The word “feeling” has two definitions—experiencing an emotional reaction, and experiencing tactile stimuli. And the two types of feeling are closely intertwined.
Tepid vs. cold, abrasive vs. slick, inflexible vs. squishy—research suggests that we tend to transfer these tactile sensations to our impressions of people. For instance, in one study a job candidate was more likely to be perceived as having gravitas if the interviewer held a heavy clipboard. Another study found that briefly holding a cup of hot or iced coffee influenced whether someone’s personality was judged to be “warm” or “cool.” Other research suggests this phenomenon extends to companies and brands, as well.
Sappi Fine Paper North America collaborated with Baylor College of Medicine neuroscientist Dr. David Eagleman, a world renowned expert in haptics—the science of communication and sensory perception involving touch—for a monograph titled Haptic Brain, Haptic Brand that explores the neuroscience underlying how tactile stimuli associated with paper and printing influences how we absorb and retain information, and how we perceive a brand or a company. Dr. Eagleman, who created and hosted the six-part PBS series, The Brain with David Eagleman, was the Science Advisor for the project.
“Sappi has long been interested in understanding how media affects communications. A 2009 study by the market research agency Millward Brown caught our attention: using fMRI scans to measure how people respond to print vs online communication, the study found that print leaves a “deeper footprint” in the brain. We immediately wanted to know more,” Patti Groh, Director of Marketing Communications at Sappi North America, said in an email interview.
Haptic Brain, Haptic Brand is targeted to corporate marketers, advertising agencies and creatives, said Ms. Groh, adding that the book and videos on the Sappi website highlighting various topics covered in the book are also “a great tool for printers to use with their clients.”
This is not a PDF whitepaper that you download and spend a few minutes clicking through, but a visually stunning and highly tactile book designed by award-winning graphic designer Daniel Dejan that aims to “touch your brain, your hand, and your heart in ways you will remember long after you put it down.”
Among the noteworthy design elements: The outside of the gated cover has a velvety feel from the soft-touch UV coating and the title of the book is printed in four color process + match silver then register blind embossed, while the reverse side has a glossy UV coating and the outline of a hand blind embossed into the stock; a companion Augmented Reality smartphone app downloaded by the reader provides additional information for pages throughout the book that are framed in silver; and pages 6 and 7 and 8 and 9 open into a double gatefold that reveals a 47” poster of the brain and spinal column that maps out the journey of electrical impulses from touch receptors in your hands to the somatosensory cortex in the brain.
In addition to its aesthetic qualities, the book and the information it communicates will be memorable because it is printed. As the November 2013 Scientific American article Why the Brain Prefers Paper explains, “In many studies people understand and remember what they read on paper better than what they read on screens. Researchers think the physicality of paper explains this discrepancy.”
Haptic Brain, Haptic Brand nicely summarizes the body of independent scientific research on how media shapes perception:
Neuroscientists, psychologists and other researchers have looked at how people interact with paper, comparing it to their interactions with other media … These studies dominantly show that people read best on paper for three reasons: it makes content more intuitively navigable; it facilitates better mental “mapping” of information; and … drains fewer of our cognitive resources, making retention a little easier. All of this is because paper is a physical, tangible medium. … Studies show that when we read on paper we process information differently, sustaining a different level of interest. Online reading is often purposeful and utilitarian, a kind of information foraging.
A case in point: One recent Norwegian study found that people who read a mystery story on a Kindle were “significantly” worse at remembering the sequence of key plot points than those who read the hardcover version. Anne Mangen of Norway’s Stavanger University, a lead researcher on the study, told The Guardian of London that, “When you read on paper you can sense with your fingers a pile of pages on the left growing, and shrinking on the right … and this very gradual unfolding of paper as you progress through a story, is some kind of sensory offload, supporting the visual sense of progress when you’re reading.”
Last year, Dr. Eagleman took research findings one step further and examined how paper quality affects retention:
Subjects read a company brochure in high-quality coated paper, lower grade uncoated paper or online. (Design was similar for all, and companies were randomly assigned a medium.) … Those who read on high-quality paper understood and remembered best … Companies presented on the coated paper left the best first impressions, and people were most likely to recommend those brands to friends. A week later, people still preferred the companies they read about on the high-quality paper, with name recall for those brands highest by a factor of 3:1.
Consumers also interact with printed catalogs differently than with online shopping sites. In an article that examined why paper catalogs are making a comeback years after e-commerce should have made them obsolete, The New York Times noted that “retailers are seeking to make their catalogs more of an experience, and celebrating print as something retro.”
“There’s still an important place for the catalog,” said Bruce Cohen, a retail private equity strategist at consulting firm Kurt Salmon, adding that catalogs drive sales.
Old School business cards have also endured, even with smartphone apps that enable people to share contact information by tapping their devices together, or by scanning a QR code.
There’s a lot to be said for being able to hold printed matter in your hand. To take the measure of its heft, stroke the texture of the paper stock and trace the outline of embossed lettering with the tip of your finger.
Pointing to research suggesting that touching an object creates a sense of possession and ownership over it, which increases its perceived value ( “the Endowment Effect”), Ms. Groh adds, “There is a reason some people hold on to the packaging of a device they love or a piece of mail that left an impression.”
“When companies create high-quality pieces that people want to keep, their messaging becomes part of a customers’ daily lives. This continual contact builds a strong emotional connection between the customer and brand-one they become loyal to that keeps them coming back,” said Ms. Groh.
All images courtesy of Sappi Fine Paper North America. Sappi, which is headquartered in Boston, is known for such industry innovations as the first paper coated and calendered on both sides; the first dull coated paper; the first mill branded LOE (Lustro Offset Environmental) paper; and the first to adopt ECF (Elemental Chlorine Free) bleaching at its three mills.