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Sappi’s Daniel Dejan: Presenting The Neuroscience Of Touch. Linda Ruth Reporting From ACT 7 Experience

April 28, 2017

It’s Wednesday, the first morning of ACT 7, the Magazine Innovation Center’s annual opportunity for magazine supply channel partners to come together and learn and share and create. Dr. Samir Husni, the MIC’s founder, kicks off the program by sharing a question that he asked his nine-year-old grandson: which do you like better—the iPad or books? And the response from the child: why do I have to choose?

Out of the mouths of children. For this digital native generation, it’s all there: mobile and digital, broadcast and print, a world of content offering immersion and engagement. And as an indispensable part, magazines. Because, as Dr. Husni says, “As long as we have human beings, we are going to have print.”

Daniel Dejan, the North American Print and Creative Manager.for Sappi, leads off with a deep dive into a fascinating topic: the neuroscience of touch. Sappi, a multi billion dollar paper manufacturer, launched studies on this topic several years ago, when they noticed a disconnect between the perception of print as dead or dying and their own experience as a growing, thriving paper company. They asked the question: is content just content, or is the way that content is delivered also important in some way, physiologically or psychologically? And so they began their research on how people read and process information on different platforms: print, digital, and auditory. In the study, people were given content to consume, and various ways to consume it. And they were measured: their bran scans, their subjective responses, their engagement and their recall.

What they learned was remarkable. A key finding was that with the experience of ink on paper, four of the five senses were stimulated: sight, touch, and, as nuances, smell and sound. People hear the sound of the rustle of paper in ways hard to duplicate digitally; on an olfactory level they know the difference between the smell of newsprint, books, glossy magazines. The experience of reading through each additional sense adds to the level of reader engagement. And, on a wholly practical level, the more the senses are thus stimulated, the more the sense of value goes up, along with the publication’s subsequent sales, with an increase of as much as 18%.

Of course publishers work to create the best possible reading experience digitally as well, using contrast, fonts, color, and also sound, to try to duplicate the auditory experience of turning pages. But what they find, for the most part, is that digital only stimulates one sense, optical. Online remains 80% visual, 20% audio. As a result, the mnemic retention is much longer for ink on paper.

Dejan then introduced the concept, introduced in the book Proust and the Squid, of bilateral literacy. It posits two very different ways of encountering and absorbing content. Readers of print tend to settle in, to absorb the content, to retain more of what they read. On a device, we are barraged with a tsunami of content; and the haptic nature of the device itself is monolithic; once it is familiar, it doesn’t change as the content changes. This makes the aspect of learning that has to do with mapping the information visually in the memory, and being able to recall the very page and position on the page where the information was encountered, very difficult. Because of the content overload, we’ve trained ourselves to become skimmers. The minute we pick up a device, we know we have to get through the quantity. Both ways of gaining information have their role, but from the publisher’s perspective it’s important to design for print differently from online. We know that the online reader is skimming, we want to create design to optimize that speedy experience through the use of bullet, lists, and call outs.

Dejan spoke about the work of Dr. David Ealeman, co-author of Haptic Brain. Haptics is the science of touch, which is, in humans, more remarkable than we are probably aware. A human can detect, on an otherwise smooth surface, a bump 3/100ths of the width of a human hair; and while we do not lead the animal kingdom in our other senses, we are the top species in haptic sense. We use it hugely in non-verbal communication. It helps form our relationships with people. More than half of the brain is devoted to processing the sensory experience, and much of that sensory receptivity focuses on touch.

Ealeman speaks of the Endowment Effect and its relation to the sense of touch. The Endowment Effect has to do with one of the core emotions of humans: desire. Desire’s twin is valuation; we perceive something as having value and hence we desire it. The Endowment Effect is at the core of all marketing and advertising; the goal of such promotion is the ability to create a sense of value and thus trigger desire.

Ownership, or endowment, is a big part of valuation and desire. If I own something, I see it as valuable; more valuable than if you own it. Essentially, things are more valuable if they already belong to us. If you are walking through a store and someone puts something into your hand, it triggers the Endowment Effect. Even just imagining owning something can trigger it, so much of advertising has to do with triggering that mental image. When you own something, you hate to give it up.

And this is what links us back to our haptic brain. Haptic has to do with the sense of touch, and the sense of touch triggers that sense of ownership. This sense can be triggered by holding and shopping on a tablet in a store; it is also triggered by magazine and catalog advertising. When catalog retailers found that so many of their sales took place online, they began to cut back on printing and shipping their catalogs and the results were remarkable; taking out the catalog caused online sales to drop precipitously. Many people, it turns out, start with the catalog then go online to buy. Paper catalogs can drive sales because having the catalog can trigger ownership imagery, wherein touching the catalog becomes a surrogate for touching the object itself.

As the driving force of integrated marketing, technology has brought access to on-demand and real time. Large companies are able to play to this: you want faster and more, we can do this through tech. In a culture that expects and demands immediate gratification, 70% of online orders derive from the physical. So the paper stimulates the Endowment Effect, causing the desire, and the online is able to satisfy the desire by delivering its fulfillment quickly. The stimulus comes from the paper, the action from online.

Magazines can take advantage of this dynamic through their e-commerce storefronts to deliver on desire stimulated by the physical publication.

“Over 100 published studies show people prefer reading on paper,” Dejan told the group. “It is more intuitively navigable, so people enjoy it more and remember it better. Stress is higher when reading online. And the quality of the paper plays into it. A company using higher paper is viewed as more trustworthy, and people coming into contact with its product were more likely to recommend it as opposed to readers exposed to the product through thinner paper or online. A week after the original exposure to the company product, the companies originally encountered through a high quality paper still enjoyed, 3 to 1, a more favorable impression and were better recollected. The lower quality paper left people with more doubts about the company and the product. The physical nature of paper unconsciously influences our decisions.

“As a result,” Dejan continued, “the magazines doing extraordinarily well print better, use better paper, do special sizing, and create an overall positive experience.”

He wound up his presentation with Riepl’s Law, which summarizes: New further developed types of media never replace the existing modes…a convergence takes place leading to a different way and field of use for older forms.

According to Riepl, then, newer media will not replace older media, but instead take its place alongside existing media and help create changes in the media experience itself. A new law? Not really. Riepl created this one in 1913.

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