Good vibrations on the way for marketers

One of the biggest challenges faced by marketers is the struggle to get their message heard amidst the torrential online noise.

Nathalie Nahai

Trying to reach potential customers who are submerged in a deluge of competing information is tricky at best, and even more challenging when you consider that their visual and auditory bandwidth is maxed out from all the clickbait, blog posts, videos and podcasts that exist to engage them.

It’s no secret that human attention is limited – but what can we do to make the most of the tools that are available? And is there a way that marketers can circumvent these systems altogether in favour of a more direct route?

Well, if you’re interested in the rapidly evolving field of human computer interaction, you’ll most likely have heard about the progress that’s being made in haptic technology and communication. The origin of the word ‘haptics’ is the Greek ‘haptikos’, meaning to be able to grasp or perceive, and it was an interface designed by Louis Braille back in 1829 that heralded a new wave of tactile feedback innovations.

We’ve come a long way from the raised dots of this alphabet for the blind. If you’ve picked up a video game controller recently you’ll have experienced the vibrations that signal a crash, death or explosion, and we’re starting to witness the wider adoption of haptic cues into our everyday devices. Smartphones have long used ‘vibrate only’ modes, and in an increasingly visually demanding world, our ability to tap directly into physical sensations to signal certain messages may be the smartest route to gaining someone’s attention.

To date the use of haptic cues have come up against significant challenges such as a lack of training required to use them, and an over-simplified system that permits only a binary on / off state. But the increasingly prevalent use of such techniques in web-enabled devices (in which haptic sensations can be programmed and managed using software that controls the motors that create vibrations), is heralding in a new era in tactile communication.

Combine this kind of sensory trigger with near field communication, and you can start to see the appeal of creating trademarked haptic signals (like a Morse code of vibrations) to interact with customers when their visual and auditory systems are overloaded.

Wearable tech is forging the way for this to become a reality, and companies such as General Motors are already exploring the benefits of harnessing haptic technology across other sectors. Having fitted their Cadillac CTS cars with the “Safety Seat Alert,” a haptic interface that generates vibrating pulse patterns to warn the driver of potential dangers, GM have effectively found “an effective and intuitive way to cut through the clutter of visual and auditory sensory information that drivers routinely experience”, according to Raymond Kiefer, General Motors Active Safety Technical Fellow.[1]

But it’s not just the automotive industry that stands to benefit from these advances. With most of us accessing the internet primarily through our smartphones, we’re increasingly seeking out ‘high-touch’ experiences – and haptics is becoming the primary way in which to restore this sense of physical sensation. The rapid growth in immersive tech and apps (such as Haptic Effect Preview[2]) are enabling developers to experiment with user interfaces that are more engaging, more sensory and more effective than ever before, and it’s only a matter of time before it becomes integrated into our marketing practices too.

According to one report by Lux Research[3], the haptics market is set to balloon by 1600% by 2025, which means more varied and cheaper technology for us to exploit in our quest to engage our customers in ever more innovative and direct ways. While it’s unclear exactly how we’ll use this tech to enhance our marketing messages in the years to come, one thing is certain: if we can find a way to harness the most direct route to our customers’ attention, through their physical sense, then whatever tech we’re using, we’ll have found a way to separate the signal from the noise.


[1] “Cadillac XTS Safety Seat Alerts Drivers to Dangers – Industry-first directional seat vibrations alert drivers to crash threats”; March 27, 2012: http://media.gm.com/media/us/en/cadillac/news.detail.html/content/Pages/news/us/en/2012/Mar/0327_cadillac_safety.html

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