Touching and Tasting Real Things in a Digital World

In a digital world, people still want to touch, taste or smell real things before they buy them. Brands and nonprofits would do well to remember to include real experiences in their marketing outreach.

In a digital world, people still want to touch, taste or smell real things before they buy them. Brands and nonprofits would do well to remember to include real experiences in their marketing outreach.

In our digital world, we often overlook the potential impact of physical objects that people can see and touch.

A great example are the 58 benches in Manchester, UK that are designed to look like books and have been decorated by schoolchildren with scenes from their favorite titles, such as “How to Train Your Dragon” by Cressida Cowell. Spread around Manchester, the 58 eye-popping benches are hard to miss. And they are serving their purpose – to encourage young kids (and their parents) to read, increasing the community’s overall literacy level.

It would not be hard to conceive of a similar campaign on digital or social media. But the physicality of the benches are more than subliminal reminders that books are something you hold in your hands while sipping a cup of hot chocolate.

Brightly decorated book-shaped benches invite young children in Manchester, UK to read and Girls Build holds summer camps in Oregon where young girls can learn how to hammer, paint and solder. Both are examples of using real experiences to achieve community objectives.

Brightly decorated book-shaped benches invite young children in Manchester, UK to read and Girls Build holds summer camps in Oregon where young girls can learn how to hammer, paint and solder. Both are examples of using real experiences to achieve community objectives.

The benches will be focal points this summer in Manchester for a series of literacy-related events, storytelling sessions and book swaps staged by more than 20 collaborating cultural venues. For some and maybe many children, it will be their first encounter with these venues. Ditto for their parents.

The Manchester book benches should inspire others to consider how they to take advantage of experiencing real things. Girls Build runs summer camps that give girls from age 8 through 14 the opportunity to work with real construction tools. They wear hard hats, safety glasses and ear protection as they build a playhouse.

Like the Manchester book benches, the Girls Build playhouse has layered impacts. Girls experience using real tools to hammer, paint and solder. The experience gives them a sense of accomplishment and empowerment. Even though only a small fraction of girls who attend the camps in Portland and Grants Pass will go on to become tradeswomen, all of the girls who attend the camp say they feel more self-confident they could take care of a home repair problem.

There is also a Kids Culinary Camp in Portland that gives youngsters a chance to learn how to cook food, from pastries to pasta, as well as safely handle knives in the kitchen.

Touching and seeing is equally important for adults. Many retailers – even Amazon – see the value of combining a brick-and-mortar presence with online sales. It is has become common for customers to try on clothes or shoes in a physical store to see how they look and feel, then order them online while in the store.

No question that the digital expands the reach of individual consumers and gives them access to consumer information not available in a physical store. But, at least so far, you can’t feel a fabric or check out the fit online.

Costco recognizes the power of tasting things before you buy them as it regularly offers aisles full of samples. Auto dealers rarely sell cars without a test drive. Jewelers under the magic of putting a sparkling diamond into a handsome setting and then slipping on someone’s finger. Ice cream parlors let you taste different flavors. Experiencing the real thing matters in the consumer journey.

In the rush to embrace digital media marketing strategies, brands, nonprofits and public agencies shouldn’t forget the irresistible urge people of all ages have to touch or taste the real thing. Someday virtual reality may include touch, taste and smell, but not yet.