“It is the first language and the last, and it always tells the truth.” Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin
This is the fourth in a series of articles in which the Added Value team in Paris explore the marketing opportunities offered by the five senses. We’re getting up close and personal with how the sense of touch can foster deeper emotional attachment with brands…
Touch me, touch my heart
Touch is the very first sense developed in utero, and is not only experienced through the skin but also in the tongue, throat, and mucosa. Skin itself is the largest organ of the human body and the most sensitive one.
Touch has been called the demystifying sense. It brings tangibility and a sense of objectiveness to what surrounds us. As part of our basic survival instincts, we use touch to check and assess material, surface and temperature. One of the core purposes of touch is to evaluate danger, so it is a sense which is vital to our instincts. It can also directly impact our happiness: when we encounter a pleasant touch, the brain actually releases a hormone called oxytocin which leads to feelings of well-being and calm.
The relationship between touch and our well-being has been known for a long-time. Early in the nineteenth century, nurses in orphanages reported that babies who received no physical contact — cuddling, rocking, kisses, tickling – beyond the bare minimum of daily maintenance became withdrawn, sickly, and finally died. The conclusion seemed to be that human beings require a certain level of daily skin-to-skin contact in order to survive.
Touch, or the lack of it, affects us all. Healthy touch slows our heart rates and reduces anxiety. It makes us feel safe and nurtured. A lack of touch, though, can make us feel very lonely, depressed, ill and even aggressive and angry at the world.
The deal closer
From an emotional standpoint, touch provides the feeling of having made an intimate encounter: touching something makes it your own. Researchers have found that shoppers who touch a product are more likely to purchase it. That’s why, it seems, Britain’s ASDA grocery chain took the wrappers off several brands of toilet paper, inviting consumers to feel it for themselves. The result was increased sales for its own store-brand product, leading to a 50 percent increase in shelf space for the line.
Touch is a pivotal, intimate sense that “closes the deal”. It can add surprise and excitement to everyday objects, and is all the more meaningful in societies which try to avoid physical contact
But how does touch work? Touch, it seems, is a two-step process, comprising an initial objective sensation – “this object is cold” – followed by a subsequent subjective, cultural, emotional response – “this object inspires feelings of cleanliness.” You can try this out yourself right now… reach out and touch some of the objects around you: your desk, the carpet, the screen of your telephone or even your hair. Try and come up with functional and emotional descriptors for each object and then ask yourself where is relationship coming from?
Research shows that while we show objectivity in our touch sensations, other elements such as sight quickly come into play to impair our initial judgment. A study was led on heterosexual males who were all touched by the same hand. Half were told it was a woman’s hand, the other half a male’s hand. The first group expressed positive feelings, the second group said it was less positive… yet the actual sensation of the touch itself had been the same.
Brands that are getting tactile
Brands are getting wise to the power of touch to add surprise and excitement to an often banal brand experience. Some of the best examples we’ve seen (and experienced ourselves!) include Starbucks, Heineken and Smirnoff (insight is thirsty work!).
Starbucks tactically places a variety of coffee beans on its waiting lines for people to touch, to enable buyers to imagine their tasting before it happens. They also place craft-paper flyers and cards in store to further cue authenticity, freshness and genuineness to their customers.
The new Heineken tactile can uses a special tactile ink to complement its new design, resulting in an embossed effect on the can’s surface. The Heineken-green colored ink forms a series of tiny raised dots on the surface which prevent condensation, making the design recognizable by both sight and touch. To reinforce this campaign, Heineken also coated public walls with a similar surface.
And finally, to launch the new Smirnoff Caipiroska range, JWT Brazil created bottles with the same texture as the lemon, passion fruit and berries that go into the drink. A diagonal perforation allowed consumers to recreate the unique experience of peeling fruit. They even sent the bottles in wooden crates to a select mailing list, recalling the boxes in which fruit is transported to large produce markets.
What does the future hold?
So far brands have largely focused on how their packaging or products feel in a consumer’s hands. But soon, just as shock waves are sent to cell phones to confirm an email has been correctly sent or game stations’ vibrate as an obstacle is coming, haptic technology will enable online perceptions of tangible three-dimensional objects as well as textures. While it may still be a few years before it is fully functional, marketers nevertheless have to face up to the fact that our experience of touch is changing fast in the 21st century.
Increasingly, we are living with stream-lined devices and tactile interfaces: a new standard of touch has arisen. On the other hand, as remote/ e-purchasing comes to dominate, consumers may grow into the belief that touch is optional. Have we lost track of real touch and what place for touch in an over-sanitized world?
“This is a touch-phobic society. We’re not used to touching strangers, or even our friends, necessarily.” DePauw University psychologist, Matthew Hertenstein
The value of experiencing user journeys
Perhaps the only way to find out is for marketers to invest more time and energy not just meeting consumers, but experiencing their brands as consumers experience them themselves. Going to Starbucks and actively touching everything around us as we waited to be served was a revelation for us into how much thought someone had put in to crafting the tactile experience. Yes, our senses were over-powered by aromas of coffee, but dipping our hands into vats of coffee beans made us a feel a real connection to the brand. Whether you’re working on alcohol or soup (how does that glass or mug feel in your hand?), developing a sun-tan cream (does it feel the same at 20°c and 35°c?) or working in luxury (does prohibiting touch actually create more desire?), we strongly encourage you to get hands on experience of the power of touch.
If you’d like to find out how the team at Added Value can give you a hands on experience, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Written by Mark Whiting, Sandrine McClure, Directors, Alexandre Richard, Project Director, James Horton, Intern, Marina Cozzika, Public Relations.
Image credits: Added Value
Read more about how to use the other senses in market research: