Direct Marketing Isn’t Dead: How Our Sense Of Touch Impacts Brand Visibility

Direct marketing has long been a staple of a business’ marketing mixes, but do you fully understand why they make an impact with your customers? I recently spoke with Patti Groh, Director of Marketing and Communications at Sappi North America, about research they conducted on haptics (science of touch) and how it impacts our interactions and sense of value with brands.


Gary Drenik: Tell us about Sappi North America and how you work with brands to elevate their direct mail pieces.

Patti Groh: Sappi North America is a global renewable resource company that harnesses the power of trees to make the vital ingredients you’ll find in products you use every day. From cosmetics packaging and food industry barrier papers to textiles and the clothes you wear as well as paper for catalogs, advertising, and direct mail. For our direct mail customers, we provide high-quality printing and paperboard products and work closely with converters, printers, and brand owners to create sustainable direct mail pieces. Our papers like Opus, Somerset, and Flo are optimized for direct mail and used to create visual and tactile experiences that help brands stand out by cutting through the digital clutter. And, they are produced sustainably with state-of-the-art machines, so our brand partners know that they are receiving materials made with environmental stewardship at the forefront.

Drenik: Sappi has done quite a bit of research into the power of haptics and a consumer’s sense of touch. Can you tell us more about this?

Groh: We’re constantly learning about how to make our paper-based products and their uses more impactful. To that end, we partnered with renowned neuroscientist and haptic expert Dr. David Eagleman to understand the influence of haptics (the science of touch) on our psychology and emotions. Touch naturally plays a fundamental role in human life and is critical to how we communicate, interact, and form connections with those around us. According to Dr. Eagleman, half of our brain power comes from processing senses, and the majority of that power is dedicated to processing touch. This triggers an emotional response where we attribute value to the things we touch and form a connection whether we realize it or not. It puts us in a position of ownership over what we touch, making us more attached. This is the same reaction babies have when feeling (and subsequently craving) a parent’s touch, and on a much smaller scale, allows brands to form a bond with their consumers through their physical products and marketing collateral.

Drenik: How does this research relate to direct marketing/mail? How can this help influence a brand’s audience?

Groh: The principles of successful direct marketing are closely tied to the research behind haptics. Brands have a finite window to get – and keep – customers’ attention. First, take the idea of ownership that physical touch creates in us. When we feel like we own something, we place more value and attachment over it. This is known as the Endowment Effect, according to Dr. Eagleman. When something is addressed to you specifically, like a piece of mail, that feeling of ownership only increases. From the start, you’ve established a connection with your customer, and they’ve placed a value on your product.

Consumers are also more likely to remember what they read on paper versus on a screen, and studies found three reasons for this: paper makes content more intuitively navigable, facilitates better mental mapping of information, and drains fewer cognitive resources so our retention is better.

And finally, studies have found that the more ingenuity and quality you put into your direct marketing collateral, the better your performance will be. For example, Dr. Eagleman’s lab found that marketing materials printed on high quality paper led to better information retention and brand preference compared to those using low-quality paper. According to a recent Prosper Insights & Analytics Survey, customers, across all generational lines, were more influenced by direct marketing in categories where customers could better visualize or interact with products – electronics, dining, and clothing/apparel especially are all more visible segments where touch and interaction with a product yields better results

Drenik: How were direct mail efforts impacted over the last year during the pandemic?

Groh: The last year offered a lot of opportunity for direct marketing as people were at home more, working remotely and lacking those physical connections they had in public environments. Direct mail filled a need for many people who were tired of screens and craving more personal interaction – 31% of consumers say they were more excited than ever to receive mail during the pandemic, and 34% say they are perusing direct mail ads for deals more than ever. Due to Covid-19’s impact, market forecasts predict that direct marketing will grow 2.91% CAGR between 2021 and 2025. This is a fantastic opportunity to capitalize on for your marketing efforts as customers are reengaging with direct mail and recognizing its value in their purchasing behavior.

Drenik: Why is it important for brands to have a holistic approach to their marketing efforts between print and digital assets?


Groh: No one takes in content via one medium alone, so an integrated marketing approach is key to getting ROI from your efforts. For example, many believe that millennials, which are the largest consumer group, rely exclusively on digital marketing to influence their purchasing habits. Yet, a recent Prosper Insights & Analytics Survey found that millennials are more likely than any other generation to be influenced by direct marketing in several industries including electronics, apparel, and beauty products.

Historically, it has been difficult to track the performance of direct mail on sales and conversions, leading many brands to prioritize digital marketing efforts over direct. This has been a mistake that many brands are working to correct, recognizing the value of a holistic marketing approach. On average, you can find a 28% increase in conversion rates when you combine digital and direct mail content. A multi-tiered approach allows you to stay in front of your customer and leverage the best of haptics with the ease of online purchase. The use of QR codes for example, especially during the pandemic, bridged a gap between print and digital ads allowing for better conversion tracking and a simplified customer experience and are likely here to stay.

Drenik: Talk about sustainability in direct marketing/mail. How can companies be environmentally conscious when they pursue direct marketing?

Groh: Sustainability should be a consideration for any business. Fortunately for print it is easier as it originates from a renewable resource and can be recycled. There are several practices that companies can adopt to remain sustainably conscious in their direct mail/marketing campaigns, including:

  • Selecting paper that has been chain of custody certified by a credible third party such as SFI®, PEFC or FSC®, which ensures that that the paper has come from trees that were sustainably managed and harvested.
  • Ask your supplier if they are quantifying their greenhouse gas emissions so that they can make commitments to reduce those emissions.
  • Ensure the proper recycling guidance is provided on the printed material. More paper by weight is recovered for recycling from municipal solid waste streams than glass, plastic, steel, and aluminum combined.
  • Check in with your printer about their environmental practices! Consult with them on how modifications like inks, varnishes, specialty coatings, adhesives, and foils impact recyclability.
  • Ensure responsible consumption by updating your mailing list. Duplicates or undeliverable addresses are a preventable waste and doing so also saves money – an easy sustainable solution.

Drenik: Thanks, Patti, for your insights on Sappi North America, the impact that haptics has on direct marketing efforts, and how businesses can be more sustainable in their direct marketing efforts.

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