Ask a Librarian
October 29, 2007 10:56 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to research the origin of the term "touchpoint" as it's used in this 2003 McKinsey quote: "Brands are delivered at touchpoints, which for a hotel include reservations, check-in and checkout, frequent-stay programs, room service, business services, exercise facilities, laundry service, restaurants, and bars." Today this term is widely used in the industry to describe the ways in which a customer comes into contact with a business, but I can't pin down exactly who coined it or how early it came to be used in this way...

I've been able to trace examples of this usage to 1993 but there's no smoking gun. No book or academic paper or journal article that proposes the term (the literature had been using the terms "tangibles" or "service evidence" for this concept in the 80s and 90s). Early citations generally refer to it in quotes as "touch point" or "touch-point." In a few cases authors (or their editors) feel obliged to briefly define the term but the earliest references are offhand. No one seems to frame it as a new concept or bother to reference its source.

Here's what I've tried so far. Google Books. Google Scholar. Amazon Search-Inside. Microsoft Live Search Books. The Internet Archive (only back to 1996). Marketing and Branding textbooks. The Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature. Online article databases such as infotrac, proquest and ebscohost.

OED traces the term to a 1602 text on astronomy but that's not what I'm looking for. I can also find plenty of apperances of the term before 1993 in other contexts (acupuncture, engineering) but not used to describe the points of contact between a customer and a business.

Here are my questions:

1. What other resources would you use to search? I've exhausted every tool that I'm familiar with.

2. Do you know the origin of the term? Anyone here with a branding or marketing background who can speak to whether the term touchpoint was in general use before the mid-nineties?

3. Is it possible that this term doesn't have a particular source? That there isn't a "first" article or book out there to find? I've never thought much about how terminology for a discipline evolves, so some insight in that regard would be helpful.
posted by Jeff Howard to Writing & Language (4 answers total)
I'd ask on alt.usage.english.

Is it possible that this term doesn't have a particular source? That there isn't a "first" article or book out there to find?

Well, there must be some first occurrence of this meaning in print. But that doesn't mean that we will ever find it, or that it was defined there. It may have been in common usage orally in some community before then.
posted by grouse at 11:06 AM on October 29, 2007

I thought the term came from a book called TouchPoints, published in 1992 by Brazelton which was about key points in the development of a child. Probably co-opted by marketing folks.

Google News Archive from 1992.
posted by vacapinta at 11:40 AM on October 29, 2007

Try Wordorigins; people there are good at digging up this kind of information.
posted by languagehat at 12:44 PM on October 29, 2007

My first reaction was the Brazelton use of the term, too. Makes sense in context. Strangely (?) I also thought of that image from ET, which is a direct descendant of Michaelangelo's Hand of God.
posted by cocoagirl at 7:18 PM on October 29, 2007

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