December 6, 2018

10 Influencer Marketing Trends to Keep Your Eye On

Influencer marketing is a hybrid of old and new marketing tools. It takes the idea of the celebrity endorsement and reconfigures it to fit with today’s social media–driven world.
Unlike celebrities, influencers can come from any background or industry, and they can have varying amounts of followers. One thing they all have in common is that they’re social media figures who have gathered a defined audience around themselves. Their ability to influence others allows them to give a human voice to brands. Influencer marketing is less direct than traditional forms of marketing, but when done well, it creates an authentic way of connecting with customers.
And it’s growing by leaps and bounds every year. Influencer marketing is poised to reach between $5 billion and $10 billion by 2022. As more businesses begin to experiment with influencer marketing, it continues to evolve and adapt to the market. So, before you set out to build your next influencer campaign, here are 10 trends you need to keep your eye on.

1. Increasing emphasis on influencer marketing.

More brands are using influencer marketing than ever before -- and this trend is sure to continue in 2019 and beyond. The reality is that old-school, traditional marketing centered on TV and radio just isn't as effective as it used to be. So brands are focusing their efforts on the places where their audiences are spending their time -- online, and often on social media.
Businesses are finding a solid return when it comes to influencer marketing. According to the Influencer Marketing Hub 2017 study, businesses are making $7.65 on an average for every $1 spent, so it’s no surprise that influencer-marketing platforms have more than doubled in the last two years.
Influencer marketing is incredibly effective because we inherently trust the people we follow on social networks. After all, we wouldn’t be following them if we didn’t like them! So when an influencer sincerely advocates for a service or product, their audience listens.

2. Micro-influencers are making an impact.

As it turns out, bigger isn’t always better when it comes to influencers. Brands are homing in on the power of micro-influencers, or influencers who generally have fewer than 10,000 followers on social media. Micro-influencers are seen as more like “normal” people.
They engage and interact with their followers more frequently, and are viewed as more relatable and authentic. Meanwhile, “mega influencers” and celebrities may have hundreds of thousands or even millions of followers, but they aren’t always as interactive with their audiences and can seem less approachable.
Micro-influencers tend to be knowledgeable about their niche, and their followers are more likely to trust their recommendations. They’re also are more affordable than enlisting a celebrity as an influencer or brand ambassador.

3. Focus on storytelling. 

At its core, influencer marketing is about storytelling. The best campaigns are crafted when a brand partners with an influencer to create unique content that really engages the audience. Storytelling connects with customers and makes them more likely to make a purchase. One study from ad agency Hill Holliday found that not only are customers more likely to buy from a brand with a good story; they’re also more likely to pay a higher price per item.
For the content to really resonate with a target audience, the influencer needs to capture their followers’ attention in a compelling way. A simple photo featuring a product in the background will no longer draw audience attention to the brand or elicit consumer sales. Video content is a natural fit to help a story come alive and resonate with customers.

4. Video content and live streaming are growing on social media.

We are short on time and attention, but we love to be entertained. This is why video marketing is growing across all platforms, and currently represents more than three quarters of all internet traffic.
Videos feel more authentic and are fun to watch, which is why influencers will continue to experiment with video-marketing trends. Influencers are tapping into the engaging nature of video content, which can be more effective in driving sales than text-based content.
Brands are also sponsoring influencers’ live feeds on social platforms, including Instagram and Facebook. Live-streamed influencer collaborations can include real-time product unboxing, Q&As, activity and destination promotions, and behind-the-scenes footage at events -- there are countless possibilities. The key is to keep it authentic and engaging, and include creative brand mentions throughout the broadcast.

5. Transparency in advertising.

There has been growing concern from government agencies and watchdog groups about the blurred lines of sponsored social media posts. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission has sent out letters to influencers and marketers asking them to “clearly and conspicuously disclose their relationships to brands when promoting or endorsing products on social media.”
Transparent advertising also levels the playing field, so influencers and brands are all playing by the same rules. So make sure you disclose every paid piece of content. Even if the content seems like an obvious ad, you need to disclose the partnership in each paid post. One option is to use hashtags such as #ad, #sponsored or #paidpost to make it clear that a post has been sponsored.

6. Influencer authenticity and honesty is a must.

Audiences have zero tolerance for content that comes off as fake or halfhearted. Influencers should honestly connect with the brands they’re endorsing. This type of marketing only works if an influencer is authentic in how they promote a product; they must genuinely like the product or brand, or the campaign will fall flat.
In fact, many brands look for influencers who are already using their products. And when possible, brands should get their influencers to give feedback on the products they’re promoting and talk about specific things they like about it, how they use it in everyday life and share any other interesting tidbits or insights they have about the product.

7. Influencer fraud and fake followings.

As influencer marketing increases, a shady side of the business has begun to rear its ugly head: influencer fraud. This happens when influencers artificially inflate the numbers of their followers and likes. Influencers sometimes use automation and bot-backed services to increase the number of likes their posts get. Some influencers grow their followers based on the rule of reciprocity, a “follow for follow.” But it's not always a clear-cut situation.
Some influencers who never paid for followers may still have fake followers on their account. That’s because so-called “like farms” have to follow more than just their customers to bypass filters designed to catch them. Up to 20 percent of mid-level influencers’ followers are likely fraudulent, according to a Points North Group study.
What this means is that brands need to vet their influencers thoroughly and hold influencers accountable. They need to look beyond the raw number of followers and likes, and evaluate the quality of influencers’ engagement with their audience.

8. The rise of virtual influencers.

One emerging trend to keep an eye on is the use of carefully curated avatars as influencers. This trend was kicked off by the creation the internet’s first “fictional it girl” and virtual influencer, Miquela Sousa or Lil Miquela.
She’s a 19-year-old model living in Los Angeles and her Instagram feed is filled with posts highlighting her fashionista outfits. She has also released a number of her own songs on Spotify, and has amassed more than 1.5 million followers on Instagram.
Her very virtual existence is drawing both awe and ire as marketing trend watchers try to decide if they love or hate this new development in influencer marketing. Her creators are shrouded in secrecy, but we know she’s one of the most followed influencer ambassadors for Ugg footwear, who enlisted her for its month-long 40th-anniversary campaign. Stay tuned to see how this trend develops.

9. Instagram is still king, but don’t overlook emerging platforms.

Instagram continues to reign supreme as the most important social network for influencer marketing, largely because of its enormous user base and easily digestible video content. But it’s not the only platform out there. YouTube is also full of potential influencers -- especially if you’re targeting a younger demographic.
Facebook, Pinterest and Snapchat influencer marketing is growing, too. Blogs still lag behind Instagram and Facebook, but they have risen in popularity in recent years. Many influencers on social media are embracing the blog form for more word-heavy content. These blogs showcase products and more informative, in-depth content.

10. Expand your pool.

Because most micro-influencers have a relatively small audience, brands need to find ways to multiply their influencer impact. To do this, they often look to expand the pool of influencers they use.
To put it simply, you don’t want to put all your eggs in one influencer basket. Using multiple influencers increases product mentions and audience engagement with the brand. And using different influencers will allow you to reach different audiences, as well as tap into different influencers’ unique ways of framing a product.
The more influencers a brand uses, the more complicated a campaign can become. The key is to incorporate influencers as part of the marketing team. Get them on board and excited about a project, and set clear expectations, but give them room to work their creativity and engage with their followers.
Written by: Deep Patel - Contributor - entrepreneur.com

November 30, 2018

Digital Marketing Trends Leading into 2019

As 2018 comes to a close, a savvy marketer will be looking ahead to the upcoming year and developing a digital marketing strategy to stay ahead of the competition and boost brand awareness.

With so many changes that occurred at the end of 2018, it’s important to revamp your strategy and account for current trends, strategies, and technologies to maximize your efforts.
Here are the biggest digital marketing trends leading into 2019:

Topic Clusters

Search engines are now favoring clusters of content that surround a particular topic, as opposed to keywords. If you want to stay at the top of the search rankings, you need to develop these content clusters that link to one another.

To do this effectively, you need a broad topic outline that covers the most pertinent subcategories. Then, the surrounding content should have specific, long-tail keywords that connect back to the original outline with the same keyword.
This boosts your overall performance since any page performing well will result in the entire cluster performing well. This moves you further and further up the rankings.
In addition, choosing topics in which you have proven subject matter expertise or knowledge will give you an even better ranking, since search engines are now prioritizing the value and relevance to the user.

Shorter Video Ads

Internet users have much shorter attention spans than they once did, so it’s possible to lose a viewer with a long video that would’ve worked a few years ago. Audiences tend to engage with shorter ads, such as under 10 seconds, so you’re also getting more for your efforts.
Businesses are more likely to use shorter video ads in the coming year, so you want to work these into your strategy to ensure you stay with the current trends.

Chatbots

Chatbots are becoming more popular, due to their ability to address basic customer service needs and help businesses interact with more customers. Chatbots also create two-way communication between your audience and your business, which improves your customer satisfaction and your response time to messages. Both of these aspects will boost your search engine ranking.
Chatbots have a reputation for providing negative user experience, leading many businesses to hesitate to include them in their marketing strategy. Overall, however, customers are pleased with the use of chatbots and the ability to access information 24/7, so there’s no reason to hold back on this trend.
Chatbots also operate in Facebook messenger often, which has a click-through rate of 80 percent. This offers incredible potential for how a chatbot can lead to more sales for your business.

Blockchain

Blockchain is quickly becoming a necessity for most industries, but one of its most overlooked potentials is in marketing.
With the poor attention span of many internet users, it’s more difficult to draw attention from content and keep your audience engaged. Blockchain can be used to incentivize customers to watch advertisements and engage in some way, whether it’s sharing, tagging, liking or commenting, through a Basic Attention Token (BAT). This technology breaks up the monopoly of digital ads to trade on the value of online attention and engagement and reward the audience that’s willing to interact.

Influencer Marketing

Social media influencers are achieving more influence in recent years, gaining significant followings on multiple social media platforms. Social media isn’t new, of course, but its reach is continuing to grow. Positioning yourself with the right social media influencer can make all the difference.
In the past, businesses were able to have influencer endorse products openly, but consumers are becoming more aware and are less receptive to this marketing tactic. Because of this, a subtle approach is needed to gain the benefits of a social media influencer.
Businesses with successful social media influence develop mutually beneficial, long-term relationships with influencers, so both receive more organic endorsements. These relationships not only provide you with a steady outlet for your promotions, but it also makes influencers less likely to abandon your brand.

Transparency

Fields like advertising, marketing and sales have a negative connotation, with the belief that these representatives are only out for their own interests, using deceptive and aggressive tactics to get sales.
As a result, consumers are more skeptical and reluctant, as well as being more difficult to impress. The easy access to reviews and testimonials also gives them more information about a product or service’s strengths, and more importantly, its weaknesses.
Now, businesses are addressing this issue with transparency, openly admitting its own shortcomings, faults and negative feedback to show loyalty and dedication to customers. They’re also encouraging two-way communication on a public forum to not only build more trust with a specific customer but also to show their efforts to other potential customers.

Mobile Optimization

Though it may seem obvious, mobile optimization is one of the most important aspects of your digital marketing strategy to address in 2019. Though many businesses already work toward mobile-friendly sites, more and more users are switching to mobile. Google is even prioritizing mobile-friendly sites in search rankings.
With so many users going mobile, you can’t afford to lose a follower because of poor optimization. Small issues, such as links too close together, a poor zoom function or text that’s too small can be all it takes for a customer to abandon your site and move on to the next.
Be sure to check your site’s mobile user experience and make any adjustments you need to create a flawless user experience.

Voice Search

Voice search is on the rise, thanks to personal assistance devices like Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri. Nearly one-third of the 3.5 billion searches performed each day are voice searches, which use natural human speech patterns to determine the searcher’s intent.
If you think you can use the same strategy for voice search, however, think again. Voice search differs from a desktop or mobile search in that you get fewer results. If you want to be one of the sites that comes up, you need to tailor your SEO strategy for voice search.
Voice recognition technology is only expected to improve and become more popular as well, which has the potential to disrupt marketing altogether. User experience and SEO have been the main focus of most marketing campaigns, but these aspects become irrelevant with a short search and no search results screen.
While there’s no clear answer to tailoring your strategy for voice search, a bit of brainstorming to understand the nuances of the human voice. How users tend to phrase voice searches and what types of phrases are prioritized is worth your effort.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Artificial intelligence has become a hot topic in marketing recently, and though many are still unsure of its applications and limitations, it’s starting to find its place in marketing campaigns.
A widely implemented form of AI is chatbots, which improve customer service with lower costs and fewer resources. They’re also quicker than humans and offer targeted, personalized services to any customer at any time.
On a larger scale, the same capabilities of AI that make chatbots so effective can be applied to many aspects of marketing, such as forecasting, personalization, segmentation, and data analysis. The possibilities are truly endless, so it’s best to get on board before AI takes the marketing world by storm.

Final Thoughts

Marketing trends come and go, some of which reshape the industry and others that may just fade into the background. If you want to be successful in your marketing efforts year after year, it’s important to be able to identify the upcoming digital marketing trends and stay ahead of the competition.

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October 23, 2018

Facebook Ads vs. Boosted Posts—Which is More Effective?

By now you probably know that Facebook Ads should be a core component of your digital marketing plan. If they aren’t, we need to talk. After all, with over two billion people using Facebook every month, why would you not want to capitalize on the reach you could have with them? There is a massive market out there just waiting to hear about your products and services.

When I make this kind of bold statement about the huge benefits of using Facebook Ads, people often come back with comments and questions about the relative merits of ads and boosted posts. 
For example, they'll say:
“I’m already advertising on Facebook—I boost posts.”
I get this comment from 80% of the businesses I talk to about Facebook Ads. Obviously, there is a little confusion about what the two strategies are. I’ll start by saying that there is so much more you can do to generate attention on Facebook than simply boosting. And let me go on to be very clear about this: boosting is not advertising. Boosting, the way most businesses do it is vanity advertising.
"Boosting posts is not the same as advertising on Facebook! It only offers a fraction of the options—and wastes money." TWEET THIS
“What do you mean boosting is wasting my money?”
Yes, you can improve your post’s reach with boosting. But, that improvement is only superficial. With boosting, your targeting options are extremely limited. Yes, you can choose behaviors and interests, demographics, and geography. But, you can’t use your custom audiences.
If you take away only one point from this article, please let it be this: You should have your pixel installed. You should be building custom audiences based on your website traffic, your Facebook page and post engagement, your Instagram traffic, and your email lists. And you should be creating Lookalike Audiences. Period. This is how you get real results with Facebook Ads. And unfortunately, boosting does not allow you to use any of these audience options.
“I want to get more exposure on my post—what should I do if don’t boost it?”
You create an ad with it instead! Boosting only gives you two options for your objective—website visits and engagement. Within Ads Manager, you can pick an objective and maximize it: awareness, reach, traffic, engagement, conversions and more.
Even better, when you're building campaigns in Ads Manager, you can more directly follow the Buyer's Journey to match your campaigns to your audience's specific needs.
“What else can you do with Facebook Ads?”
In a word, plenty. Here are just a few of the features you can—and should—take advantage of:
Placement Options
Facebook can automatically place your ads where they’re likely to be most effective. However, you also have the option of choosing where your ads are shown. This includes the desktop and/or mobile News Feed, Instagram, Instant Articles, and other choices.
TIP: If your audience is large enough, split test your placements so that you control the delivery, not Facebook. Nine out of ten times, they will feed to mobile and sway your results on you.
Lookalike Audiences
One of the absolute best things about Facebook Ads is that it will help find your audiences for you. Once you create your own custom audiences based off of website engagement, email lists, Facebook Page engagement and Instagram, let Facebook do the hard work of finding more people to target.
Dayparting
Also known as Ad Scheduling, this feature allows you to turn your ads off and on automatically throughout the week on a recurring schedule.
Create Custom Conversion Tracking
The Facebook Pixel lets you track standard events that happen on your website—View Content, Complete Registration, Lead, Add to Cart, Purchase, etc. Instead of only using the 9 Standard Events, think of custom conversions as a way of enhancing your tracking. You can build up to 40 custom conversion values by combining the events with specific URLs visited to hypertarget.
Create Super Duper Custom Audiences
What if you want to be uber precise with who you are targeting? What if you want to serve a Middle of Funnel ad to an audience who has read a specific blog and viewed one of your service pages...twice? No sweat with custom conversions. (Sorry...you may be seeing some of our ads soon.) 
How do Facebook Ads and Boosted Posts Compare? Simply put, there is no comparison! 
If I seem overly passionate about this topic, it’s because there’s a good reason. Companies that believe they’re doing enough on Facebook by simply boosting posts are, in all likelihood, leaving money on the table...or throwing it away. The entire premise of Facebook Advertising is to be extremely strategic and precise. Maximize campaign objectives to follow the buyer's journey. Build hyper-targeted audiences. Nurture leads and builds raving, loyal fans.
Written by: Ali Parmelee

October 10, 2018

5 Ecommerce Secrets the 'Experts' Aren't Willing to Share With You

The days of everyone buying the items they need from a brick-and-mortar shop just down the street are long gone. Instead, ecommerce has continued to grow into an impressive juggernaut, experiencing 24.8 percent worldwide growth in 2017, with Amazon alone recording a net revenue of $177.87 billion.


The days of everyone buying the items they need from a brick-and-mortar shop just down the street are long gone. Instead, ecommerce has continued to grow into an impressive juggernaut, experiencing 24.8 percent worldwide growth in 2017, with Amazon alone recording a net revenue of $177.87 billion.

1. Build a pre-launch audience.

Far too many entrepreneurs make the mistake of setting up their store and only beginning their marketing after launch. The problem, however, is that digital marketing efforts often require a bit of time before they start delivering the desired sales results. In the meantime, you'll be paying web hosting fees and other expenses without the sales revenue to cover it.
Instead, you need to start your marketing early by building a pre-launch audience. We see this happen all the time with Kickstarter campaigns that collect funding and build buzz before the project is ready.
Even if you aren't creating a completely new or original product, you still need to spread the word. Social media contests, product giveaways and email list sign-ups can all help you build an audience so your store can make sales on opening day.

2. Focus on the customer lifetime value.

Converting customers is hard. In fact, most estimates put the average conversion ratearound 1 to 3 percent. Because of this, you need to make every sale count. You won't be in business long if your average customer only spends a few dollars.
To succeed in this area, you need to focus on the customer lifetime value (CLV), rather than just the initial sale. Naturally, this requires that you deliver a quality customer experience for that initial sale. But, it also means you need to do some follow-up.
One of the best ways to do this is through email marketing. A quality email campaign allows you to follow up with customers about their initial purchase, while also reaching out for holidays and other special shopping seasons. Increasing your CLV will lower your cost per conversion and help you generate lasting sales results.

3. Leverage the power of remarketing.

Most ecommerce professionals invest a fair amount of their budget into marketing, with the goal of getting new customers to visit their site and make a purchase.
But, what about the people you've already convinced? If you aren't targeting them through remarketing campaigns, you could be missing out on a significant profit.
Repeat customers aren't only more likely to buy from you again in the future -- they also tend to spend more money. Studies have found that repeat customers have a 60 to 70 percent chance of making another purchase in the future -- numbers that far outperform ecommerce's typical conversion rate.
Make sure your Facebook and AdWords campaigns specifically target those who have already visited your site to ensure a stronger marketing ROI.

4. Let your customers do the talking.

Building a strong brand identity is an absolute must because it allows you to form an emotional connection with your target audience. When you're able to cultivate strong relationships with your most passionate customers, you can then leverage their enthusiasm to spread word of mouth for your store.
As studies have consistently found, few marketing methods are more trusted or effective.
The thing is, your customers won't always do this word of mouth marketing on their own. You often need to provide some extra motivation. Don't be afraid to reach out to your top customers with personalized messages asking for a testimonial, or simply to get their input on your products and services. Use social media contests to build enthusiasm and spread the word.
The more you do to personalize these interactions, the more likely your customers are to become true "brand ambassadors" who drive new business to your store.

5. If you choose to do dropshipping, don't botch it.

Dropshipping -- the process of having your product sent directly from the manufacturer to the consumer -- has simplified sales for many ecommerce professionals. However, it isn't without its own potential pitfalls.
The most common issues I've seen with dropshipping include slow shipping times, no tracking numbers for your customers and low-quality products.
All of these can completely kill your reputation with your customers. Because of this, it is essential that you perform a quality check of your supplier's products before you begin dropshipping. This way you can have confidence that your products live up to your brand promise.
For shipping, select a quality fulfillment company that offers a trackable courier solution. This way, customers won't have to endure lengthy delays, and they'll always know when their order will arrive.
Building a successful ecommerce brand isn't always easy. I should know -- I've seen my fair share of startups fail after their initial success. But, by incorporating this knowledge that I've gained from my past efforts, I've since been able to launch several successful stores and generate real, lasting revenue -- so can you.
Written by: Steve Tan

September 25, 2018

Richard Branson's advice for creating great marketing

Behind every successful business is an element of great marketing – and no-one knows this better than Richard Branson. But how do you make sure you’re getting your marketing right? The Virgin Group founder has some advice…

“The key to great marketing is storytelling. And as Hollywood, Bollywood and the books and magazine industries demonstrate, nothing sells better than a great love story,” he says in a recent blog. “You’re wise to be careful about where you spend your profits, but reinvesting in marketing – as long as it is done smartly – is vital to the growth of any business.”
Richard says that he’s found one of the most effective forms of marketing – especially for Virgin Atlantic – has been to position himself as a visible part of the business. But he also recommends telling customers’ stories and drawing on their experiences.



“Another angle to pursue is content marketing, which is a term for sharing wonderful stories that bring a smile to people’s faces, while also highlighting your brand values and products,” he says. “The best marketing you could wish for is already at your disposal: In this age of social media overload, it’s crucial to have a differentiator.”
You may need to use some of your budget to invest in paid social boosts to make sure the right people see them. “Using the targeting available on sites like Facebook, more people who might be interested will see your brand. In turn, old-fashioned word-of-mouth marketing can then come into play alongside social sharing,” he explains.
Another route you could do is to consolidate your efforts to make one ‘big splash’ like Naja, an ethical and eco-friendly lingerie, swim and activewear brand did. “When launching a campaign for a ‘nude’ lingerie suitable for women of all skin tones, I urged founder Catalina Girald to invest in one eye-catching billboard, then tell the news media that it was part of a nationwide campaign. It’s something we did successfully with Virgin Atlantic, too, and it works well if the initial billboard is clever enough,” Richard says.

“Taking my advice, Catalina created a striking visual poster campaign in one fashionable New York subway station. Social media picked it up instantly, and press interest soon followed. It worked so well that website traffic quadrupled, press coverage exploded and sales soared. Now, that’s clever advertising and budget management! Consider how a similar campaign could work for you, and think creatively about how, when and where to execute it.”
Great marketing is all well and good, but Richard notes that it’s more important to define the purpose of your business and make sure it’s at the heart of everything you do. “That’s the most effective way to begin building a long-term future for your company. Try to delegate key tasks, so you have room to think about the bigger picture (but keep your eye on the detail, too). And while it’s great that you and your husband are partners who can bounce ideas off each other, consider recruiting people with additional skillsets as your business grows.”
Written by: Natalie Clarkson

September 19, 2018

The Next Marketing Skill You Need To Master: Touch

A few weeks ago, I took a class at Sephora on how to apply foundation—a life skill I failed to acquire in seventh grade probably because I had my oily nose buried in a book.
The beauty retailer offers a number of these free hands-on tutorials, which I had learned about from a friend after commiserating on the mystical art of “contouring.*” This particular one focused on Rihanna’s Fenty line, and over the course of an hour, an instructor walked me and another registrant through a step-by-step application of everything from primer to highlighter.
I didn’t walk away a beauty expert or a pop icon, but I did leave with some actionable tips—and a full bag of makeup. I had gone from try to buy in 60 minutes and spent more than double what InfoScout reports as the average basket size for Sephora.
I’m getting pink in the cheeks just typing this, and I know it’s not blush, because I haven’t taken that class yet.
If I’d shopped online, I doubt I would have purchased half the items I did. So the fact that I had spent with such abandon got me thinking: Does getting a product literally into a consumers’ hands increase purchase intent?

What I found surprised me. Despite the fact that we can buy anything and everything on the web, 56% of consumers surveyed recently by RetailDive said they still visit retail stores to first see or touch products before buying online. That tells us that despite the prevalence of digital many consumers still want to kick the tires or apply the lipstick. And the science I uncovered behind “haptic marketing” tells us a lot about how we can influence spending in truly high-touch ways.
What is haptic marketing?
Haptic information is the information we acquire using the power of touch. Haptic marketing is a relatively new discipline that focuses on the use of tactile sensations to influence purchasing.
Back in the olden days, when shopping was done primarily in person, we frequently used haptic feedback in our product assessments—we felt fabrics, pushed buttons, squatted in jeans, and squeezed cantaloupes.
Thanks to the rise of e-commerce, we now see things in picture form and use product specs and customer reviews to fill in the gaps of our understanding.
In many cases, we don’t hold what we’ve bought until the box arrives. In some cases, that leads to disappointment: “This fabric isn’t as sturdy as I thought it would be” or “These headphones don’t feel comfortable.”
While we may think of ourselves as omnichannel marketers, our shift to digital has caused us to overlook a key offline channel: Skin. Our dermis is the biggest bodily organ, and it is stuffed with tissue and sensory receptors that allow us to feel pressure, pain, texture, vibrations, and temperature, among other sensations. These receptors can trigger behavior. In fact, a field of science called “embodied cognition” argues that the loci of our decision making isn’t simply in our brain as previously thought, but influenced or even led by the body.
Altogether, that means our sense of touch can impact our buying decisions.
But don’t take my word for that. Ask Joann Peck, a marketing professor at the Wisconsin School of Business; she’s one of the foremost experts on the study of haptic marketing.
Among her findings: In situations where it helps to understand a product’s attributes (is a 1,000-thread-count sheet softer than 500?), touch can increase purchase intent because it gives us more confidence in our choice to buy. Even if touch isn’t connected to a product attribute (a piece of bark in the fundraising campaign for the arboretum), it can still increase our positive feelings toward the product if the touch is positive.  Additionally, if you touch something because you think it looks fun or enjoyable, that too can increase your product sentiment.

There’s more to touch than evaluation, however. The feels can give us a sense of connection. “Merely touching an object results in an increase in perceived ownership of that object,” another of Peck’s mountain of studies concluded. And from feelings of ownership, purchase almost seems like destiny. I think I owned that eyeliner the minute I learned how to do a cat’s eye that didn’t make me look witchy.
Finally, and this is where it really gets interesting: Assuming the sensation of touch was positive, study participants who touched an object put a higher financial value on the object. That suggests that they could expect to pay more for it.
How can you use haptic marketing?
Given the potential impact of touch to increase confidence, sentiment, ownership, and value perception of a product, it’s not a bad idea for marketers to think about how to leverage this sense as part of customer experience. In this overwhelmingly digital world, product touch can actually be a differentiation point. Plus, it can reduce the impact or returns and refunds by ensuring that people know what they're buying.
Using touch as a marketing tool is not an entirely new concept. Free samples and free trials, for example, have long been doorwarmers for the beauty and SaaS industries. In these fields, consumers have become accustomed to getting to try before they buy.
In addition to this tried-and-true tactic, we’ve seen more clever strategies in recent years to encourage touch. For example, e-retailers like Macy’s, ASOS and Nordstrom are trying to replicate the dressing room experience  by offering free delivery and returns. That way you get to touch and try, with no downside of shipping costs. Similarly, companies like Warby Parker and Casper took away the risk of buying something people once never thought they’d buy online by building touch into the journey.
Another option is the creation of “haptic experiences,” in which the product is built into an activity the customer would otherwise enjoy—a la the Sephora class. The store gave me the opportunity to do something I thought was fun, and that I thought could help me.
In that case, the haptics were the products; but Peck’s research tells us we can stray a bit farther out. We can also leverage associative experiences of touch, such as placing something that evokes positive haptic sensations (an especially cuddly blanket) next to a product we’re trying to sell (a sleep aid).
Or, we could create an enjoyable but product-unrelated experience, and build in our product. An example would be the Cadillac House in New York City’s Soho neighborhood. Cadillac designed a highly stylistic art gallery, cafĂ©, coworking space, and pop-up shop that happens to have some cars sitting in it. Some people I know attended a marketing event there, and they mentioned that during breaks people took conference calls in the cars. Isn’t that an inventive way to get urban sophisticates who wouldn’t have identified as Cadillac drivers to touch a vehicle? Come try our $50,000 phone booth.
But what if touch isn’t an option?
While the aforementioned strategies will work for some companies, it’s not feasible for every brand to insert touch into the customer experience. But there are some workarounds.
Research suggests that when touch isn't an option, you should consider approximating the experiences you’d gain from touching. A study from TheJournal of Consumer Psychology found that for objects with material properties (like a shag rug or suede boots) people typically preferred to purchase in person—but the preference is significantly reduced when those properties are explained verbally. So perhaps there’s an audio file, video or just some powerful copywriting that can describe just the fluffiness of rug and the buttery softness of the boots.
Video is in itself a powerful medium to leverage in helping simulate the experience of touch, but a simple product 360 probably won’t do it. Consider how you could use a person to humanize the touch and serve as a proxy for your buyer. For example, you might have the talent touching the product and reacting to it, just as every single Cooking Channel show does ad nauseam to show how the food tastes. As a brand example, I love the videos Zappos includes with each pair of shoes; a company employee who looks like a normal person tries them on and walks around. These videos feel authentic, and I can imagine the shoes on me.
Or, for another P.O.V. on video proxies: On Think With Google, Matt Anderson talks about a growing YouTube trend called “shop with me” videos, in which creators take their viewers into a store. The watch time of such videos apparently has increased 1,000% over two years. “With this format, viewers are able to experience the shopping journey through someone they trust, and in the process evaluate whether a product is right for them,” he says.
In addition to video, we’re seeing some innovative brands using VR/AR to help create physical simulacrum—such as the Halstead Properties app mentioned in this article on CMO.com that allows you to turn the doorknob in a home listing for yourself.
We’re at the precipice of being able to more commonly provide simulations of touch like this via "haptic technology," which can approximate the experiences that you get through touch via vibrations or pressure. Right now the systems are used primarily in gaming (that rumbling feeling when you play a car racing game on an Xbox), consumer electronics (the Apple Watch notification vibration) and in safety mechanisms (the shaking controller that signals to a pilot that he or she has made an error). Analyst firm Markets and Markets predicts that it will be a $20 billion industry by 2022, with a compound annual growth rate of 16%.
Some of the innovators in this space hope to see the translation of the technologies to brands. Last year, Immersion, a U.S. company in the haptics business, ran a test with IPG Media Labs in which they showed people ads from Arby’s, BMW and Royal Caribbean that included forced feedback sensations. Their finding: Such ads resulted in a 62% increase in feelings of connection to the brand and 50% brand lift, plus increased happiness and excitement compared to ads without haptics.
Another study—this one with less of an agenda—from the journal Psychology and Marketing used haptic technology in the form of a Novint Falcon game controller as part of an automotive test drive simulation. For people who had high Need for Touch, the experience collision resulted in more positive evaluations of the car and higher sense of brand connection.
One thing to consider, however, is that some of the reactions from these two studies may be owed to novelty—meaning the benefits of haptics may wane as the tech becomes more prominent. But in any case, it will be exciting to see where these technologies go, how the first-movers in marketing use them, and how the rest of us will catch up in second gen.
If more marketers start thinking about haptics as essential to customer experience, we may see a correction in the form of a renaissance of touch. A 2015 Harvard Business Review article claimed “We’re about to enter an era in which many more consumer products companies will take advantage of sense-based marketing.” The authors may have called it a bit early—but it’s still possible that "high-touch" may come to mean something very different in the near future. And who knows, maybe I'll even have learned to apply makeup by then.
Written by: Margaret Magnarelli - Contributor for Forbes 
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