The Power of Touch

January 4, 2014

Of all the human senses, touch may pack the biggest punch.

By Ilene Wolff

After all, it’s the function of the body’s largest organ—big enough to securely wrap up all the others, with room to spare for muscles, bones, and even too many meals. If you get someone’s sense of touch going, you are moving him, big time.

So is it any wonder, then, that sales people and marketers can use the power of touch to try to elicit positive feelings—and responses—from their audience?

The biggest partner in touch marketing? Paper and printing. Most folks don’t think about it that way, but smart marketers and savvy businesses do. There’s a whole world of paper and printing out there that’s not just about look. It’s about touch, too: classic linen and laid finishes; newer, suede-feeling Soft Touch aqueous coating stock; bumpy or reticulating paper; and 3-D printing.

It makes a big impression even before the eyes and brain have decoded what they are looking at. It’s a distinct first impression, and impression is the linchpin of persuasion.

That’s exactly what people at two very different organizations—a boat manufacturer and a college—had in mind when they stepped into the next dimension of printing and publishing.

 

A boat pops off the page

One was Jim Wolf, president, CEO, and co-owner of Avalon & Tahoe Manufacturing Inc., located in Alma, Mich. Wolf’s company makes luxury pontoons and each year contracts with The F.P. Horak Company, in Bay City, Mich., for catalogs of its two lines of boats. This year, he decided to use 3-D printing on both the front and back covers of the company’s catalogs to better match the high-class quality and image of the boats he builds.

The hard-charging, silvery craft on the catalog cover—Avalon & Tahoe’s award-winning Deco Series Ambassador pontoon boat—pops off the page. Touch the boat’s chrome and feel its grill or rail rise beneath your fingers. “The boat reminds one of an old Oldsmobile,” Wolf says fondly.

The raised effect also highlights a headline, an endorsement, Avalon’s logo, craft details like the wake board tower, and even some of the happy people enjoying the ride.

“It’s unique and different, and that’s what sets us apart in the world of pontoon boats,” says Wolf by phone from Miami, where he was attending an annual boat show. “That’s what we do—we keep pushing the envelope to stand out from the competition.”

An F.P. Horak representative suggested the 3-D effect and Wolf decided to give it a try. Wolf says “they are the professionals when it comes to printing,” he has a great relationship with his rep, and is very happy with the end result.

Wolf is hard-pressed to put into words his reaction to the effect, now that he can hold a catalog in his hand, but he knows he’s happy with it and considers the extra expense as money well spent.

“It’s just the perception,” he says. “I’ve never seen anything like it before. I think anything new is refreshing: It brings another dimension to what we do and how we market our products. It’s just another example of how we pay attention to detail in everything we do.”

Wolf’s company prints about 50,000 of its catalogs and sends them to 180 boat dealers across the country. The reaction from dealers and customers has been overwhelmingly positive.

“We get statements such as ‘Wow, that’s really cool!”’ he says, “or ‘What is that on your brochure? It really stands out.”’

“To sum it up, it boils down to the wow factor,” Wolf says.

So, with what he knows now, would he ask F.P. Horak to go the extra mile again next year? Would he pay the added expense for the same look, or go deeper again with another tactile application?

“I would definitely consider it,” Wolf says. “It’s hard to quantify, but from a gut feel, I think it was the right thing to do, and we are definitely pleased with the end result.”

 

Obsessed with paper

The wow factor is what Jennifer Compton wanted for Adrian College, in Adrian, Mich., too. The public relations director was looking for a way to elevate a key project, The President’s Report 2011-2012. It’s an upscale informational and “thank-you” piece for the college’s donors, with stories about students who’ve benefited from philanthropic financial aid, statistics about giving, and lists of people who’ve made monetary gifts.

Compton and her department’s graphic designer, Joshua Morey, wanted to produce something that would lead readers, who are donors, to do more than flip to the section listing givers’ names, find their own name, and then discard the piece.

“The idea was to produce something that they would keep on the coffee table and share with their friends,” says Compton.

She and Morey also had something else to consider: College President Dr. Jeffrey R. Docking wanted them to feature a new campus fountain on the report’s front cover.

With the president’s eye directly on them, and with Morey now tackling his first-ever president’s report, he wanted to do his best on the project.

“We tried to think of a way to make it pop,” says Morey.

So he and Compton started looking very closely at options for cover paper stock.

“In a technical society, we are still obsessed with the tactile quality of paper,” Compton says.

Marketing and sales people know that more than a little of that is about human nature: We respond very differently to touch than to sight, which is all that digital print has to offer.

But some of the fascination with the touch of paper can also be about technology. Today there are papers that feel like plastic, metal, leather, rubber, rose petals, skin, and more. Designers and their clients are finding new and innovative ways to use the power of touch to reach customers.

 

Feels like quality

For the president’s report, with the fountain, Morey decided to stay away from anything that exotic. In fact, he had a particular paper stock in mind. But he was disappointed to find that it had been discontinued.

So he and Compton turned to their F.P. Horak Company representative for help. The rep dug deep and found a similar stock for them to consider: Raster Cover Constellation Jade Embossed. The texture instantly drew both of them in: Morey says the paper almost has a mesh feeling to it.

“When you put it in your hand, it just feels like quality,” says Compton.

The Raster stock also delivered the effect Compton and Morey were seeking for the fountain photo. Morey snapped it at twilight, and the paper, which has a subtle sheen to it, makes the fountain’s water, lights, and wet rocks shine. So, they got the pop they were looking for.

They also got a result they were not looking for, and it came as a pleasant surprise.

The college’s seal had previously been printed on foil. But when the two looked at how it would display printed directly on the Raster, they realized that its sheen was, in fact, metallic—and would do the seal proud.

Adrian College was so happy with The President’s Report’s 16,000-copy run that it chose the same cover stock for a companion piece on the state of the college, which goes to the college’s donors, as well as others.

Messages sent to President Docking from those receiving the reports have been positive, Compton says.

“The general consensus is that the level of quality of the pieces is superb to publications from larger institutions,” says Compton. One person said it was better than anything he had ever seen from one of Michigan’s largest universities.

The college’s development team, the people who work hard to keep donors happy and donations flowing, says people are actually reading The President’s Report and commenting favorably.

So Adrian’s PR department has a few more highly attractive samples to add to its bag of “showcase features.” Compton and her team have previously employed foil stamping, debossing, embossing, and both rubbery and gritty-feeling paper for print projects.

And the search continues.

“It’s not uncommon for our rep to come back [from F.P. Horak] with something and say, we found this!” Compton says of the new papers the firm brings to her attention.

Turnabout is fair play, of course: Compton and Morey bring ideas of their own to their F.P. Horak rep. Compton recalls a project that they wanted to do on non-coated paper, but weren’t sure of how photos would reproduce on it. Their rep helped them figure it out.

“We have a great relationship with Horak and can say ‘how will this look?’”she says. “They encourage us to think outside the box.”