Have you ever tasted the feeling of coke or heard jelly babies scream? It may be impossible in theory, but multisensory research is becoming big business in the world of branding, helping create new and unique experiences for consumers.
In his 2005 book Brand Sense, branding expert Martin Lindstrom argued that those that invest in multisensory branding are likely to have a loyal customer base, yet 83 per cent of all branding only appeals to the eyes. Visual cues, such as moving images and pictures, are processed in the cortex, which is responsible for thoughts and actions. Smell and taste, however, are linked to the limbic system, a network of nerves in the brain, which is responsible for memories and emotions, and it’s these senses in particular that can make a brand more impressionable to a consumer and influence their purchasing habits.
So how can we taste something that can’t be eaten? How can we smell something that has a nondescript scent? How can we hear something that can’t be heard?
In 2014, Porsche took its brand one step further by opening a pop-up music shop and has also launched a handbag collection, whilst Ralph Lauren has its own restaurants and drinks company Johnnie Walker and Harris Tweed collaborated to develop a whisky-scented fabric.
Of course it’s not physically and practically possible to eat and drink clothes or wear a car, so brands are using immersive cross-category experiences to create associations instead. By tapping into the emotional triggers that prompt consumers to make non-conscious decisions and to buy on impulse and desire, brands can create long-lasting memories. For example, whenever someone drinks Johnnie Walker whisky the hope is that they associate it with Harris Tweed’s products, or vice versa.
Even though the endgame is to drive up sales, multisensory branding shouldn’t be confused with multisensory marketing. The latter is overt and pushed on consumers – one study has concluded that shoppers are willing to pay $10 more for shoes in a scented area than an unscented one. The former is about building an identity.
When McDonald's wanted to rid the negative perception that its outlets smelt of stale French fry cooking oil, it enlisted the help of Simon Harrop & Partners, sensory branding experts. They created a signature fragrance designed to capture and express all the good things the brand stands for. The fragrance was then incorporated in cleaning products, creating a subtle aroma effect.
Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the research team was also able to scan some consumers’ brains and concluded that activating the olfactory receptors more than doubled the emotional impact of the dine-in experience.
The influence of a multisensory approach to branding is also leading to the emergence of game-changing technology.
From wearables to virtual reality headsets, consumers are more connected than ever. Marriott Hotels previously experimented with Oculus Rift, creating a 4D experience whereby users could be teleported to holiday destinations and feel and smell elements of the environment they found themselves in, such as a moist breeze.
Technology is making it easier to spend more time inside consumers’ brains. This means that they’re more likely to relate to brands, perceive them positively, and, ultimately, buy their products.
"Connecting via visuals will always be at the heart of branding and marketing. From early print advertisements to viral videos, consumers have always responded strongly to visual content that elicits a response. Virtual and augmented reality both add to this sensory experience by allowing consumers to experience things in an enhanced way – whether by simulating an experience or providing new layers of depth to an existing one," says Ran Berger, CEO and co-founder of Flat Rock Technology.
"Businesses can use VR and AR to build brand loyalty far quicker by making consumers connect with a product or service like they’ve never been able to do before. In the near future, brands will be able to use VR and AR to make their audiences active [and regular] participants in their branding, marketing and advertising campaigns, rather than just passive viewers."