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Why paper encourages virtuous decision making

By Erwin Busselot, Director Business Innovation & Solutions, Ricoh Graphic Communications, Ricoh Europe

The pandemic and the shift to remote and hybrid work accelerated many changes in digitalisation and online communication.

Some will continue to drive growth while others could benefit from a return to more traditional ways, according to research by academics Maferima Touré-Tillery and Lili Wang. They found that while digital communications have their place, those on paper can have a significant impact on the choices we make.

Their series of studies with more than 2 500 participants across America and China explored the impact of the medium used when making a decision, with a particular focus on options with a moral component, such as whether or not to make a donation to a charity. Participants were asked to make a variety of choices using either a paper form or a digital tablet.

They found respondents were more:

  • likely to make a virtuous choice when using pen and paper,
  • inclined to pick the healthier option from a printed menu,
  • persuaded to make a charitable donation when responding to a piece of print,
  • and motivated to select an educational book, as opposed to an entertaining one, when presented with a printed list.
  • The research went on to show what was driving this effect was how “real” the decision feels.

The participants consistently said making a choice on paper felt more real than on a digital device. When a decision felt more real they were more likely to feel that it was representative of who they were. They were more likely to go with the virtuous or responsible option.

For marketers the research showed the medium through which customers make a decision can have a major impact on the choices they make.

Healthier options are more likely to do well on printed menus, while a paper order form might encourage the choice of educational reading materials, and charities may also benefit from paper forms and volunteer sign-up sheets, rather than relying on websites, emails or apps.

Physical print engages more of the senses, too. Touch and smell come in to play with different substrates and finishes helping marketers stand out. Touching physical print prompts a more meaningful connection, driving greater effectiveness. For example 90% of campaigns that included door drops reported a rise in acquisition compared to 59% for those without and 21% of all addressed mail and door drop items went on to create a commercial action.

Where suitable, communications that had made the shift online to emails or to mobile phones with texts, can be recaptured for digital print that uses personalisation and customised content to make messaging feel more real. Recipients are more likely to positively interact with information that they are interested in or engaging content that recognises their individuality.

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