Analog may be more cumbersome and costlier than its digital equivalents but, says David Sax, it provides a richness of experience that is unparalleled with anything delivered through a screen.
“Analog experiences can provide us with the kind of real-world pleasures and rewards digital ones cannot,” says Sax, and “sometimes analog simply outperforms digital as the best solution.”
Here the award-winning Canadian author and journalist spoke to Content Magazine, he outlined why people are turning to analog as a counterweight to digital, why the limits of analog are no longer seen as a disadvantage, and why people want something that's real, that they can touch, and interact with.
Content: Why is analog having a resurgence?
David Sax: At its core it's about providing a different and unique experience in a world where digital has become the de facto technology.
The resurgence of analog really very closely coincides, and almost exactly mirrors, the adoption of smartphones.
Analog technologies had been steadily declining since the 1980s, from records to cameras to film. It's only when you start seeing in 2007, with the advent of the iPhone, that there's a reverse trend beginning to happen.
Suddenly analog went from being this necessity to something that was a choice. People saw a new value in it, and it acted as almost a counterbalance to the digital revolution.
What does analog do for people that digital doesn't?
There are a couple of different factors:
Firstly, there's the utility of the process or the productivity of it.
By its nature, analog technology is limiting in what it can do; it limits the size of the page, it limits the length of the record and limits how many shots are in the camera. And that was previously seen as a huge disadvantage.
But, suddenly, when digital became the norm, those disadvantages were almost reversed and became advantageous.
For example, for productivity, we know that there's nothing less productive than an endless string of Slack chats, or 100 emails in your inbox, or the ability to open a PowerPoint presentation and do hundreds and hundreds of different things in it.
The limited nature and scope of analog technology allow you to concentrate on the process, filter out the noise, and really focus on ideas.
That's why you see in every high-tech office everybody's walking around with Moleskin notebooks, notepads or sticky notes, because the utility of those things has almost been elevated, again in environments effused by digital.
Secondly, the broader appeal of analog is this emotional aspect; for the people who it resonates with, it feels good.
There's something about it. And I think that's partly sensorial.
We still have all five senses, but the computer screen pretty much only engages with two of them—sight in a very limited way, and sound in also a limited way; whereas touch, smell, feel, a full 360-degrees of sound and sight and all the dimensions, that still has that appeal to us.
The appeal goes beyond just purely logical, into this emotional realm. Logically, economically, it should make no sense that books are growing while e-books are shrinking. Digital technology is clearly more efficient, clearly "better", and yet books have been re-ascendant.
Is the revival of analog born out nostalgia and being driven by the older generation?
No conversely, the torchbearers for it are the younger generation. Newly opened record stores, and places that are selling camera film etc. are all in the trendiest, young areas of cities, because analog is fundamentally a new experience for the younger generation and down to the age of infants.
I think about my own children. They like to sit with the iPad to watch PAW Patrol, but they also like to color and love reading real books.
The appeal of the analog world has not disappeared just because we invented iPads.
How can marketers use analog to create tailored content that garners a community?
Digital is very transactional. Most people access digital marketing through Instagram these days. Interaction with it requires a flick of a finger. It's there for a second and gone. It makes one impression amongst thousands.
Contrastingly, if you're able to put a couple of thousand newspapers into the hands of people in your target market, whether they're staying at boutique hotels, or at a conference, or are part of an association, that newspaper will sit around, it will be in their hands.
If done well, it has the chance to form a genuine, deeper and emotional connection than a lot of digital marketing and advertising can, which is everywhere and almost like spitting in the wind.
Can you recommend a particular analog format for marketers?
We assumed that the catalog would completely disappear, and yet companies have brought them back.
I love getting them, even though I hate shopping. Again, it's about that experience, that you will dive into one and lose yourself in it. You don't get that with targeted ads on Facebook or Amazon.
Catalogs can tell a story. Take the American outerwear brand, Patagonia. It’s one of the definitive, sustainable global brands whose story was told every year through the Patagonia catalog, which my parents got and I would sit up at night reading.
Yes, I have a bunch of jackets from them, but more than that, I have an association and an emotional connection with that brand, which I think would not have been easily built with digital content.
How can analog enhance a digital strategy?
Analog has value but it is different from what it was 20 years ago, and it isn't something that you should directly compare with digital.
Analog methods can be used to reach a niche audience or to forge a deeper connection within a community; sometimes that's experiential, in-person marketing, or it could be print, an in-store or on-site experience, direct mail, or catalogs.
What I've been interested in is seeing lately is the digital-only brands, that have no actual connection to the real world, opening stores. They know that everything online is ephemeral, that allegiance is temporary. That's why you're seeing companies like Amazon moving into this market.
Warby Parker, which started off selling eyeglasses online, is another example of an e-commerce business that realized it was limited in an online-only market. Yes, it sold a lot of glasses online, but ultimately it knew that people still wanted to try them on before buying.
From opening its first bricks and mortar store in New York City, Warby Parker has since gone on to launch more than 60 across the U.S. and plans an additional 36 by the end of this year.
David Sax is available to speak at your next marketing event. Contact him via The Lavin Agency.