Over the last decade, many of our possessions have switched to a digital format. Back in the day, a file was actually in a folder in a filing cabinet. Now it’s housed digitally in computer. Remember when photos actually had to be developed before you saw how they turned out? Now we see them immediately and they live in our phones and Instagram feeds.

Despite being a digital native that fully embraces technology, I yearn for more tangible items. Too many of my possessions and memories I am not able to hold in my hands. There’s nothing like the connection you feel from holding a prized possession like a vintage watch or a keepsake from a meaningful event. I don’t believe I am alone in this.

An interesting phenomenon over the last few years has been the explosive growth of vinyl record sales. At the same time, music is easier to acquire today than ever before; for only 99 cents you can download the latest single from your favorite artist. In some cases you can actually legally get this music for free. However, people are still taking the time to visit record stores and even spend more money to obtain this music.

Why? Because they want the personal connection you feel when you hold something in your hands. It’s much more meaningful than an iTunes download.

Want proof? In 1993, there were fewer than 1 million records sold across the US. In 2013, there were 6.1 million sales. In September, the Recording Industry Association of America reported that vinyl sales were already up 43% from the year before and they’re poised to break 8 million. Currently, one of the largest and oldest vinyl manufacturers is in the process of a 5.5 million dollar expansion to keep up with demand. They hope to double their capacity now that big retailers like Urban Outfitters are selling records.

Another example is the rise of printing services like Prinstagram that allow people to link up their Instagram account and turn their photos into tangible items. I personally began printing my own photos and giving them away as gifts. I can just as easily tag my friends in the photo; however, I find it much more meaningful to give someone a printed copy. It’s the same thing as writing someone a handwritten note vs an email. In addition to conventional prints, these companies offer everything from t-shirts to pillows that you can get with your imagery.

Finally, another manifestation of this trend in the marketplace is “mi adidas.” Using a mobile app customers can now send their pics to Adidas who will then make a custom pair of shoes with your images. Again, this is proof that people want to turn their digital stuff into real, tangible items.

Will we stop acquiring digital stuff? I doubt it.

However, I do believe that there are many opportunities for marketers to cater to our nostalgic desire to hold something physical in our hands. This resurgence should only get stronger as impersonal digital stuff becomes more ubiquitous in our lives.

thought leadership

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