With some rowdy friends round for dinner last Saturday night, we put on – as we usually do – some of my old vinyl records. (Too loudly, according to the kids trying to sleep upstairs).

Physical form

We got talking about how, despite the huge conveniences of digital music, there’s an aesthetic value in the physical form and sleeve artwork of records that digital music doesn’t deliver.

We felt the same about books. E-books are great, especially as you don’t have to stuff your holiday suitcase full of paperbacks. But there’s something wonderful about having shelves in your home full of printed books and the tactile experience of being able to pick one out to flick through.

The same goes for printed photos in frames on your wall.

With these conversations still in my head, it was a coincidence to see marketing guru David Taylor writing about a similar subject this week.

He points out that, while vinyl record sales are only 2% of the market, they’re growing faster than any other segment: US sales went up 38% last year. When you add in CDs, half of all music bought is still in physical form.

Taylor also points out that the digital/physical divide isn’t simply a matter of older vs younger generations.

He talks about how Internet personality Zoella has written the best-selling debut novel ever: ‘Girl Online’ has sold 320,000 copies so far. Despite the book being about the Internet, and despite the teen fan base Zoella has amassed through YouTube, 95% of these books were bought in printed form.

Things we can see and touch 

One factor in all this is no doubt nostalgia. It’s fun to play records from time to time and hear the distinctive crackle of the needle as it touches the vinyl. But that’s not all and it certainly doesn’t explain teenagers’ preference for physical books.

I think the point is more that we’re naturally drawn to aesthetically-pleasing items, particularly things we can see and touch.

This has big implications for marketing, regardless of whether you’re in a consumer or business market.

It’s a reminder of the obvious importance of the way we design and package physical products. But it should also make you stop and think hard if you sell services, which are of course less tangible by their nature.

In what ways do you physically portray these – for example, via your collateral, stationery, premises, employees and vehicles?

How do you look, sound and feel when your customers see, hear and touch you?

Vitally, how well do these physical experiences tie in with your brand? And how could they do so more effectively?

Like the cover of your favourite book or record, these are far from trivial factors – and well worth some serious consideration.