The Neuroscience of Haptics: Why It Matters to Marketers

“Haptics is the science of touch. ‘In humans touch represents a powerful form of non-verbal communication. Our sense of touch plays a fundamental role in daily life, from learning about objects to communicating with other people.’” – Dr. David Eagleman

This quote lives on the first page of the award-winning Haptics Brain/Haptics Brand booklet attendees received at AMA Baltimore’s AMA in the PM: The Neuroscience of Haptics: A Communicator’s Guide. In his presentation, Daniel Dejan, North American ETC Print & Creative Manager at Sappi, told attendees, “You picked up this book. You stroked this book, and said, ‘Oh, this is nice.’ Some of you opened the book and even smelled it.”


Because touch matters. The content in the book is impressive, but the book itself is an experience. The soft cover, raised letters, gorgeous imagery, and more turn this event giveaway into a keepsake. Attendees of this presentation walked away not only with this beautiful book, but they walked away thinking about their own marketing strategy and how to recreate this feeling with their own efforts. Here are a few takeaways from Daniel Dejan’s presentation:

1. Sense Matters.

According to Dejan, we usually only stimulate one to two senses while using technology. Scrolling through your feed can be visually pleasing, and you can stream dynamic videos, but it doesn’t trigger all of your senses. Print (or anything physical) stimulates multiple senses.

You can feel the softness of paper and read the words on a page. Books have a smell and a sound so particular that eBooks sometime have page turning sounds to their programs, and people make candles that smell like bookshops. Interacting with a physical object like a book is an experience that makes an impact. How many times have you had something important to read that you print it out? “Half our brain is dedicated to senses,” said Dejan. “We use sense of touch to create our relationship with reality.”

2. The Endowment Effect is Powerful.

People value items more if they already belong to them, and this principle is called “The Endowment Effect.” Dejan shared that this doesn’t mean people have to actually own them, they just need to touch it. We’re wired this way. Dejan told us cavemen would go, “I see what you have. I want it. I beat you over the head and take it.” (Anyone who has been to a store on Black Friday has seen this action firsthand).

Knowing this, marketers need to make something so seductive that people want it. It’s the core of marketing and advertising. Having a physical item — whether it is the actual product or a paper catalog — can trigger this sense of ownership because people see themselves owning the object. Just imagining that you own an object can trigger The Endowment Effect, and this is powerful.

  1. Medium Impacts Message.

“What did technology bring us that we didn’t have before? Two things: on demand and real-time,” said Dejan. “All sophisticated marketers realize this and build it into their marketing and advertising services. We created instant gratification expectations for consumers.”

People have a “don’t make me work for it, don’t make me wait for it” mentality. We’ve all heard the research about attention spans shrinking to the size of a goldfish’s, but this is really about a shrinking level of patience. We have a different interaction with reading on screen vs. reading a physical book. Dejan pointed to a number of resources, like Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolfe, showing how reading a physical book slows down your heart rate, and you slow down while reading. This causes you to comprehend more and process the information differently than if you read it on a device. Marketers can use a medium to create an impactful message if they understand how it affects a person.

Dejan pointed out that the old doesn’t die out. It is absorbed into the new. A colleague pointed out to him that magazines were created in the late 1700s. When radio came out, people thought magazines would die out. People thought movies would displace theater, and television would displace movies. Instead, we’ve been given more choices. As marketers, we need to decide which demographic benefits to which choice.

We’re grateful to Daniel Dejan for his informative presentation. To stay up-to-date on upcoming events, visit our events page.