Touch Is an Important Component of Psycho-Sensory Brand-Building
Remember when the first-generation iPhone hit the market? With its elegant design and smooth glass touch screen … no more buttons! How cool was that? Now the iPhone incorporates “3D Touch.” Essentially, when you touch an icon on the screen, sensors measure the pressure you apply and differentiate between a tap and a press. This allows for an extra level of functionality. But perhaps the best part of this technology is that the phone responds to your touch with a pulse that imparts the reassuring sensation of clicking a button. Hmm … we’re back to buttons again. Clearly, we find a tactile element more satisfying.
Haptics: The Study of Touch
This type of tactile feedback – produced by a complex system of actuators, controllers and sensors – is known as haptic technology. It has countless automotive, medical and industrial applications. But we are probably most familiar with haptic effects when we feel our phone vibrate or when our video game controller rumbles.
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More generally, haptics refers to our perception of objects through the sense of touch. Our sense of touch is interesting and different from our other senses in a number of important ways. While most of our senses operate at a distance, our sense of touch (like taste) requires direct contact with an object. We can’t touch something without being touched, making touch a very intimate, personal sense and one that any brander should be interested in leveraging. It is also interesting to consider that other species have sharper vision, audition, olfaction and taste than humans, but humans are keener at fine discriminations based on touch. In fact, sages going as far back as Aristotle believed our sense of touch was the explanation for our comparatively greater intellect over other creatures. Our fingertips house some 2,000 touch receptors and can discern stimuli finer than the width of a human hair.
We learn about our environment by using all of our senses, but arguably it all starts with touch. When we are young, we learn about our world by touching objects with our hands or our mouth – another area endowed with a high concentration of touch receptors. And over the course of our lives, our sense of touch is a major determinant in our overall sense of well-being.
Considering all that, it only seems natural that branders would avail themselves of the sense of touch to communicate desired brand perceptions. And, of course, some have. Heavier and smoother objects are generally perceived to be of greater quality than lighter and rougher objects. Colder objects tend to be perceived as more solid and manufactured while warmer objects tend to be experienced as more natural and organic.
But beyond these basics, we are just now arriving at the dawn of haptic branding, enabled by an increasingly interactive and digitally enhanced world. The time for haptic branding has arrived and branders are waking up to the possibilities.
Recently, Showtime conducted a haptic experiment in which they used vibration through smartphones to communicate haptically – in this case an explosion – when viewers watched a trailer for “Homeland,” season 4. Those of you who drive cars with lane departure sensing are familiar with vibrating steering wheels. And Disney and other purveyors of multisensory amusement rides have been expanding into the haptic dimension as well.
But so much more is possible as our world increasingly becomes digital, digitally augmented and even virtual. Advances in digital and actuator technology will continue to make haptic branding more accessible and easier to implement for brands.
Advertising research shows that integrating haptic information in an ad can double brand awareness, and cognitive psychology tells us that getting people to touch and handle a brand helps create strong affinity toward the brand (through the endowment effect). Yet care must be taken too. Like sound, the use of haptic information by brands should be considered judiciously, lest the brands annoy rather than thrill their target audiences.
Given the above considerations, how can you incorporate the sense of touch into your brand? We’d like to hear from you!