In a previous post I talked about the power of sensory branding, which I believe will be more and more relevant for marketers across the world. In a nutshell, sensory marketing is an all-encompassing approach that capitalizes on more than just the two senses (visual and auditory) that conventional marketing practices target. It aims to create an emotional bond between a consumer and a brand by stimulating multiple senses and reinforcing these associations over time.
The stimulations we are talking about here – visual, auditory, olfactory or other – can happen in one of two ways: branded or unbranded.
Imagine you are walking down the street going to work on a cold morning. As you are passing one of the stores, a nice freshly brewed coffee aroma is wafting out and tempting you to go inside to get a cup. In this example, the generic coffee smell on its own is a non-branded olfactory stimulus (unless your nose is so well trained that it can tell the difference between Starbucks and Tim Hortons, which is what happens when the stimulus becomes a branded one).
A branded stimulus, however, takes a long time and constant, persistent reinforcement to form. To establish the bond between a brand and a sensory stimuli, two things are essential: uniqueness and habitualness. The stimulus has to be unique to the brand, rather than generic and replicable by others. It also needs to be reinforced by habits and repetition so that a strong association can be established. The good news is, once this association is formed, it is an extremely strong and long-lasting bond that can be utilized to its fullest.
The habitual nature of a stimulus is not just a marketing tactic, but also a scientific fact. Our brains are wired to form habits to facilitate our day-to-day activities. As Charles Duhigg explains it, “when a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making. It stops working so hard, or diverts focus to other tasks. So unless you deliberately fight a habit the pattern will unfold automatically”.
This impact of habits plays a huge role in establishing impulse buys in marketing. This is why every McDonald’s looks the same. The company deliberately standardizes the look and feel of its restaurants, as well as what employees say to customers, so everything is a consistent cue to trigger the habit loop.