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Touch me, or not…


In six experiments, holding heavy or light clipboards, solving rough or smooth puzzles, and touching hard or soft objects nonconsciously influenced impressions and decisions formed about unrelated people and situations. Among other effects, heavy objects made job candidates appear more important, rough objects made social interactions appear more difficult, and hard objects increased rigidity in negotiations.

After all, touch is the first sense to develop ontogenetically.These experiences create sensations that form a scaffolding for all our existing conceptual knowledge, linking and complementing our existing memory systems.

A great way to understand touch is through our hands, which are purposive devices. They are used for active touching (they typically are used on objects); this active touch integrates our exploratory and information-processing abilities. Tactile sensations let you explore with specific muscle movements, while manipulating objects enhances our sensory sensitivity, improving information gathering, that lets us make more accurate cognitive/positive judgements.

In the research, physical interactions were tested against three fundamental dimensions of touch – texture, weight and hardness. This illustrates how touch influences our decisions and impressions, even when the sensations might be seemingly unrelated.

This is because associated metaphorical concepts are triggered with touch, which affect decision making – roughness is associated with concepts of difficulty and harshness (a rough day), weight is associated with seriousness and importance (weighty matters), hardness is metaphorically associated with concepts of stability, rigidity and strictness (hard-hearted, rock solid)

At retail, the sense of touch is currently underappreciated. Saliency building is the name of the game. In an environment like this where brands are screaming for attention, application of fundamental learnings can lead to increased shopper engagement, and thus shape purchase decisions.

More often than not, at the retail store, which is the final battleground this touch experience plays a beneficial role, as it leads to fundamental cognitive biases, the endowment effect and loss aversion. You want this to happen at retail.

Jonah Lehrer of The Frontal Cortex puts it brilliantly.

“…What does this have to do with fitting rooms and jeans? Once I tried on the pants, I became an implicit owner of them. I stared at myself in the mirror and admired the fit, the wash, etc. I thought about how good they would look with my shoes. I contemplated wearing them to various upcoming events and all the strangers who would look at my pants and think “Those are nice pants!” In other words, I spent a few minutes imagining my life with these new jeans and, once that happened, the pants suddenly became much more valuable. I mentally endowed myself with the object and didn’t want to lose something that I didn’t even own. As a result, the ridiculous price tag ($170 for Levis!) no longer seemed so ridiculous.”

So, how are you, as a marketer, designing the touch factor at retail?

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