• Marketing to Senses

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.

Vancouver branding services - Onur Kurtic Design

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.

“All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits”

-William James

Back to sensory branding

A great example of how a sensory experience can change customer perspective was demonstrated in a study carried out by Dr. Alan Hirsch. Researchers placed two identical pairs of Nike shoes in two separate but identical rooms. The only difference between the two setups was that one room was infused with a pleasant floral scent while the other one was not. The participants were asked to examine the shoes in each room and then fill out a questionnaire. Amazingly, subjects preferred the shoes in the scented room by 84%! Moreover, when they were asked to appraise the value of each pair, they valued the Nikes in the scented room $10 higher than the ones in the non-scented room.

Vancouver marketing services - Onur Kurtic Design

This experiment is a great illustration of how incorporating multisensory touch points into customers’ purchasing journey can improve the experience, as well as the perceived value of products.

Next Steps

Despite all the advantages that sensory marketing offers, there are still barriers to be overcome. I am talking about the physical limitations such as the inability to incorporate smell and taste into a TV commercial or a radio ad. Having said that, there are already companies offering sensory branding experiences in different touch points.

Cinescent is one such company that allows marketers to pump out fragrances into movie theaters when commercials for those brands are displayed on the screen. An interesting case study was conducted for Nivea wherein the scent of Nivea sunscreen was infused into the theater simultaneously with the commercial. Results were quite incredible based on the cinema exit polls. Moviegoers who were exposed to the scent displayed a 515% increase in brand recall compared to the group that saw the ad without the scent.

It is interesting to think about what the future holds for sensory marketing. As the technology advances, we will see more and more sensory experiences being incorporated into advertising in creative ways. It is the only way that brands can break through the clutter in the oversaturated world of visual ads.

“All credibility, all good conscience, all evidence of truth come only from the senses.”

-Friedrich Nietzsche