As we grow into an increasingly digital society, it’s hard to believe that Millennials, of all people, respond well to direct mail. But a recent study found that 84% of Millennials take the time to look their mail.

Granted, the study was conducted by the U.S. Postal Service, so there’s probably a little bit of bias in it. Still, it does make sense when you think about it.

There’s no competition
First of all, the shift to electronic communications has cut the competition in what was once a very cluttered marketing environment. Simply put, Millennials receive less mail, so they’re more likely to notice what they do receive. According to another recent study:

  • Nearly half of Millennials ignore digital ads.
  • Only 15% ignore direct mail.
  • 77% pay attention to direct mail advertising.

Our brains like direct mail
Secondly, and more interestingly, are the neurological reasons why Millennials prefer direct mail. Temple University’s Fox School of Business recently partnered with the USPS to measure neurological responses to different types of advertising pieces. Here are a few key findings:

  • People read through digital ad content faster than direct mail.
  • Direct mail triggers activity in the part of the brain that corresponds with value and desirability.
  • Direct mail triggers stronger emotional responses.
  • Physical ads tend to be remembered better than digital ads.

Canada Post conducted a similar study with similar results. Its researchers broke participants into two groups. One was shown a post card; the other was shown the exact same messaging and creative but embedded in an email. After monitoring the subjects and interviewing them afterwards, they found that direct mail offered three distinct advantages. It was

  • easier to process (direct mail campaigns required 21% less cognitive effort to process);
  • easier to remember (participants’ recall was 70% higher for those exposed to direct mail versus digital); and
  • better able to motivate (activation in parts of the brain that correspond to motivation response was 20% higher for the postcard versus the email).

Of course, these findings don’t take into account the ROI of direct mail versus digital channels. And they certainly don’t suggest we should abandon digital channels when communicating with Millennials — the group that spends more time online than all other adults. However, in a crowded digital environment, direct mail may be a smart way to break through the clutter and reach this valuable demographic.