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Why digital advertisers should harness the sense of touch

Traditional forms of advertising are changing. Today, that’s most evidenced by skyrocketing engagement with tablet content. Naturally, that introduces a lot of theories about how people engage with tablets over other digital platforms like computers and smartphones. The issue is that most studies give a marketing-driven answer and not a behavior-driven one. The real reason weʼre experiencing massive engagement has little to do with the way marketing works. It does, though, have to do with something primitive and vital to the human body: the sense of touch.   

Whatʼs unique about the sense of touch is that touch receptors are different from sound, vision, smell, and taste in that theyʼre not located exclusively on the head, but rather spread throughout the skin and mainly centered in our hands and feet. This makes “active touching” an important element and begins to introduce self-selection into the media experience. Itʼs this quality alone that says a lot about the level of immersion a person usually experiences with the content at hand and shows that todayʼs touchscreen phones and tablets place an emphasis on voluntary action. Whatʼs more, these screens are physically closer to our eyes than any other type of screen has ever been, so we can lend them our full attention with little noise or distraction. Essentially, they and the sense of touch help us exist in our own microcosm.

An interactive tablet experience for Residence Inn by Marriott (courtesy of mcgarrybowen)

These touchscreens, however, serve two very different purposes. Smartphones live mainly in our pockets and are commonly used for task-driven activities like communicating and location-based services. The majority of tablets are used at home, mainly in two locations: the living room and the bedroom. This, and their larger screens, make them well-suited for consuming rich content like videos, games, photos, and, of course, for social networking and shopping. In short, the senses offer key insights into understanding the organic shift weʼre seeing in the consumer response to advertising and brand favorability.

Traditional forms of advertising and messaging used to center the story simply on sight and sound. Todayʼs successful forms, however, are the ones that find that sweet spot somewhere between technology, touch and the content on the other side of that touch. Once we begin to “tabletize” content we start engaging more intimately with the consumer on their own terms as they go about doing the things they care most about. In 2012, that means tracking milestones and memories, sharing and showcasing, and, best of all, having fun. Consumers don’t necessarily care deeply about the brands themselves, but they do care deeply about themselves, others and the larger world we all live in. In this way, tablets offer brands a completely clean slate to help consumers experience all three.

To that end, we as advertisers, need to move away from more messaging-centric models and into experienced-based, sensory ones so we can start communicating with consumers how they want to be communicated with whether thatʼs horizontal, vertical, full-screen, full color or just a swipe away. We no longer raise awareness by putting messaging in front of people, but rather by developing richer content that seamlessly integrates into other platforms consumers are already engaging with. We no longer have to spend millions to deliver what we want them to read, but we can spend much less on creating content that they want to read, watch, and interact with. Content that doesn’t just tell them things, but invites them to do more of things they already care about.

Luckily, all of us already know about one very “sensical” device that can help us do just that.