It won’t come as a surprise to you to say that we’re overly-attached to our gadgets; 4G and widespread wi-fi connections mean that we live in an always-online world, often at the expense of real-life interactions. Even though we know it’s not good for our health, we still neglect the humble paperback in favour of just one last check of social media on our phones, or reading a book on our tablets before we go to sleep.

Offices aren’t immune either; with office space at a premium and many more companies adopting flexible working and hotdesking to juggle adequate space for their workforce, paperless offices have become the norm not just for security reasons, but so that employees always have access to projects, no matter where they are working from.

However, our brains disagree – they like the physical nature of paper-based information, and research shows that physical rather than digital advertising holds a significant advantage when it comes to translating marketing into sales. It doesn’t mean that digital campaigns are useless in comparison with direct mail, just that a combination might be far more effective than a single channel.

For businesses that are concentrating on phasing out printed content, it’s worth considering the evidence: Canadian firm TrueImpact, whose mission is to ‘humanise marketing’ performed a study comparing the results of digital marketing over paper-based campaigns. With a combination of brainwave measurement and eye-tracking technology, they were able to gauge how long participants in the study were looking at content in addition to how well they understood it, and how persuasive they found it. Direct mail might find its way into our recycling bins the moment we’ve finished with it, but it requires a fifth less brainpower to process than digital advertising, suggesting that we’re likely to retain it far better. Later questioning suggested that nearly three-quarters of those tested could remember the brand name from the paper-based material, compared with under half from the digital ad – and it’s that brand recognition that turns into ‘buy me’.

It’s not that digital marketing isn’t effective – it’s that paper-based marketing is real, and requires that extra level of cognitive absorption. It’s that sensation of touch that anchors the brand and the message. Backed up with a digital campaign to the same consumers, that’s a winning formula. The same applies to students and study materials; whilst those who read and review their course materials and notes on a screen score well, those who perform the physical act of turning pages or highlighting a printed page score better.

There are advantages to digital campaigns – emails can be personalised, and advertising can be tailored to fit an individual’s online habits, such as their browsing or internet shopping history. However, the physical feel of a flyer or brochure demands input from both hand and eye; it might not be personalised, but the brain takes on that information more readily.