Stickers, Vinyl And Instant Photos: The Return Of The Physical Object

via Flickr user Leo Hidalgo
via Flickr user Leo Hidalgo

In a trend that seems to buck the standard of increasing digitization of music, movies and television, the record industry has seen a well-publicized growth in vinyl sales in the past five years. During this “vinyl revival,” sales of LPs tripled from 2008 to 2013, and vinyl sales are already up more than 40 percent in the first half of 2014.

But the story of vinyl tells a bigger story about the affection people feel towards physical things in the digital age.

Authors of a JWT report called “Embracing Analog: Why Physical Is Hot,” observed that, “It’s not that we’re abandoning digital—far from it. But as we buy more apps, e-books and downloads, and as digital screens become our default interface with the world, we seem to increasingly seek out physical objects and experiences.”

While most people are pragmatic about the advantages that the digital world can give them, they also miss the emotional aspect associated with physical objects.

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E-books, online newspapers and e-mail have all take the place of printed objects, but, “There’s something about print that I can’t give up,” wrote Josh Catone in Mashable. “There’s something about holding a book in your hand and the visceral act of physically turning a page that, for me at least, can’t be matched with pixels on a screen.”

Photos, too, are returning to a physical space. While nearly every mobile phone sold today has a camera attached, instant cameras are making a comeback. Despite its near demise in the early 2000s, Polaroid and its classic instant photos can now be found in every Urban Outfitters and have garnered a new type of cult status. In fact, another company that is popularizing analog photography, Lomography, just announced a brand new instant camera, funded in typically modern fashion, through a Kickstarter campaign (by millennials for millennials). Lomography actually makes most of its money through the sale of old-fashioned film cameras and the cameras that use it.

“The photos you take today, although they’re beautiful and bright and much easier than they used to be, they’re infinitely reproducible, and therefore feel less valuable sometimes,” said historian Christopher Bonanos in an interview with the Atlantic. “A Polaroid picture, because there’s only one, feels like a precious object. It’s more like a painting, in a way.”

Similarly, every company should strive to have a marketing campaign that capitalizes on the positives of both the digital and the physical. Especially if your business is web-based, give customers a way to continue their experience offline as well. Now that digital advertising has come of age, marketing that makes good use of the physical can tap into a novelty factor. It may not be immediately obvious how to take full advantage of physical marketing but you need look no further than some of the top digital brands for some easy and cost-effective ideas.

Stickers, now included in every Apple item and an increasing number of other hip products, can turn consumers (or even would-be consumers) into mobile advertisers.

Reddit, for one, contributes the success of the company in part to an initial $500 investment on stickers.

“To date that is the sum total of money that has been spent advertising reddit,” wrote Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian in Fast Company. “Five hundred dollars, and every dollar of it spent on stickers.”

Stickers work because they turn a marketing opportunity into a unique experience for the user, inviting the small, but fun action of sticking it wherever they want. Whether someone sticks them on a light pole, a restaurant wall or their laptop, build a visible community of users.

The author's laptop is a mobile advertisement for her brand communities.
The author’s laptop is a mobile advertisement for her brand communities.

“No one is going to show off a sticker, or anything else, unless they feel an attachment to the brand,” wrote Ohanian. “Whether it’s a sticker, a t-shirt…or a luggage tag…make the process of giving someone swag something special.”

While swag is nothing new, the growing fixation on the physical raises the bar for creating special experiences that reward users and perpetuate positive feelings about a brand. Your customers are creative people too; just give them the objects and opportunities they need to help shape the brand along with you.

Allison is a former editor at the PBS NewsHour, a 2014 AP-Google Journalism and Technology scholar and a soon-to-be graduate student in journalism at Stanford University. You can follow her on Twitter @anmccartney.

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