Sensory marketing is a hot topic for brands, with companies investing in ways to offer a more immersive experience for customers. But is it a fad, or does it have the power to change the way we engage with brands?
Brands have always used the power of images and words to sell an experience. But in today’s competitive market, it’s not enough. Branding expert Martin Lindstrom argues that businesses need to be delivering a full sensory and emotional experience.
"It’s incredibly important when you sell a brand, that you are leveraging the senses as much as you possibly can. The more emotional engagement you create between the consumer and the product, really the more the consumer is prepared to pay for it."
And with research firm Millward Brown estimating that sensory marketing can add $100m to a brand’s value, it’s no wonder that companies are taking it seriously. What’s more, with advances in technology, they’re able to incorporate different senses to make connections with consumers like never before.
The power of smell
According to the Sense of Smell Institute, humans can recognise 10,000 different odours and recall smells with 65 per cent accuracy after a year, compared to only 50 per cent accuracy of visuals.
This powerful sense can evoke strong memories and attachments. Like the trademark scent of an Abercrombie & Fitch store, or the Dove smell that makes customers feel 'relaxed, valued and calm'.
Indeed, when Mitsubishi placed a fragrance ad that simulated a new car smell, their Lancer Evo X sold out in two weeks and the company’s sales grew by 16 per cent - even during a recession.
Sound it out
Sound is an easier sense to convey. For instance, classical music is played in Victoria’s Secret stores to create a prestigious atmosphere. While Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant The Fat Duck became famous for its innovative Sound of the Sea dish, served with an iPod playing the sound of waves.
As Lindstrom says in his book Brand Sense: "Brands with music that ‘fit’ their brand identity are 96 percent likelier to prompt memory recall."
A matter of taste
Food and drinks companies can easily make the most of the sense of taste. But even brands in this sector are looking at ways to push it further.
For example, Haagen-Daaz created an augmented reality app to entertain consumers with a virtual violin concerto while they wait for their ice cream to be soft enough to scoop.
And food experts Bompas & Parr designed a musical spoon to accompany five new Heinz Flavoured Beanz. MP3 players inside the spoons played specially composed soundtracks to enhance the key flavours, like Punjabi Bhangra music for the curry experience.
The thinking behind this, as an Oxford University study has proved, is that combining sound with food and drink can enhance flavour. With high-frequency sounds enhancing sweetness and low sounds bringing out bitterness.
Businesses can let the quality of their product speak for itself by letting consumers feel it. For example, when Asda cut away a portion of packaging on toilet paper brands so that shoppers could compare textures, sales soared for its home brand.
Meanwhile, the Marriott Hotel chain is using 4D Oculus Rift technology to let guests virtually explore holiday destinations like Hawaii. Heaters can simulate the sun on your face, while a water sprayer evokes the spray of sea on your skin. This immersive experience lets consumers connect with the feeling of what travel is about, and is designed to build brand credibility with younger travellers.
Take a look
Sight, arguably the most powerful sense, has been used to great effect. It’s no coincidence that before Coca-Cola started promoting Santa in its signature red, he traditionally wore green.
Shape is another way brands can take advantage of sight. For example, statistics show that 40 per cent of all perfume purchases are based on the bottle’s design.
Sensory marketing might seem a bit gimmicky. But as more research and new technology emerges, so brands have more opportunities to enhance the experience of their products by appealing to as many senses as possible. Ultimately, this can give brands an edge over competitors and in turn, boost sales.