The Role of Touch in Marketing

March 30, 2015

Photo credit Danielle Elder via Flickr Creative Commons license

Skin is the largest organ in the human body, and given the fact that skin is wholly responsible for tactile (touch) sensations, it’s a wonder that so many marketing efforts completely ignore the influence skin’s sensory experience has on decision-making. Most marketing aims to appeal to the eyes first, then the ears; yet these organs pale in proportion to the skin in terms of surface area and body weight. Recent research, however, has fueled new marketing tactics that seek to take advantage of physical touch in order to promote products, services, and brands. Touch isn’t the only sense that plays a role in decision-making. Sight, of course, has ruled for decades, and sound is close behind (and they’re often employed together, as with television commercials). Scent has also been recognized as an influencer; it’s the reason certain apparel chains have signature smells and the reason why you can smell a mall Bath & Body Works from three storefronts away. But touch happens to be the most-ignored sense when it comes to marketing; a fact that could be rapidly changing. Consider that people who sit in soft chairs are willing to pay higher prices than those who sit in hard chairs, or that interviewers who hold heavy clipboards are likely to take job candidates more seriously than those who hold light clipboards (Web MD, reporting Harvard, Yale, and MIT figures). More and more studies are being conducted that prove the great influence touch has on human behavior and purchasing decisions. We don’t need studies to know touch plays a vital role in marketing. Car dealerships have known this for years: it’s the reason for the test drive. If their customers bought on visuals alone, they’d never have to take their cars for a spin. No, customers want to know how the cars feel before they buy. In this respect, car dealerships have long been ahead of the game, even if they didn’t have any scientific research to back them up. It’s common sense, if you will.


Apple recognized the power of touch for marketing, which is why they made their iPhones and other products available to be picked up, felt, and test drove right in their own stores. Other mobile device manufacturers and wireless providers followed suit in their own retail stores, and for good reason. Showing customers a picture is never the same as putting a product in their hands that begs to be taken home. Touch-based marketing isn’t limited to retail, either. Many waitresses have learned they’ll receive higher tips, on average, if they make physical contact with their patrons – a simple touch on the shoulder will suffice. A warm handshake helps break the ice prior to business negotiations. And the texture and weight of a business card can help customers infer brand and service quality. Velvet cover 15-point paper stock, for example, is soft and heavy – which lend customer comfort and the perception of quality, respectively. business cards Flickr - Photo Sharing! - Google Chrome_2014-03-18_06-52-10-Optimized

Photo credit Sean MacEntee via Flickr Creative Commons license

The role of touch in marketing is powerful, even if not fully understood. It stands to reason that future studies will yield even more data about the role of touch in marketing, data business can take action on to more effectively promote their brands, products, and services. In the meantime, take a few moments to read the research linked below; then, consider how you can incorporate touch into your own marketing strategy. Resources: What is Sensory Marketing (Palgrave) – read The Touch Sense beginning on page 134 The Sense and Sensibilities of Marketing (Michigan Ross School of Business) Sense of Touch Affects Our World View (WebMD)

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About Brian Morris

Brian Morris serves in various capacities as a freelance writer, content developer and public relations specialist for growing small businesses. When he’s not writing, he can be found on the racquetball court - usually getting his tail kicked by guys 20 years older.

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