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Creating Sensory Experiences in a No-Touch World

November 04, 2020


Creating Sensory Experiences in a No-Touch World

There’s no denying that people enjoy sensory experiences. In fact, some of us seek them out, even crave them. Whether it’s delighting our taste buds with a new culinary experience or jamming to the music through our earbuds, we live for sensation. 

One sensation we often forget about is touch. The tactile is easy to overlook. Yet it’s so important to many of our experiences—especially when we’re shopping or even enjoying a meal.

In our brave new world, though, people are stuck in a sort of catch-22. We both want and crave physical sensation, like touch, but we’re also somewhat leery of it.

One question for Marketers as we move forward has to be about how we can continue to deliver high-quality experiences in a no-touch world.

The No-Touch Conundrum

So, we’re creatures that thrive on sensation. Even if we don’t always think about the tactile, it’s key for so many reasons.

We need physical touch from other human beings. That's been proven by the fact that people who get eight hugs per day tend to be healthier and happier.

Touch can also be an important part of simple tasks, like walking and balancing. Tactile feedback received through our footstrikes inform our body systems. That feedback helps us balance and stay upright, even while we’re in motion.

And touch can play a key role in buying decisions. You might decide to buy one cozy pair of winter socks over another because they feels softer and fuzzier. You might decide not to buy a pair of jeans because you don’t like the feel of them.

Touch even impacts our experience of brands, particularly through packaging. Thicker, glossier paper used for your ads suggests you have a more luxurious brand. Customers can feel the quality of the paper, and they associate it with wealth. A matte finish box, the weight of a product in hand, can also impress on our sense of how upscale or luxurious a brand is.

Yet, in the current environment, we’ve become hyper-concerned about touch. If you’re brave enough to go into a shop, do you want to touch all the clothes on the rack? Who else has had their germy hands on that pair of pants or that pair of socks? Staff aren’t steam-cleaning every piece of clothing in the store after every customer. If precautions are being taken, then some items may be under plastic shields. There may be one “sample,” which you can touch—if you dare.

Tactile feedback may also be limited at grocery stores and other places. We’re encouraged to touch merchandise as little as possible, so we just grab the same old brands. We’re forced to choose apples and pears less by the feel of them in our hands and more by how “good” (or bad) they look.

Even the tactile feedback of pushing buttons on a PIN pad is gone in many places. We’re using apps and contactless payments to pay. Many people say that it’s easier to spend more using a card than cash, because cash is so physical—you can feel the weight of it. Taking away the button-pushing part of a transaction makes it even easier to spend.

Creating One-on-One Experience and a Sense of Closeness

One thing we can do is create more personalized experiences for in-store customers. Sure, we may not want to hug them or shake their hands. Even laying a hand on a shoulder might be considered bad form right now.

Masks also make it difficult to convey closeness. It’s very difficult to tell if someone wearing a mask is smiling or grimacing. Tone of voice, choice of words, and body language become more important.

When we deliver a one-on-one experience, we can work to personalize it more. We can also provide appropriate safety measures. “By appointment only” stores and socially distanced spaces create a sense of both exclusivity and intimacy. That can help to reassure our customers in these uncertain times. They foster emotional connection, even if we’re not getting the hit of dopamine a hug can give us.

They feel we’re taking their health and safety seriously, and that we appreciate them. We want to go the extra mile for them.

In hair salons and restaurants, a “personalized” or “one-on-one” experience may feel impossible. Still, a socially distanced space can help. Some restaurants have created dining pods, which create a separate space for each table. It can offer a more private experience, even in a busy dining room.

Emphasizing Other Senses

The other tack we can take is to emphasize the other senses. One example is the use of soundtracks designed to activate the auto sensory meridian response (ASMR). Practitioners and fans claim ASMR videos can help relax, soothe, and even mimic some of the benefits we get from physical touch.

While ASMR isn’t yet scientifically proven and it doesn’t work for everyone, people who love it will swear by it.

In a similar way, music can help us “set the mood” for our customers. If we want them to feel energized or joyous, we can select a soundtrack to promote those feelings. In fact, most pop songs are written to a specific formula—one designed to get people “addicted” to the song. For our brains, pop songs act like a form of neurological candy. We love the novel, but our brains also love trying to predict songs. The formulaic format of most pop gives us a hit of dopamine every time our brains “predict” the next note.

Of course, we might want to choose a more relaxing soundtrack, especially for, say, a spa experience. Smooth jazz could make a dining experience more pleasant.

These tactics also work well over video. Visuals can work there too. In-store, scents can also contribute to the experience. Of course, taste and smell are a little difficult to work with when everyone is masked up. You do need to be aware of patrons who have sensitivities to some fragrances. And, of course, we can’t do much with taste and smell over Zoom!

Nonetheless, we have plenty of options to deliver experiences that make our customers feel safe and connected. Even if they can’t touch products, they can still be touched by other sensory experiences. By putting our focus there, we can help them feel more in tune with us and their communities.

The kind of experience we deliver depends a lot on what people expect from our brands. That comes from the core of our brands. So, like always, start with the why!


Just to inspire!

I am a business person who has excelled in driving a competitive edge through marketing, strategy, innovation, building irresistible brands and unlocking the genius that exists. I am writing is inspire or create new consideration. If you have ideas or questions that you would like me to put a pen too, I would be delighted.

I would also be grateful if you shared this or any of the articles I have written to inspire others.

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