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The impact of cognitive load on direct mail vs. email

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Humans tend to prefer the path of least resistance. When it comes to understanding and remembering things we’re exposed to day-to-day, our brain follows suit. It’s something referred to in the world of neuromarketing as “cognitive load”.

Minimizing cognitive load is an important element of advertising in particular. The reason for this is because visual stimuli that requires more cognitive effort to process has a lesser chance of being remembered. An overly complex design or billboards with too much jumbled text could mean the name of that ketchup brand or car manufacturer doesn’t stick in our brains as easily. In contrast, messages that are easily processed are more quickly encoded into your memory.

The method of delivery can also impact cognitive load, which is why Canada Post partnered with True Impact Marketing to explore how cognitive effort differs between print and digital advertising. They harnessed electroencephalography (EEG) imaging methods which used sensors to record the brain’s electrical activity – specifically the intensity of responses and whether it was positive or negative.

When study participants were shown equivalent advertisements as both physical pieces of direct mail and emails, physical mail required 21 percent less cognitive effort to process. An easy to way to see the impact of a lower cognitive load is to test participants on the content of the ads. When the study participants were asked to name the brand of an advertisement they had just seen, participants’ recall was significantly higher if they were exposed to a piece of direct mail (75 percent) compared to a digital advertisement (44 percent).

So, to sum up the results, direct mail requires a lower cognitive load to process. Therefore, content displayed via direct mail is more memorable than the same message delivered by a digital advertisement.

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