The more we dive into the art of branding, the more we’ll see that a brand is a complete sensory experience.
As soon as we’re born, we connect to the outside world through our senses. That’s the reason why human senses are very influential when it comes to customers’ buying decisions. The first experience we have with a product before buying is by looking, smelling, touching, and/ or tasting it. Researches actually show that the decisions we make about which products to buy and which brands to trust are driven by unconscious, emotional, and intuitive factors.
Since our five senses can impact our perception of the world, companies use them to influence how we perceive their brand, products, and advertisements. It’s called: Sensory Branding.
What’s sensory branding?
Sensory branding is a set of marketing tactics aiming to trigger a response from one or more senses (sight, touch, smell, hearing, taste) in the customer.
Brands have often put the focus on their visual aspect, though adding multiple sensory experiences to seduce customers helps convey messages in a more subtle and less aggressive way. Understanding how it works can help brands build more meaningful relationships with customers and drive sales.
The future of sensory branding
Until recently, despite the digital world we’re living in, most would have agreed that there still is a need for in-person sensory branding. However, the pandemic hit us and it became impossible to use traditional sensory tactics.
With the continuing progress of digital technologies and the current demand for covid-free and safe environments, living habits are fast changing with durable consequences not only on our lives but also on our way of consuming.
So, is sensory branding dead?
After a long period of customers being trapped at home, they feel the need to explore, discover and try new things. The desire to reconnect with a more experiential world will allow brands to be extremely creative. It’s about bringing back the pleasure of shopping and going out by creating forms of entertainment experiences as opposed to doing it out of necessity. This is an opportunity to rethink and reinvent the atmosphere and ambition of stores and public places.
Digital sensory branding is key to attract today’s customers
For many companies, this pandemic has been a wake-up call to digitally transform and adjust.
So, how can brands appeal to the senses of sight, touch, hearing, smell, and taste in a digital context?
Until now, customers’ visual sense is what is mostly used to connect with them online. But new technologies and ongoing developments in the fields of artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of things (IoT), virtual and augmented reality are changing the ways we connect with brands online. These technologies are key in building more immersive, interactive, and sensorial experiences online.
The more sensory touchpoints there are, the more memorable the experience is.
Traditionally, this sense refers to the product itself, packaging, or fabrics and materials. Touching an object allows customers to judge the quality, test it and feel it, sometimes leading to the act of purchase.
Engaging with the sense of touch in a digital context can be more complex. It started with the development of touch screens, enabling the digital world to appeal to customers’ tactile senses.
In more recent years, brands have started to implement responsive designs and interactive visuals into mobile design, with multi-touch gestures and direct touch effects (shaking, pinching, double-tapping, and more…). Gestures are a very intuitive and efficient way to use touch in order to complete an action. Often these gestures and touch effects are combined with animations to enhance the experience.
The sense of touch is now fully integrated into our digital interfaces and it will continue to grow, especially for mobile users.
The sense of smell triggers more emotional reactions than any other sense. It is directly linked to the limbic system of the brain which is associated with emotions and memories.
Even if a brand is not related to scent, it can develop a personalised smell which will help strengthen the brand identity as a whole or to promote individual products.
The use of scent has been widely used in physical stores, in many industries: Abercrombie & Fitch, Rolls Royce, Disney, Dunkin Donuts, Dior, L’Occitane, Lush, Rituals, Starbucks… It creates a comfortable atmosphere and customers usually spend more time inside the store.
When it comes to using olfactory branding in the digital space, it is complicated, but depending on the offering of the brand, it can create imagery and use emotional language in a way that stimulates mental images referring to a certain smell. In a time when customers get mostly everything delivered to their homes, scented shipping packaging is a physical extension of an online shop that can be a powerful tool for brands.
The sense of taste is mostly used in physical environments. It is very similar to smell, even brands that don’t have food products can create flavourful experiences that mirror their brand personality.
Both taste and smell are still the most complicated senses to implement in the digital world. Digital platforms don’t yet allow the direct diffusion of smell or taste. At the moment, imaginary transmission, visual and written, is what brands can use to stimulate mental images to remind customers of certain flavours and textures.
Brands invest most of their resources in visual content as sight is the most developed sense and it affects customers’ brand perception.
Sight has been easily and heavily integrated both online and offline but the sense of sight is extremely competitive as customers are constantly overexposed to visual content. We now live in a fast-paced, high-tech world with short attention spans, customers expect quick satisfaction and constant connectivity. It makes it more and more difficult to grasp customer’s attention.
To overcome this challenge, brands must add augmented and virtual reality to their online experience. From vehicle demos, testing make-up using face-tracking algorithms and virtual catwalks, AR and VR make brands online more accessible and trustworthy.
These new technologies provide a richer and more personalised user experience, customers become active participants in crafting their reality, making them feel far more in control of their relationship with brands.
Music, sound effects, and voice-overs can also influence customers’ emotions and memory.
Many companies have music and jingles as part of their brand identity and messaging. Brands use it in stores as well as on their digital platforms (embedded music on websites, digital ads, videos…). The intentions are to provide pleasure, create an atmosphere and give rhythm to physical and online visits in order to encourage impulse buying. Brands must work on their messages to create a unique sound identity using sound, music, or a voice.
In the digital environment, audio is taking an increasingly important place and the momentum is expected to continue due to the lockdown. Between podcasts, zoom meetings, voice memos, audiobooks, music streaming services, voice assistants, and most recently the success of the new app “ClubHouse”, audio is now a part of our daily lives.
The craze for audio is explained by the fact that it’s immersive, hand-free, and can be listened to anywhere, anytime. It offers brands a unique way to cut through the visual clutter. Audio is a powerful content tool that broadens the reach brands can have by attracting customers who simply prefer audio content or those who can’t use other forms of content.
This pandemic will undoubtedly have lasting effects. We know that customers' expectations and buying behaviors will change; the convenience provided by digital, and a greater reliance on digital technologies, in general, will increase. However sensory branding is definitely not dead. Digital sensory branding is still nascent and brands must get on board.