Craft Brand Perception: The Neuroscience Behind Touch

Daniel Dejan of Sappi talks about neuromarketing, consumers relating to brands through touch, and print vs. digital and print-to-digital experiences.

Daniel Dejan, North American Sappi etc., Print and Creative Manager at Sappi, has more than 40 years of design, production, print buying and on-press experience. He embraces the idea of media convergence, when print and digital merge together, such as with augmented reality, which earned him a position as a Google Glass Developer. He is also an authority on colour perception and theory in relation to branding.

Tony Naldinho, Director, Marketing, St. Joseph Communications chatted with Daniel about the neuroscience of touch and his appearance at the CMAconnections conference this past May.

What is haptics? Why is it important?

Haptics is the science of how we relate to the world through touch. We like to think of it only as our hands, but it also includes the largest organ in the body, our skin. Through that we feel, between our fingers, and all the different parts of our bodies, we've got this constant input of sensation and information.

The science of touch sounds very dramatic, but it is actually just a closer investigation of one of our major senses. There's a larger, new trend known as neuromarketing; and neuromarketing really looks at how do we use the senses to engage prospects or customers.

Sometimes it's a sense of smell. We use sense in department stores, in grocery stores, in all manner of ways to trigger somebody's reaction. Sometimes it's obviously visual. Or auditory, the sound of music or the sound of background noise, et cetera. In this case, it's specifically the sense of touch. The reason that it's so important and why Sappi specifically picked the idea up is because we don’t believe that content is just content, allowed to go un-investigated. With this knowledge, we can make empowered and effective print marketing choices.

How do we consume, and therefore react, to physical vs. digital content?

This is one of the questions that I think is really important. The idea that if content is delivered to us over a digital device, does the body physically react and psychologically react differently than when that same content is delivered to us ink on paper?

Through neuroscience research, we found out that indeed yes, it is different. The devices that we use are extraordinary in their way, but, in many cases they only stimulate two senses: a visual sense and an auditory sense. On the other hand, the research showed that when we read ink on paper, we actually stimulate 4 senses, creating a richer experience for the end user.

It is obvious that our sense of sight is stimulated with print. And, now with all of the delightful printing techniques that are available to us today, including foil stamping, die-cutting, embossing, debossing, multiple colors, and other special effects, we can enhance an end user’s visual experience.

Print also utilizes our sense of touch, through the quality of the paper and the surface of the paper. The impression of quality or substantiality of paper may be subliminally enhanced by the stiffness of the paper which is sensed through touch. Coatings on the surface of the paper can create a texture that is sensed with immediacy through touch, such as soft touch, sandpaper, or grit (sometimes referred to as reticulation) and can enhance the marketing piece further.

It is also amazing to me that we can stimulate the sense of smell in print. It's another subtle nuance, but most people acknowledge the extra sensory engagement.

When I give presentations on this topic, I will often ask the audience to close their eyes, and then suggest the scent of a library, and we immediately know that smell. The smell of oxidizing paper, and leather, glue, and ink. Evoking the smell of a library will trigger a strong visual image of a library and vice versa. Last, but not least of the senses that paper stimulates, is, interestingly enough, hearing.  Reading on paper is not a silent endeavor; through the rustling of the pages as they are turned to the sound of a finger running down a page, our sense of hearing is part of our experience with paper.

If I were to ask you to close your eyes, and I would flick the edge of paper, you know the difference between the sound of, say, newspaper, light magazine paper, media magazine paper, a cover stock, a business card, a board, and, that all plays a role.

The digital world tried to simulate the sound of paper, particularly with things like eBooks. The earlier versions didn't do it very well, but I think it’s getting better over time. To me, as a lover of print and design, the acknowledgement of the importance of sound with paper is  important and telling.

In the larger context, touch allows for the transmission of powerful, subliminal messages, crafting experiences of luxury, elegance, femininity, masculinity, and the like. We can offer all of that through the sense of touch, which is remarkable. That’s why print is an important part of the marketing mix. Whether you are in advertising, marketing, or merchandising, the ability to understand the nuances of this medium is incredibly important.

What are some examples of brands that are currently doing that really well?

There are so many great examples out there of brands harnessing the power of touch in marketing. For example, a lot of magazines are using soft touch on their covers. The minute that you feel it, you immediately recognize that it's from a specific magazine. I have a stack of magazines that actually use sandpaper or grit as the cover texture, and it's interesting. I think that they've done it very well in a response to, I don't want to say an overuse of soft touch, but certainly because soft touch has become so very popular, people are looking now for alternative experiences.

One of the case-studies that we use, which we think is a perfect example of haptics marketing, is on Apple. All Apple packaging uses soft touch. They actually print the packaging, separately paste it to a board, and the printing is finished with a soft touch. From the moment that you have that package in your hand, whether it's a Watch, an iPad, iPhone, you name it, you know that it's an Apple product.

The resulting experience feels expensive. It feels luxurious. It immediately evokes these wonderful emotions that you, associate with a brand. We see that a lot. We see that happening quite a bit, whether its packaging or magazine covers, or catalog covers, we certainly see it being used in annual reports and menu covers.

We use the sense of touch to convey some very important nuances. How fascinating is it that we’ve successfully been able to replicate the feel of leather in print.. That can be used in marketing for anything from the seat of a car to luggage, you name it. I have actually put that  finish on brochure covers that specifically sell those products. Think about how more interactive that experience will be for the end user versus a standalone image?

It adds a dimension, evoking a response. It's an engagement technique, but it also starts to create a relationship, and talking in a language that we all know. I think that it is an art form to be able to do this well, visualizing and creating an experience that you want the customer to step into.

You spoke at the CMAconnections conference on May 4. What do you think attendees took away from your session?

I think one of the key takeaways, if not the most important takeaway, is to not forget the importance of stimulating our senses in marketing. I think it’s great (and a little ironic) that this artistic ideal is being led now by  scientific research, but we must not lose the importance of the  message that engaging the senses in marketing is important. It can facilitate, attract and engage your audience, cutting through the clutter of noise and distraction.

At the very core of what we do, we are trying to differentiate our customers’ products and services from their competition and haptics may just be the way to do that, according to the latest research

Read more about what Daniel Dejan’s presented at the CMAconnections conference this past May.

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Tags: neuromarketing, digital content, daniel dejan, sappi, print, haptics, creative design