It’s Science! How Sensory Preferences Impact the ROI of The Press Release

Fred-Godlash-headshotBy Fred Godlash, Marketing Specialist, Business Wire

If you have been in PR for more than a day, you have been told at least once how important multimedia is in a press release, but for many it’s unclear why multimedia is significant. In this piece, we take a look at the science behind learnings and retention and why this data is important to your 2014 PR program.

visual-learningFor many years, graphics were considered vital to just a handful of PR professionals. While things have changed dramatically, with more companies embracing the concept of multimedia, many PR professionals (and their CMOs) still wonder if adding assets can truly increase the ROI of a press release.

To understand the impact of multimedia within your marketing, advertising or public relations programs, you first must recognize how your audience absorbs and retains information. As communicators, we all want people to read, acknowledge, share and act upon our news announcements. But to create this desired behavior, we first need to understand how people think, discover and learn.  Let’s take a “peek under the hood” at the human brain.

Look Under the Hood
A recent study by the University of Iowa reinforces the thesis that people learn in very different ways – audible, visual or tactical. The new study also confirms that retention rates differ depending on how the information was discovered and presented. For example, recollection is more difficult when hearing things rather than seeing or doing them. There’s a common misconception that all memory is developed the same way, but in fact the study shows the memory process is formed by three separate pathways: by hearing (auditory learning), seeing (visual learning) and experiencing/touching (tactile learning). For today’s communicators, this means that multimedia included a press release increases the chance of  action (and coverage) simply by  engaging the other learning centers in the brain that process information. Let’s explore each one and see how that applies to your communication efforts.

Auditory Learning
Have you ever been told to read your press release out loud to make sure it sounds correct? This is a simply way to find errors in your release. If you can’t read it without mistakes, it needs to be tightened up. This simple trick — reading out loud — takes stimuli from the visual learning section of the brain and delivers it to a new section of the brain which receives audio stimuli. Although only approximately 30% of the population are auditory learners, the technique described above works because it uses more than one part of the brain to process information.

For those who learn by auditory learning, the primary way they understand and absorb information is to hear it.  To reach those who absorb news best through auditory learning, include podcasts and audio files within your press releases. . For example, if you’re sending a press release about a recent product launch, financial earnings or event, create and include an audio file detailing the importance of this news. This increases your chances of getting to your core audience and can be a good resource for journalists who rely on multimedia to round out articles.

Visual Learning
The downside to auditory learning is that many don’t retain information as effectively as written communication. For example, when someone tells you a phone number, if you dial right away you are usually ok but if anything distracts you after hearing their number you will most likely forget. That is why we write down a phone number. This problem has haunted teachers for years who primarily educate through verbally speaking. The solution is to include visuals to increase retention. A whopping 65% of the population are visual learners. This means that the standard textual press release does not resonate as thoroughly with more than half of the world.

Visual-learning-1Amy Poremba, associate professor at the University of Iowa Department of Psychology and co-author of “Achilles’ Ear? Inferior Human Short-Term and Recognition Memory in the Auditory Modality,” says, “As teachers, we want to assume students will remember everything we say. But if you really want something to be memorable you may need to include a visual or hands-on experience, in addition to auditory information.” When adding video to audio or text, the change can be radical. This is true with press releases as well.  While every press release’s success relies on the information it contains, press releases that include video assets do higher in overall coverage, sharing and ROI. Why? Because it activates the primary learning center of a majority of the world.

Tactile Learning (Kinesthetic)
Tactile learning — sometimes referred to as kinesthetic learning– is to acquire knowledge by actually doing something rather than listening or reading/watching. Tactile learning can be as simple as identifying a water bottle by touching it or as complex as a dancer learning a routine by walking through the moves. So how does this apply to sending out a press release? Press releases that contain interactive tools use a form of tactile learning. For example, a press release can include social sharing calls to action, allowing the user to engage with the release and share it out to their social channels.   

How do you learn? The chart shows benchmark results from the 2012 abstract titled “Achilles’ Ear? Inferior Human Short-Term and Recognition Memory in the Auditory Modality” by James Bigelow and Amy Poremba. The diagram displays how quickly accuracy retention is diminished when only using one of the three modes of learning.

But isn’t text Visual?
Text is a form of visual learning that the brain deciphers by recognizing words. But it is key to remember that the brain engages differently with text than video.

Let’s do a simple test. Try reading this: “Aoccdrnig to a rseearch sduty at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is that the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae.”

In case you need a translation, the phrase says, “According to a research study at Cambridge University, it doesn’t matter in what order the letters in a word are, the only important thing is that the first and last letter be in the right place.”

The brain can recognize words regardless of spelling, but it takes work and the reading comprehension will ultimately vary depending on the reader. Yale University looked at the study habits of a 13-year-old boy diagnosed with dyslexia and how he used additional audio, visual and tactile techniques to learn. “Thirteen-year-old Eli studies by making a Power Point presentation from the text assigned to him and using the computer’s voice feature to read the material back to him.” In other words, this is a fantastic showcase for our last point.  Simply by engaging all three learning centers in the brain you increase your chances of your message being understood and acted upon. In other words, to drive the highest ROI possible for your press release, it should incorporate audio, visual and tactile information simultaneously.

As the data shows, learning preferences directly influence message retention. To be a very good communicator in a ROI-oriented environment, you now must consider how today’s humans learn and consume information in order.  Today’s communicators must use every tool available to create a ROI successful press campaign. Those who don’t may miss the chance to reach or activate more than 65% of their audience! 

Now you know why multimedia is important to include in a press release – it is science at work driving higher engagement, retention and ultimately ROI. Increase your press release ROI by including the assets required to activate your reader’s brain!

 About the Author: Fred Godlash is a marketing specialist at Business Wire. A 25-year freelance journalist that has covered everything from entertainment to technology, Fred is also a regular contributor to BusinessWired, the company’s blog. Find him on Twitter @fredgodo.