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A few years ago – I don’t remember exactly when – I did a day trip to a casino – probably Foxwoods. I do this every once in awhile – maybe once a year at the most,  I’m not a big gambler, but I’m also not new a it – as a kid I used to go to the fights in AC with my parents and on more than one occasion wound up on the casino floor, plus I’ve been to Vegas a couple of times (bachelor parties…sheesh) and the like.  I like going to the casino because it’s completely different from my everyday life – as a creative, I need change of pace and some action once in awhile, and the buzz on the casino floor for a few hours is like Red Bull – a good jolt for a limited time, and a change of pace to get things going.

But this time, when I walked in I heard the crazy cacophony of the slots, and smelled the cigarette smoke and felt the cushy industrial carpet under my feet but something was missing.

I didn’t know what.

I figured I’d warm up on the slots before I hit the tables, so I headed down to the quarter slots (big spender) and plunked down between a couple of hunched blue-hairs straight from the tour bus and eased back and the machine to my right went off.

The light went blinking (yes, I know, but I suppose if one can now ‘go’ missing, then a light can go blinking…), and the siren was ringing but something was wrong.

Very wrong, but I couldn’t put my finger on it right away.  Then it hit me.

There was no cascading clatter of coins into the metal tray!

Now, it had been awhile since I’d been to the casino, but this seemed strange – way strange to me, and it was only apparent by its absence.

And completely unsatisfying somehow.

I watched as a paper ticket spit out of the machine, and as I looked around I also noticed that there were no more big plastic cups around – the ones that used to hold the winnings and added some texture to the whole experience.


Now the slots had been using both buttons and pull arms for awhile, so I was used to that already, though out of superstition I’d still mix in the pulls with the button pushing (for those of you who have never been to a casino, this may make no sense, but bear with me), but the lack of coins – of something tangible and solid, and the mystery of not knowing how much you’d made until the past coin had dropped – stole from the experience.

The digitization left me feeling hollow.  Slots had moved from gambling to something transactional. Sort of like being at a loud ATM.

Sure, the process was the same – but the experience was different. I could no longer fully immerse myself , and I wondered why.

And then, of course, I forgot about the whole thing until last month when I went to go vote.

Voting machines used to be cool;  you’d go in, draw the curtain behind you, flip down each little flipper, take a deep breath and make sure that you were making the right decision and then pull the giant lever to forcefully place you vote.  It was like putting your  stake into the process – something about that actual physical act said that you had made your decision with some degree of determination.  It was solid.  And the entire experience made you feel like you had done something.

Now,by comparison,  you’re given a over-sized cardboard SAT form and a pen and told to fill out a few dots and slide this thing into an electronic reader.  No curtain, no levers, no mystery, excitement expectation –  no nothing.  Just another transaction.

I wondered why this bothered me, along with the slots with no coins and I think I know why both things felt so empty and incomplete.

I think it’s because I’m human, and as such become more engaged when more of my senses are used.

It’s not that we’re gambling or voting (do these things overlap?) we are not still arriving at a similar end to  process, but the way we get there is considerably different.

Fewer of our senses are being used, I think, and this makes it a less rich experience.  And there’s a lesson here, I think.  Not coincidentally, a branding and marketing lesson.

If you want to fully and effectively engage clients and potential customers in this digitally dominated age, I think that you have to go beyond the screen experience. If you want to have a lasting impact, you need to stimulate more than just two senses (visual and aural).

Instead, you have to pay attention to the details to set your message apart.  And engage more than 40% of the senses.

In my experience (and I’m sure I can dig up some numbers to back this up), a glossy standard 4X6 direct mail piece will always get tossed, while a less standard, textured matte piece, with maybe some vellum and a rough-cut edge will get noticed.

Why is this?

Because the matte piece is more interesting to the recipient in terms of sense of touch – regardless of the message.  There is a tactile sensibility – an additional 20% of your senses get to be used in assessing and interacting with it.

You’ve ramped it up: seeing and touching are engaged; smelling is likely out, as is hearing and tasting (unless you’re printing on something really different, or targeting goats), but the point is your message is likely to be more successful in our desensitized, visually-dominated age if you can engage more of the senses, and tap into what it really means to be human on a visceral, primal and sensory level.

The ‘sixth sense’ to target, I’ll argue, would be emotion,and that can be independent of sensory stimulus and triggered only by words or visual imagery in your message but, again, I’ll say that even in addition to message if you can add that second human element, and engage more of the senses, it’s the way to go.

In some way, this school of thought goes against the commonly accepted idea that it’s tough to get noticed with all of the media and information constantly being pumped into the system.

But if the system (especially with digital media) is dominated by one, or perhaps two sensory targets (say, seeing and hearing), then I say that that particular approach becomes the status quo, thus making it far easier to identify those things which are outside of that homogenized mainstream.

And thus easier to focus on, and easier to make your message stand outand be remembered by your target audience.

At the end of the day, we’re human beings, not aggregate data streams of walking focus groups.

Target what it means to be human – use all of the five senses if possible, and the ‘sixth’ – genuine emotional response – as well.

Your marketing efforts will be noticed.  Remembered. Even acted upon.

Which is the point of the exercise.