It’s long been established in scientific fields that memories, emotions, and senses are all tied together. The same region of the brain that processes the five senses is also partly responsible for storing emotional memories. In the airline field, that means passengers are more likely to remember and build brand memories that tie in all five senses — not just one or two of them.
That’s why, for example, when we recall certain favourite foods, we can mentally taste and smell them too. This is why boarding music is important, or fragrance – such as the Tiare flower Air Tahiti Nui uses on arrival, mood lighting, and the correct choice of welcome drink such as Turkish Airlines’ signature juices, but what about touch?
Tactility is actually highly important and ‘significantly increases the consumer attitudes for products dominant on the single sensory modality of touch,’ as found in many research papers over the years. In fact, multisensory evaluation leads to greater purchase intentions than visual or tactile evaluation, so combining these all the senses is the best way to build brand preference.
However, this historic research is at odds with consumer habits built upon the recent pandemic. People are less inclined to interact with shared surfaces and psychologically we are drawn to clinical hospital-like smooth surfaces, which give the illusion of cleanliness. But science actually shows that plastic and metal surfaces are more likely to transmit a virus than a fabric, paper, or card material that is more porous.
Tactility itself is one of the missing senses for many. From simple embraces of loved ones to the shaking of hands or the carefree attitude to the touch of metal, glass, wood. Every surface has a subconscious effect on our mood, and this is why new hospital designs are veering away from clinical design, and looking towards residential trends, to create a sense of familiarity, calm, and relaxation.
The texture of the seat fabric will become increasingly important, as will the finishes of the seat materials as well. But airlines can use low-touch areas to create areas of impact. The likes of Virgin Atlantic, Oman Air, Qatar Airways, Gulf Air, and British Airways are all using textures and 3D designs on their bulkheads and entryways to create a less clinical cabin design and bring visual depth to the hard-product finishes.
When combined with lighting design these design touches can create striking cabin elements, build a long-lasting brand memory. Airlines right now have a huge challenge ahead of them post-pandemic. Making the passenger experience enjoyable, safe and comfortable is key to building brand preference, and tactility is one of the senses that will be heightened as we return to the skies.
So as the latest cabins enter service, we await to see how airlines will respond to passengers’ full sensory range, and whether airlines will invest in cabins that go above and beyond.