Market Research Qualitative Research

See It, Taste It, Smell It: Connecting with Senses to Tell Your Story

Sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell. The five sources of sensory input for humans are powerful tools for marketers. Identifying the sensory stimuli that are either unique to or associated with your brand story can create a strong connection with consumers. Additionally, identifying a sensory cue that is tied to a category, but is currently not being used is a great opportunity for differentiation. If your brand story can own a sensory cue that is exclusively associated with your brand, it will strengthen consumers’ unique relationship with the brand and build brand equity.

Sight is the most developed sense in humans and therefore is probably the one that is used most often in marketing. But that does not mean others are not important or effective; they may just be under-utilized in communications as we tend to focus on what we see (art directors) and what we read/hear (copywriters) in advertising.

There are some sensory cues that have almost become mandated with certain categories. Soft drinks must include the sound of carbonation in their advertising. Dog food must show an eager canine with its face in the food-bowl. Brownie mixes must show a picture of that chocolatey batter pouring into the baking pan. Some hotels cultivate a signature sense in the lobby – and even sell candles with that scent so you can experience it at home! And just think of all the excitement evoked by that “new car smell”! Sensory cues are common marketing tools – because they work.

But the big opportunity is finding sensory cues that belong exclusively to your brand, to the extent that, when they are evoked, your brand and brand story instantly come the consumers’ mind. Could any other chip manufacturer use the five-note Intel Inside theme song? They could, but they would be helping Intel and not their own brand! Another brand that used sensory input was Harley Davidson, whose throaty roar of the motorcycle’s muffler is unique and a distinctive brand cue. The challenge is to use sensory cues that relate exclusively to your brand and brand story. (Conversely, you probably don’t want your girlfriend to wear the same perfume as your grandmother!)

Of course, you can also build a unique sensory cue into your brand story. One brand that did this was Owen Corning Fiberglass Insulation. As you know, it is pink, and OC advertising started to play on that pinkness in 1980 by using the Pink Panther as its brand spokesperson. Soon, consumers were demanding to use “the pink stuff” to the extent that OC trademarked the color in 1987 to prevent its competitors from copying their brand on that attribute. Pink is such a powerful signal for the brand, that it (and the Pink Panther) are still in use today.

Pringles is an excellent example of using sensory cues to tell, enrich, and reinforce your brand story. Pringles’ potato chips are packaged in a unique cylindrical can (sight) that distinctly pops open (sound), setting it apart from other potato chip packaging. Additionally, because Pringles comes in a can, the chips are uniformly stacked and orderly (sight, touch, taste), while other chip brands are different sizes, randomly dropped into the bag, causing them to break. Pringles’ manufacturer P&G recognized that the can added uniquely to the customer experience, and built its brand story to incorporate these. This reinforces the message that Pringles’ customer experience is a fun product with a sense of playfulness. You may recall that Pringles’ slogan is “Once you pop, the fun don’t stop.” And of course, multiple ad campaigns have reinforced this message, including one where people shook their Pringles can or used them as drums to make music (sound)!

According to Martin Lindstrom in his 2005 book, Brand Sense: How to Build Powerful Brands Through Touch, Taste, Smell, Sight & Sound, brand can increase effectiveness by appealing to more than one sense. However, most brands use only visual cues. If your competitors are stuck on sight, think about how you could gain advantage by increasing the sensory reach of your brand story. For example, think of radio. Where there is no visual, sound can become a cue for your brand. Every well-known theme song becomes a connection to the brand that is using it, almost as a logo in visual marketing. Radio shows can also operate that way, as they do for NPR shows with their widely-recognized Prairie Home Companion, 1A, Click and Clack, and Morning Edition.

The ultimate in sensory perception is to use multiple senses to reinforce the same brand idea. For example, food with a sharp mint flavor can use “cold” imagery (ice, snow, snow-topped mountains) to summon the idea of the flavor for consumers, as did York Peppermint Patties. ‘Smooth” music or soft soothing textures (velvet) can communicate a smooth alcoholic flavor or taste. Qualitative research using trans-sensory exploration techniques can help you can discover and develop opportunities to use a cue from one sense to communicate the brand experience from a different sense.

As American political journalist, author, professor, and world peace advocate Norman Cousins said, “All this sensory input, which begins in the brain, has its effect throughout the body.” Senses connect subconsciously with consumer emotions and aspirations. Using sensory cues in your brand story increases your brand’s ability to create powerful and lasting relationships with customers. Using sensory cues deepens the customer experience of your brand.

Not sure how to incorporate multiple senses into your Brand Story? Trans-Sensory Perceptions research can help. Contact FeltonBuford Partners to learn more!

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