Does your brand smell? Branding for the senses

Does your brand smell?

Maybe it should. Smell is one of our most powerful senses. Scents can evoke memories and emotions from deep in our past, make our hearts race, make our mouths water. So why wouldn’t you want to create a brand experience that provokes such a reaction?

Does it feel good?

Does your brand appeal to your audiences’ sense of touch? We touch before we speak, write or see, and the language of touch has a huge vocabulary. Touch can be used to express any emotion or adjective, and emotions expressed through touch are often much more powerful than relayed verbally. So doesn’t it make sense to create a brand experience that taps into your audiences’ sense of touch?

How does it sound?

Is your brand embodied by the sound of reggae, or a piano concerto? Is it upbeat or sombre? Jazzy or sentimental? Music is memorable if it’s good or bad, and sounds speak their own universal language. Sounds can stress us out or calm us down; like the sun or rain they can shape our moods and attitudes. So can you afford to have your brand stay silent?

Can you taste it?

Does your brand whet your audiences’ appetites? Is it sweet or sour? Bitter? A bit spicy perhaps? Our taste buds are often our strongest influencers. We crave salt and sugar, red meat and even greens, and we’ll drive miles past dozens of food options for the one taste we crave. We also tend to associate specific foods, flavors and spices with specific people, societies and ideas. Have you thought about the flavour of your brand?

I’m sure it looks good.

Perhaps the most common (if not always the easiest) way to connect a brand with the senses is to make it look nice.

As more and more of our conversations, transactions and relationships take place online, the case for sensory marketing is growing stronger each day. Consumers are becoming de-sensitized in a digital world experienced largely through screens and speakers, and as such it’s becoming increasingly difficult to capture an audience’s attention, stand out from the crowd, and make a brand experience memorable. But how do you RE-sensitize your audience? How do you make your brand smell if you’re not in the business of baking cookies or roasting chickens? How do you make it feel good if you’re not producing pillows or selling kittens? And even if you did, how do you connect with an audiences’ sense of smell, touch and taste digitally?

One point to note is that you can evoke a multi-sensory experience through a single sensory channel, and the sense evoked might not match the channel—consider “Juice Mobile” (a mobile marketing company) and “Tindr” (a software company) , or how about the “iPod Touch,” “Hush Puppies,”  “Irish Spring” or “Hershey’s Kiss”? These company and product names stimulate our sense of taste, touch and smell without engaging the senses directly.

A second point is that a brand experience transcends ‘what you do’ as it transmits your organization’s identity, culture, ethos, mission; the story becomes ‘who you are,’ and a variety of sensory stimuli can help tell that story and convey that impression. Consider Singapore Airlines’ introduction of the scent “Stefan Floridian Waters,” an aroma designed specifically for the airline. It was blended into the flight attendants’ perfume, applied to the hot towels served before takeoff, and generally permeates their entire fleet of planes. While the production of a scent has little to do with the airlines’ brand, the connotations of luxury and comfort that this scent relays are on point.

Similarly, Starbucks isn’t in the business of making music, but it has gone to great lengths to create a consistent sound that is played in its 9,000 coffee shops worldwide. All background music is selected and released by Hear Music from Starbucks’ main office; two or three CDs containing about 100 songs are produced per month. Starbucks’ brand experience is about much more than selling coffee, and sound plays an important part of shaping that experience.

The goal of sensory branding is to connect a customer with a brand on an emotional level by appealing to the senses. Multi-sensory marketing and branding is about engaging target audiences through multiple sense channels, enhancing and enriching the experience as a result. A multi-sensory brand experience evokes beliefs, feelings, thoughts and opinions that meld together to generate a brand image in the consumer’s mind.

But trying to appeal to the senses is no guarantee of success. As noted by Aradhna Krishna, one of the leading academics in the field of sensory marketing, sensory branding has to be done in a thoughtful and systemic way, identifying the senses and the sensory message that best suit the brand. Done well, sensory marketing can empower a brand and propel company success. Poorly executed sensory marketing can do irreparable damage to a brand and hurt the company’s bottom line.

So how can you start to engage sensory marketing in ways that empower your brand? The first step is to start thinking about the sensory experience your brand is currently emitting, and get some internal and external feedback on that. What are your colleagues, employees, clients, partners and other stakeholders experiencing when they engage your brand in print, online, over the phone and in person? Next, if you have a brand architecture set-up, start thinking about ways in which your brand audiences’ senses of sight, sound, taste, touch and smell might be stimulated to enrich the brand experience and impression you’re targeting.

Done well, a video can be an engaging, powerful and memorable multi-sensory brand experience that helps a company or an organization tell its story. Still frames, slow motion and regular speed video clips, visual effects and graphic design, text, spoken word, song, music and sound are all at your disposal, and they can be transmitted in unison to produce an experience that is greater than the sum of its parts.

All markets are cluttered with deliberate advertising, so the journey to make your brand intrinsically appealing is one worth taking. Perhaps your journey began by asking yourself if your brand smells.

By Chris Wolski


For more on multisensory marketing and branding check out a few of the following:

Customer Sense: How the 5 Senses Influence Buying Behaviour, by Aradhna Krishna

Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy, by Martin Lindstrom

“Broad Sensory Branding,” by Martin Lindstrom (in Journal of Product and Brand Management