Brands need high touch as well as high tech

By Hamish Pringle |

March 2, 2015 | 7 min read

In a 2007 collaboration with the Centre for Experimental Consumer Psychology at Bangor University, Millward Brown used functional Magnetic Resonance Imagery (fMRI) scanning to understand how the brain reacts to physical and virtual stimuli.

The findings suggest that tangible advertising not only engages more senses, it appears to produce deeper engagement. The printed materials evoked more brain activity associated with integration of sight and touch, a stronger emotional response (suggestive of stronger memory formation) and a deeper integration with personal thoughts and feelings. As Nigel Hollis of Millward Brown noted:

“It makes me think we need to reinstate the physical experience of a brand as an important component of the marketing mix. While digital and augmented reality are new and sexy, maybe we need to remind ourselves that humans are still designed to experience the world through all of our senses, not just one.”

Clearly these customer experiences are very powerful in conveying feelings and forming attitudes about a brand, yet often marketers fail to recognise their importance. Swedish agency Hello Future have a model which it uses to identify all the key customer touch points. These are placed on a vertical axis of ‘Personal, high-engagement/hands on’ to ‘Mass market, image building/awareness’, and a horizontal axis of ‘Quick interaction’ to ‘Multiple long-term interactions’.

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It then superimposes its ‘Desired customer path’, which it suggests goes from ‘Persuasion’ to ‘Value creation’.

Hello Future’s model recognises that most orthodox marketers subscribe to the belief that a behaviour change can only occur if an attitude change has preceded it.

In fact we now know there’s a second feedback loop which marketers can employ. This is to use behaviour to affect attitudes. It’s based upon the insight of William James which dates back to 1890. This has been validated by many academic experiments and commercial applications since, but which are little-known to marketers. James’s ‘As if’ principle says that “if you want a quality, act as if you already had it”.

Millions of people have watched Amy Cuddy’s TED talk which brings the ‘As if’ principle to life. She shows how making simple physical actions can have an impact mentally, and improve confidence. The body can change the mind.

The practical implication for brands is not to under-invest in short-term active behaviour change. As Les Binet and Peter Field show in their IPA paper ‘The Long and The Short of It’, the most effective campaigns in the IPA Effectiveness Awards are those which set their budget 60:40 long-term v short-term. Indeed the latest IPA Bellwether report shows that the ‘activation channels’ such as direct marketing, events, and sales promotion account for 37 per cent of total spend.

Digital media are a vital component of a brand’s channel mix, but the power of the personal contact and the act of ‘doing’ shouldn’t be forgotten in making behaviour change. Brands need both tactile and digital communications with customers to ensure a complete experience.

In a number of ‘physical’ markets that were thought likely to be destroyed by digital there’s evidence of the resilience of hard copy. For example, Deloitte is bullish about the future of hard copy books as sales of e-readers plateau.

It forecasts that even in the UK, one of the largest book markets, 2015 print sales are likely to be 75 per cent in revenue terms.

Here, over 30 per cent of adults own or have access to an e-reader, 50 per cent have tablets, and smartphone ownership exceeds 70 per cent. For some print products, such as newspapers, most demand for the print version is from older consumers who grew up in a print-only world. However 18-34 year olds’ preference for digital media over physical CDs, DVDs, print newspapers or magazines is not replicated for books.

In the US, twice as many millennials read print books (75 per cent) as read an e-book. Deloitte cites a UK research study which found that 62 per cent of 16-24s prefer hard copy because they like to collect, 'like the smell' and 'want full bookshelves'. Surprisingly even video blogger Zoella's debut novel sold 20 physical copies for every electronic one.

As self-confessed physical and print communications evangelist Tim Milne says:

“Even though these technologies are mature there’s not much innovation in bookbinding the world around them is changing rapidly. It’s the digital context that highlights the value and provides the comparisons that help us understand why we love real things.”

The key point is that physical experiences can add extra value to brands and nowhere is this more evident than in packaging, which completes the customer’s purchase journey in a delighting way.

For example, the pleasure in enjoying delicious Booja-Booja chocolates begins as soon as you open the lid. This reveals a foil seal which keeps them fresh. Lifting off the covering increases the sense of anticipation and enhances their appetite appeal. This attention to detail and added experience will enable Norfolk-based Booja-Booja to compete against the likes of Artisan du Chocolat or La Maison du Chocolat.

Apple is a brand well known for the way it obsesses about packaging and this is one of the key ways in which it sustains its premium pricing in the face of intense competition. One of its cleverest ploys is designing the iPhone box in such a way that it takes two or three seconds to lift off the lid. This increases the sense of anticipation and provides a tactile experience which simply can’t be delivered online.

Over 1m vinyl records were bought in 2014, which is an extraordinary renaissance of a format once thought dead. At 2 per cent of total sales, it’s still a drop in the digital music ocean, but these buyers are DJs and music opinion-formers. They have rediscovered the pleasure to be had from the physical and no doubt their lead will be followed by others. It’s ironic that David Bowie’s album ‘Nothing Has Changed’ topped the UK’s vinyl chart at Christmas 2014!

As BPI’s Lynne McDowell said of this revival:

“Vinyl may once have been considered a by-product of a bygone era but it is now well and truly a flourishing format making a come-back in a digital age. In an increasingly-digitised world, it appears that music fans still crave a tangible product that gives them original artwork, high audio quality, and purity of sound.”

In short, brands need high touch as well as high tech.

Hamish Pringle is a strategic advisor to 23red. He tweets @HamishPringle


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