VDMI – Our brain loves print!

The Multisense Institute for Sensory Marketing has evaluated more than 300 international studies in a meta-analysis of the advertising effectiveness of print (Source: VDMA)

GERMANY • The Multisense Institute for Sensory Marketing in Remscheid is scientifically concerned with the effects of various communication channels and on this basis advises companies on the optimisation of their marketing strategies and product development. Now the team around the managing partner Olaf Hartmann has evaluated more than 300 international studies in a meta-analysis of the advertising effectiveness of print. In an interview, he explains some of the surprising findings.

Please introduce us to your Multisense Institute?


Olaf Hartmann: Since our foundation in 2009, we have specialised in the multisensory optimisation of marketing, from product design to brand communication and sales processes. We are bridge builders between research and practice. For about 15 years, neurosciences and psychology have been generating an explosion of knowledge – especially in behavioral economics, which experienced an enormous upswing in 2002 with the Nobel Prize for Daniel Kahneman. A central finding: our brain perceives multisensory signals more quickly, stores them better and classifies them as more credible. This is highly relevant when it comes to effective communication and the attractiveness of products. Our institute started as a cooperation project with Deutsche Messe AG in order to bundle this knowledge and multiply it through events such as our “Multisense Forum”. Because the demand went beyond the temporary cooperation with the trade fair, we have been continuing the Multisense Institute as a marketing consultancy since 2012.

The Multisense Institute for Sensory Marketing has evaluated more than 300 international studies in a meta-analysis of the advertising effectiveness of print (Source: VDMA)

What does your consultation look like? 

Hartmann: The focus is on very specific marketing questions: How does a brand or product promise translate itself multisensory? How can the attractiveness of products be optimised for specific target groups? Which paper makes sense for which direct mailing? Which print finishing corresponds optimally with the product promise or when is fragrance finishing worthwhile? We optimize marketing according to the ARIVA model – Attention, Recall, Integrity, Value and Action. Because it’s about more than just attention. Customers should remember the product and the advertising message, recognise the brand as credible, value it and thus be encouraged to buy or react. We have known since Pestalozzi that multisensory communication is brain-friendly. His statement “Learning works best with the brain, heart and hand” can be transferred to marketing. The multisensory experience creates understanding, memory and emotion – and thus produces the strongest effect. Modern brain research with its imaging methods impressively confirms this. A central finding is: Our brain loves print! 

You say that in times of smartphone and internet addiction? 

Hartmann: In any case! Studies show that we process texts on paper more deeply and remember them better. The digital revolution will not overtake human evolution in the future either. Stimulus-response studies prove that our brain activity increases by a factor of ten with each additional sense mentioned: Multisensory amplification therefore has an exponential effect. Print is able to encode messages at different sensory levels: optically, acoustically, with the help of scents – and above all haptically. Print products can be literally understood. Not all media contacts are worth the same amount. There are great psychological qualitative differences. Obviously this is the case with response rates to e-mail invitations in comparison to printed invitations. Which is often forgotten: Advertising in digital space converts brand confidence, but contributes only weakly to its formation from the point of view of perception psychology. Print has strong brand-building qualities. This is in the nature of things: we can misunderstand and interrogate ourselves, but we can never deceive ourselves. The sense of touch is our “sense of truth”, with which credibility and esteem correspond very closely. That’s why print remains valuable even in times of digitalization! Contrary to many predictions, print is not dead. The industry is currently returning to its strengths. And that is less the speed than the emotional quality. We see it in the publishing industry. Print media that don’t rely on daily news, but on quality and emotion, are doing almost outstandingly today. 

You recently analysed the advertising impact of print and finishing in a meta-study. How did you proceed? 

Hartmann: Initiated by the Creatura initiative of the Fachverband Medienproduktion, we have analysed over 300 international studies on the advertising impact of print and print finishing over a period of one year and thus compiled the current state of knowledge on the advertising impact of print. The spectrum includes scientific studies, industry studies and best practice reports. 

What were the main questions? 

Hartmann: We have derived these from the five ARIVA dimensions. How does print optimally generate attention? How does it influence memory, credibility, esteem and willingness to buy? These are the concrete goals of every marketing campaign. This meta-level is broken down to the concrete action level: How does print make campaigns more effective and efficient? How does it build brand trust and recall? How does it differentiate brands and products from the competition? Think of Apple, whose specially enhanced packaging enables instant recognition even in dark rooms. In addition, the focus was on the role of print in sales processes. For which products is refinement worthwhile and for which not? We gained very interesting insights, but also discovered white spots on the scientific map. All in all, the result is a very hopeful picture for the printing industry. 

In your opinion, what are the most important findings of the meta-analysis? 

Hartmann: A basic finding: our brain consciously processes 40 bits per second, but unconsciously eleven million bits. This means that the purchase decision is made in the stomach and is justified by the head. But the gut decisions are by no means stupid; after all, they have had a decisive influence on our evolution. We need understandable codes that the gut can intuitively decipher. Here is an example from one of the studies analysed: test persons had the choice between three packages for a face cream. One untreated, one with a soft-touch coating and one with a decorative relief coating. The test persons found the latter most attractive at first glance. In the purchasing process, however, the soft-touch solution was in the lead. Its pleasant feel best conveyed the promise of “soft skin” intuitively and also ensured the highest price readiness. So it is not the conscious perception that controls behaviour, but the unconscious interpretation of our perception. This is the key to the effective use of print. The aim is to address consumers’ target filters in such a way that their gut decisions are addressed. Print as an intuitively credible and activating channel contributes significantly to the success of cross-media campaigns. It makes all other channels more effective. 

Is the message getting through? Does the digital/analog mix change in advertising budgets? 

Hartmann: After the digital intoxication, some companies are beginning to hang over. They realize that they have concentrated their media mix too much on digital media – and their campaign efficiency is declining. The analysis of more than 3,200 campaigns shows that each additional channel increases effectiveness – by up to 35 percent. Budgets should therefore be distributed intelligently. It remains the case that print, TV and radio contribute the most to brand building. Digital prophets have often presented this differently. Many followed them blindly. The prudent, on the other hand, were rewarded. The shirt manufacturer Olymp has left 90 percent of its media budget in print over the past ten years and almost tripled its turnover from EUR 80 million to over EUR 230 million. Trust and credibility of a brand are created by the printed word. Even for Youtuber and Twitterstars it is the accolade when print media report on them. 

So is digital communication completely overrated? 

Hartmann: We have to differentiate between the process and communication levels. Digital processes are faster, more flexible and more scalable. But because digital image processing has established itself, a screen full of pixels does not impress us as much as a printed image. Our analyses clearly show that cross-media is the trump card. It’s all about playing suitable messages on all channels. Ikea continues to print catalogues, uses digital visualisation in the layout for the regionally differentiated customer approach with adapted living environments and is also increasingly focusing on augmented reality. 

What will happen to print if in the future only digital natives fill digital shopping baskets? 

Hartmann: Despite digital progress, in many areas a return to the analogue becomes visible. Young people in particular are highly receptive to haptic and acoustic quality. Vinyl records with printed covers and booklets have overtaken music downloads in terms of sales. Digital streaming is successful. But when people possess music and want to connect emotionally with it, haptics are in demand. The effect of print does not diminish in marketing either. Initially, the costs of direct mail are a deterrent. But their cost-benefit ratio is unbeatable. The event voucher provider Jochen Schweizer has grown up on the Internet, but has reached the limits of its growth there. Only the investment in printed mailings has brought a further growth spurt. In cost-per-order terms, print has proved to be the cheapest channel of all. When Aldi wanted to save on its inserts in the Bild newspaper, the decline in customers was immediately measurable. It wasn’t until the inserts came back that people returned to the branches. Paper touches us and activates us. People are not just driven by efficiency goals, they are still being socialized in a multisensory way and will continue to attach great importance to experiencing the world with all their senses in the future. Cognitive development remains a multisensory process. 

What does this mean for suppliers of printing and paper technology? 

Hartmann: The industry must develop technologies that serve to emotionalise print. Individualised products, interesting opening mechanisms, high-quality surfaces, fine papers and cardboard as well as the possibility of working with matching fragrances or acoustically interesting surface structures. Mechanical engineering must make its contribution to the multisensory staging of brands and products – at a reasonable cost, of course. This is exactly what the industry is already doing. It prepares its machines and systems for more frequent job changes for the implementation of short, individualized runs and is constantly creating new enhancement technologies, from optical effect coatings to cold foil enhancement and high-quality embossing. Printing and paper machine construction can build on a long tradition. Our metastudy shows that its technologies are by no means old-fashioned, but continue to play a central role in multichannel communication.




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