With a sense for communication

Using technology that was previously reserved for the world of research, PostNord has taken a look at how our subconscious reacts to administrative communication. The study reveals that hard-copy information still attracts a high level of attention, while the digital mailbox remains a challenge.


Tobii 2 Pro Glasses, which register visual attention, are used for eye tracking, while an ABM X-10 EEG, whose electrodes measure brain response, is used for brain scanning. Photo: Spoon.

Opportunities to communicate with customers are increasing in step with the appearance of new channels. At the same time, companies are finding it increasingly difficult to determine what produces the greatest effect. There is therefore more than a little interest in being able to “look inside the mind” to establish how recipients actually react to communication. This is one of the reasons why neuromarketing is currently gaining momentum as a survey method. 

In collaboration with Neurons Inc and Ipsos, PostNord has conducted two of the biggest neuromarketing studies in the Nordic region. In 2016, fully 200 people took part in the first study – entitled “Behind the mind” – which examined how recipients reacted to advertising in both physical and digital channels. It was the first study of its kind to use real brands and real campaigns. The findings indicated that a combination produced a stronger effect than the separate channels on their own, especially if the combination started with physical advertising and followed it up with a digital campaign. 

 In February 2018, the follow up – “Behind the mind 2” – was conducted, focusing instead on opportunities to build relationships via administrative communication such as bills and civic information. 

Karin Nilsson, Nordic Insight Manager at the PostNord business area “Communication Services,” is responsible for the initiative.

“A lot of companies run market surveys to find out more about attitudes and trends. With neuromarketing, however, we look at a deeper level; we can measure how the brain reacts to different types of communication, which gives us a better understanding of both the conscious and the subconscious.”

Eight million measuring points

One of the questions PostNord wanted to look into with Behind the mind 2 was the issue of whether administrative communication can be used to build relationships. A total of 63 people took part in the study, jointly generating more than eight million measuring points and providing a solid base of data from which to draw conclusions.  

“For qualitative studies of this kind, you usually start to identify general patterns after just 15 interviews.” 

Karin Nilsson was herself on site and tested the technology. 

“The subjects were given a pair of eye tracking glasses to wear, then a number of electrodes were fastened to their heads using a cream.”

The equipment registers what the person is looking at while simultaneously measuring stress, motivation and involvement with a cognitive curve. “The test took about an hour per person, and left everyone with a bad hair day,” she says with a laugh.

EEG brain scanning and eye tracking are used to measure participants’ emotional and cognitive responses while pinpointing precisely what they are looking at. Photo: SpoonGreater knowledge about the brain

Neuroscience is the study of the nervous system – i.e. the system that sends signals from the brain to different parts of the body. The science is applied in a variety of areas to improve knowledge of emotions, mental processes and behavior. In the context of neuromarketing, researchers study how the brain reacts to communication. 

The method was previously almost the exclusive preserve of scientific researchers, but as the technology has become more readily available, it has become possible to use it for commercial purposes. 

There is an old saying: “People don’t say what they’re thinking, don’t know what they’re feeling, and don’t do what they say.” To put it rather bluntly, this is the reality marketers have to deal with. The big advantage of neuromarketing is the reliability of being able to see how the respondents react and behave. This makes it possible to dive down beneath the surface in a way that is almost like something out of science fiction. 

“It’s tough to argue against this kind of insight,” says Karin Nilsson. 

Thanks to these surveys, PostNord has built up a better image of how the brain reacts to different types of communication. Understanding the recipient makes it possible to target communication as accurately as possible with regard to channel and recipient alike.

“This means that both our customers and their customers will be more satisfied.” 

The intention with Behind the mind 2 was to understand how administrative communication influences the brain on the basis of how sensitive the information is, how it is designed, and which channel is used to communicate it. 

The findings indicate that printed material is the channel that generally produces the highest emotional response. One explanation for this is that stress levels are lower for physical communication than for communication via digital channels, and this makes the respondent more receptive to the information.

“Paper increases the likelihood of the message being read in its entirety. The reader is more focused and has longer observation values,” says Karin Nilsson. 

Printed material is also appreciated for making the information easier to store. 

However, it is not the only channel that generated good results. The digital mailbox produces lower cognitive stress than other digital channels, and is appreciated first and foremost by young respondents. The message is read just as closely as on paper, and it generates both motivation and emotional engagement.

Paper increases the likelihood of the message being read in its entirety.

Cell phones cause stress

Emotional information received via a cell phone produces high levels of stress, which makes it hard for the recipient to focus on the message, and in many cases, the design is not adapted optimally to the channel either. For the message to reach the recipient, it is important to shorten the volume of text and process one topic at a time. It is only when you succeed in lowering the cognitive stress that the chances of emotional engagement increase.

Responses also differed depending on the gender and age of the recipient. Email, for instance, is a channel that is more likely to stimulate a response among men aged 56+ than among women and other age groups. 

Young people make stronger demands than older people on how the information should be designed in digital channels. If it is poorly suited, they lose interest. 

Design is another factor which affects how the information is received. When you add in relationship-generating messages, both motivation and the emotional response increase. Printed material in particular makes big gains from personalizing the message.

How the study was conducted

63 people in the age range 18–70 were asked to study three different types of administrative communication: 

  • A credit card statement
  • A bill from a telecoms company 
  • A direct mail shot containing civic information

The interview subjects were presented with the communication in three channels:

  • Print
  • Email
  • Digital mailbox

Results were measured on the basis of four factors:

  • Cognitive load 
  • Motivation
  • Emotional engagement
  • Visual attention 

To find out more and download the report (in Swedish), see: