The Neuroscience of Print

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The Neuroscience of Print Print has proven advantages and powerful influences on brain messaging.

Neuroscience Research Finds Print Strongly Impacts Brain Processing and Messaging Introduction

options, especially as advertising expenses continue to comprise a huge chunk of marketing spending. In 2018 alone U.S. company advertising expenditures across all media platforms reached $151 billion, a 4.1% increase over the previous year, according to a recent post in Market Dive.

In today’s revolutionary, hyper-connected world, marketers have many communications options. That means media marketing plans need to be savvy, memorable and effective to not only increase customer reach and engagement but generate response and revenue.

And even with the onslaught of advanced communication technologies that can pinpoint targeted audiences, researchers are consistently proving print remains a steadfast, powerful marketing tool through the findings reported within recent neuroscience of print studies.

Technological communication advances via a multitude of digital formats are quickly venturing into strategic planning sessions at a brisk pace as marketers strive to extend their reach. In 2019, 64% of marketers responded they are planning a marginal increase in digital marketing efforts while 24% of those surveyed stated they are planning to implement significant increases in digital marketing expenditures, as reported in Market Dive.

The studies’ researchers measured print’s various effects on the brain using technologies such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), eye-tracking sequencing and electroencephalography (EEG), among others, which were discovered to consistently elicit nuanced, intricate details and insight regarding the brain’s subconscious processes relating to the printed word.

neu•ro•sci•ence [noo r-oh-sahy-uh ns] noun: neuroscience; plural noun: neurosciences 1. any or all the sciences, such as neurochemistry and experimental psychology, which deal with the structure or function of the nervous system and brain.

These ground-breaking observations extend well beyond verbalized or written communication from study participants’ regarding their thoughts and perceptions and into the realm of actual measured subconscious brain message processing through accurate, proven scientific tracking technologies.

Source: Oxford English Dictionary

With marketing budgets coming under closer scrutiny for streamlining cost-effectiveness while maximizing customer engagement and action, neuroscience is gaining momentum as a 21st-century analytical marketing tool strategists can use to stave off growing competition, minimize spending, and grow customer base and sales.

These revolutionary neuroscience of print studies have showcased print’s correlative working relationship with the human brain, all the while building up an important, growing bank of knowledge of how print impacts the subconscious attributes of brain processing and messaging, providing valuable insight on maximizing print’s distinctive benefits within integrated multichannel marketing strategies.

This powerful combination of science and marketing is vastly expanding, providing insightful information beneficial to all segments of business and service sector marketing. The recent rise in neuroscience of print studies and their subsequent key findings offer marketing strategists valuable behavioral data they can employ in their quests to analyze, determine and initiate strong, effective communication 1


Neuroscience Research Finds Print Strongly Impacts Brain Processing and Messaging Experts Weigh in — Print versus Digital These neuroscience of print studies used several state-ofthe-art technologies to measure the brain’s processes and responses to both print and digital media messages. While both print and digital are important media facets in successfully integrated multichannel marketing, these studies determined that not all media channels are created equal in their abilities to leverage desired results. Experts determined print has some consistently proven, distinctive advantage points over its digital counterpart:  Print becomes more deeply embedded.  Print is recalled in greater detail.  Print forms more powerful engagement. “There is physicality in reading,” notes developmental psychologist and cognitive scientist Maryanne Wolf of Tufts University, “maybe even more than we want to think about as we lurch into digital reading — as we move forward perhaps with too little reflection. I would like to preserve the absolute best of older forms but know when to use the new.”

The studies’ aligned results indicate print plays a vital role in brand building, recognition and recall; developing and nurturing new and established customer relationships; building and expanding customer trust and loyalty; and increasing customer engagement and action toward potential sales results.


Print Leaves Deeper Imprint within the Brain of “scrambled” messages (slicing up the ad graphics into squares and rearranging the pieces), a control that researchers implemented because physical material is known to stimulate more than one sense. Brain scans were performed on participants to determine how the brain processed the marketing messages as study participants interacted with the media. Researchers found the print message left a deeper footprint within the brain:  Print indicated greater activity in the left and right parietal, where integration of visual and spatial information occurs.  Print resulted in more processing in the right retrosplenial cortex, the brain area responsible for processing emotionally powerful stimuli and memory, suggesting that more emotionally vivid memories are invoked.  Print garnered increased activity within the cerebellum, the brain area affiliated with emotional and spatial processing and motor activity, which may be additional evidence of greater emotional processing.

How Print Interacts with the Brain

 Print activated the brain’s medial prefrontal cortex and cingulate, areas that are key to emotional engagement.

The human mind’s biology fundamentally conforms with and embraces the components of the print message. Through scientifically measured interaction with print, the human brain was determined to gain greater knowledge, feelings and engagement as well as deepened understanding, processing and relationships.

 Print appeared to increase activation of the brain’s “default network,” the area associated with a greater focus on an individual’s internal emotional response to external stimuli, suggesting greater internalization and relation of printed information to individuals’ personal thoughts and feelings.

Royal Mail/Millward Brown and The Centre for Experimental Consumer Psychology at Bangor University (2009) used fMRI on study participants to understand brain processing of physical and onscreen virtual marketing messages.

The research points to strong indications that print facilitates greater emotional processing. Print’s “real” and “internal” experiential elements distinguish it as a stronger influence over digital messaging. Print is better suited to becoming part of memory and invoking more emotion, key elements to the development of positive brand associations. Print’s internalization effect means that more personalization takes place, which should lead to greater engagement and motivation behaviors.

The insights were revolutionary and provided a groundbreaking foundation on the understanding of how print affects brain activity. The study used ads printed on cards that were also displayed on computer screens. It also incorporated the same number 3


Print Leaves Deeper Imprint within the Brain Print Boosts Understanding and Comprehension

each. Participants taking the test via computer scored lower and reported higher levels of stress and fatigue than those completing the same test presented in physical paper format.

Through several studies in educational settings, researchers discovered several key advantages of print over its digital counterpart:

In Wastlund’s second study, participants completed the same READ test on computers, either as a paginated document mimicking print text format or as a continuous text. Researchers then assessed participant attention and working memory, areas within the brain that allow temporary storage and manipulating information. Participants had to quickly perform several tasks, such as closing a series of pop-up windows, sorting virtually displayed cards or recalling numbers that were flashing on the computer screen.

University of Stavanger (2013) tested high school students’ reading comprehension of text via computer screen and print. Researchers found students reading printed text showed increased reading comprehension than those reading computer screen text when tested. The study also indicated that display imagery pertaining to digitized text may impede comprehension due to distracting digitally-specific feature elements such as links and pop-ups, as well as the required actions associated with manipulating and scrolling through computer-generated text.

Wastlund discovered in the second study that both groups performed equally well on the READ test; however, participants who needed to scroll through continuous text did not do as well on the attention and working-memory tests, possibly because scrolling requires a conscious focus on text and how it is manipulated, so it requires more mental resources than those participants physically turning or clicking a page, which are construed to be simpler and more automatic interactions that do not require as much mental concentration and focus.

Another study of paper versus computer use within the education sector was conducted by the Coast Guard Leadership Development Center (2015). Participants read the same 800-word article via tablet computer screen or printed text and were then tested via multiple-choice and shortanswer questions regarding content.

Print invokes deeper understanding, increased comprehension and “real” knowledge.

Results showed study participants reading the paper texts indicated greater frequencies of higher scores for both multiple-choice answers pertaining to participant recall of presented information and short answers measuring reading comprehension than participants using computer tablets. Erik Wastlund of Sweden conducted in-depth research to determine whether paper or computer screens require more physical and cognitive resources. In the first of Wastlund’s studies, participants performed the Higher Education Entrance Examination READ test, a 30-minute, Swedish-language reading-comprehension exam, which featured multiple-choice questions relating to five texts with an average of 1,000 words 4

Print Invokes Greater Emotion, Memory and Engagement Print Offers Higher Persuasive and Motivational Effects

Researchers linked study participants’ subconscious responses to three buying phases: exposure, memory and action.

With the revelations reflected in the results of the Royal Mail/Millward Brown (2009) study, researchers have further investigated the correlation of brain processes as they relate to both print and digital advertising messages.

Participants were exposed to print and digital ads for services, products and restaurants. A week later, they were again exposed to both advertising media as researchers asked about participants’ perceptions via questionnaires while measuring responses to those same questions using neuroscience indicators.

Canada Post and True Impact Marketing, a leading neuromarketing research company, devised its 2015 study using brain imaging and eye-tracking techniques to determine participant interaction with physical direct mail and digital email and display advertising.

The study showed print outperformed digital in several key areas:  Print enlisted more time with participants than digitized ad content.

The study discovered print offers several key advantages over digital:

 Print incurred longer-lasting impact, easier recall and greater emotional response within participants making decisions to purchase.

 Print (direct mail) is easier to understand and is more memorable than digital (email and display) media.

 Print resulted in greater activity in the brain’s hippocampal region, the area associated with memory formation and retrieval.

 Print requires 21% less thought to process the message and creates a much higher brand recall over digital messages.

 Print initiated greater activity in the brain’s parahippocampal area, which is responsible for processing scenes, contextual information and remembering broader stimuli.

 Print is much more persuasive than digital media: print’s motivational response rate is 20% higher than digital.  Print generates an even higher motivational percentage if engaging additional senses beyond touch.

 Print ads triggered increased activity in the brain’s ventral striatum, the area responsible for value and desirability behaviors, which could indicate strong prediction of real-world sales.

 Print affords faster cognitive recognition of its message over digital because the human brain processes print messages quicker than messages disseminated digitally.  Print is more apt to steer customer action upon receipt of its message than those transmitted via digital formats.

Print ads garner greater emotion, stimulation and memory responses of both source and content. It’s more engaging and initiates greater activity in the brain’s subconscious area associated with value and desirability as well as recognizing print’s ability to drive customer purchase.

The USPS and Temple University (2015) used neuroscience eye-tracking, biometrics (skin conductance and heart rate) and fMRI in its two-phase study of initial reactions to print and digital ads.



Print Invokes Greater Emotion, Memory and Engagement Haptic Technology Further Proves Print Advantages hap•tic [haptik] noun: haptic plural noun: haptics 1. the use of technology that stimulates the senses of touch and motion, especially to reproduce in remote operation or computer simulation the sensations that would be felt by a user interacting directly with physical objects. 2. the perception of objects by touch and propriocption, especially as involved in nonverbal communication. Source: Oxford English Dictionary

Renowned neuroscientist Dr. David Eagleman and Rigsby Hull’s Lana Rigsby co-wrote “The Communicator’s Guide to the Neuroscience of Touch,” which delves into the complementary field of haptics, the science of touch, and focuses on psychological and emotional responses of print versus digital ads.

Haptics can leverage further customer action through the potential to trigger the endowment effect, where ownership perceives to add value to both the brand and its products and/ or services to customers, such as when customers physically hold and manipulate print marketing collateral.

“In humans touch represents a powerful form of non-verbal communication. Our sense of touch plays a fundamental role in daily life, from learning about objects to communicating with other people.”

Eagleman and Rigsby further explain the power of haptics within the relationship to physical marketing messages. Tactility can trigger fleeting perceptions through the incidental touch effect, which can impart significant influential judgment of something completely unrelated during customer interaction with printed materials.

– Dr. David Eagleman

Print can influence emotions of increased perceived value and fleeting perceptions through incidental touch. Additionally, print shifts the brain into levels of deeper engagement to build lasting knowledge and creates memorable, meaningful brand and customer connections.

Eagleman and Rigsby note that print, through its engagement of the sense of touch, greatly influences emotions and decision-making processes. They also explain the significance of touch as an essential component to any brand experience to design and develop impactful marketing collateral (direct mail, brochures and catalogs) to forge deep, meaningful connections between brand and customer.


Print Has Significant Effect within Multichannel Marketing Combining Print and Digital

memory and higher subjective value than any other tested ad sequences within the study, leading researchers to determine physical-physical message sequencing is an optimal marketing messaging strategy to communicate effective brand-building messages.

With today’s customers navigating a growing cache of multichannel media options, fusing physical and digital marketing makes great sense. And according to researchers, multichannel media marketing strategies that maximize the complementary beneficial elements of both printed and digital messaging develop stronger customer relationships, sales and ROI.

Additionally, the physical-physical ad sequence replicated earlier findings of brain area activity proven in a different USPS/Temple University neuroscience of print study, with further results relevant to successful marketing key performance indicators:

As marketing budgets continue to move toward streamlined cost-effectiveness that generates customer engagement and action, further studies have since explored the effects of media sequencing strategies, with experts discovering how media sequencing influences customer response.

 There was activity in the brain’s ventral striatum and ventromedial prefrontal cortex for physical-physical sequenced ads. These brain areas are associated with subconscious value and desirability, indicating greater purchase intent for products and/or services as advertised within the study.

Media Sequencing Matters

 Activity of the brain’s left anterior hippocampus occurred when participants were sent physical-physical sequenced ads. The left anterior hippocampus, associated with creating memories, indicates the physical-physical sequence was more effective at creating memories than other tested ad messaging sequences. What’s more, faces were found to create the strongest memories in terms of ad recognition and brand recall over depicted scenes or words within physical print messages.

The USPS/Temple University (2017) and Canada Post/Ipsos (2017) studies examined message sequencing and single- and mixed-media usage. These neuroscience studies investigated the intricacies of how physical mail works in conjunction with digital advertising in integrated campaigns relating to optimizing consumer attention, emotional engagement and brand recall. The USPS/Temple University (2017) study included lab study and field test of participant reaction to four types of media sequencing two combinations of physical (direct mail) and digital (email) messaging: physical and physical, physical and digital, digital and digital, and digital and physical messaging sequences.

Print offers profound and significant effectiveness within multichannel marketing. Because today’s customers transition comfortably across multichannel marketing platforms throughout their purchase journey, the results further indicate the fusion of print and digital media is necessary for developing smarter marketing messaging strategies and stronger customer relationships, ultimately yielding higher sales potential.

The lab study implemented neuromarketing analysis through fMRI in its evaluation of participant responses to the four media sequences tested. The neuromarketing study segment indicated the physicalphysical sequence was especially effective at eliciting ad recognition, brand recall and ad likeability as well as greater 7


Print Has Significant Effect within Multichannel Marketing Print’s Positive Impact within “The Combo Effect”

 Arousal peaks when direct mail follows display advertising, outperforming the average for the other single and integrated media campaigns by 26%.

The Canada Post/IPSO (2017) study examined the relationship between and the overall effectiveness of integrating physical direct mail within multichannel marketing campaigns implementing a combination of both print and digital advertising.

 Motivation peaks when direct mail follows pre-roll video, outperforming the average for other tested single and integrated media campaigns by 3%, which researchers determined is a significant enough margin to drive meaningful behavioral changes.

Researchers used EEG to track emotional responses, and they used eye tracking and surveys to determine brand recall and participants’ stated attitudes, feelings and perceptions toward print and digital media, which included physical direct mail and digital media consisting of email, display and pre-roll video.

Print plays a valuable role in achieving customer engagement within integrated multichannel marketing strategies. The findings on the media sequencing effect offer marketers insight on how to boost media efficiency, create more successful strategies and campaigns, and build integrated marketing campaigns to achieve desired results.

They discovered multimedia integrated campaigns that included physical direct mail measured stronger participant engagement results. Participants showed these results:  Greater attention – Participants spent 39% more time engaged.  Greater arousal – Participants had a 5% increase in emotional intensity.  Greater recall – Participants showed a 10% increase in brand recall. Additionally, experts also determined direct mail generated strongest impact on customer engagement when direct mail follows a digital advertising message. The specific breakdown on the study’s sequencing effect findings demonstrate how media that is combined within integrated multichannel marketing efforts can significantly affect specific customer engagement behaviors:  Brand recall peaks when direct mail follows email, outperforming the average for the other single and integrated media campaigns by 40%.


The Neuroscience of Print: Conclusion Print Remains a Steadfast, Powerful Marketing Tool Neuroscience of print studies have grown in recent years, from initial findings stating the valuable role print plays within education and the distinctive advantages print offers over digitized advertising methods to the confirmation of print’s importance in integrated multichannel marketing and how print’s role within media sequencing can affect and impact multichannel marketing strategies and subsequent results. The collective findings from these studies indicate print has significant, determined value to drive results within today’s marketing strategies:  Print is easier to understand.  Print creates memorable and personalized emotional connections that embed within the mind.  Print builds brand recognition.  Multichannel marketing strategies combining print and digital in appropriate sequencing optimizes engagement, motivation and action results. About Curtis 1000 Curtis 1000 is a go-to-market subsidiary of Taylor Corporation. Leading businesses across North America trust Curtis 1000 to be their partner in meeting the complex challenges of communicating in today’s omnichannel world. Our client-driven team of experts leverages technology across the industry’s broadest network of solutions to help them strengthen customer experience, enhance business efficiencies and drive revenue.



The Neuroscience of Print: Notes

10 © 2019 Curtis 1000 (FORM#02-06-02-21 Rev 09/2019)

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