practice, the results of these studies are a good reminder that just because everyone else may be switching to more digital advertising doesn’t mean you should, too. Instead, you should review the results of your various marketing tools and ascertain which media are bringing in not just the greatest number of new leads, but the “best quality patients” – those who show up for their consults and then book a procedure with you.

Rather than joining the mass exodus and moving all your clinical marketing to digital media, a well-targeted, multi-channel approach that combines powerful messaging in print media, as well as digital media, will perform best for your medical practice.

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