Thinking about brand identity in terms of individual senses is limiting - and will soon seem a thing of the past.
I foresee a (not very distant) future in which multi-channel will evolve into multi-sensory marketing. Brands will need to translate their comms to adapt to the way we consume media. Impacts are down on linear TV and mobile has been further enhanced by 4G and 5G technology.
Targeting sense memories
On a biological level, human physiology instinctively links each sense with memories so we can repeat those moments. Couple this with psychological incentives and brands have the formula to develop much closer consumer relationships.
We see this process at work across multiple market segments, but Apple and McDonald’s are the true masters. The latter has spent years honing the formula through the seamless blend of marketing and customer experience.
Consider a trip to any McDonald’s restaurant: you’ll likely start by visualising the ‘golden arches’. Even if you may not be ‘loving it’, you will likely be playing back the jingle in your head. Meanwhile, your other senses are catered for in the CX through smells, touchscreens and - crucially – uniformity of taste across every outlet.
The entire customer journey is wrapped up across our senses and designed in such a way to wire our brains to return for more. Successful brands already have an existing physical presence to marry their brand triggers with CX.
Amazon, for example, clearly recognises the importance of the rounded experience and is investing in physical stores. So is Nespresso, which has created a luxury experience through ‘boutiques’ across the country.
Meanwhile for Apple, touch was key: it wanted consumers to be able to touch and hold its phones so they could touch and experience the superior design and glass construction.
Prioritising senses, not just data
But for every McDonald’s that’s exploring the multi-sensory world, five more brands remain sceptical about sensory marketing. It’s hard to comprehend, especially when you think about all we’ve learnt about behavioural economics.
A great advantage of multi-sensory marketing is that it can reach global audiences. These ‘messages’ are not limited by language and are less likely to be misinterpreted through a cultural lens.
By comparison, voice is a much more complex proposition. Some global brands, notably Nespresso with George Clooney, use brand ambassadors to communicate their values by building on the inferred qualities of that individual. It’s not so easy when your brand is represented by – for example – a clown.
Sonic branding is a safer option. It was deployed to some fanfare by Mastercard as a means to retain a recognisable identity when users are increasingly turning away from physical cards in favour of contactless payments via smartphone.
We also see, or at least hear, sonic branding through a variety of brand experiences that go beyond licensed pop songs, motifs and jingles.
Carefully considered sound design already plays a major, if unsuspected, role in our daily brand interactions: the amplification of our car’s engine when we’re in the driving seat, the satisfyingly calibrated sound of a car door closing and the exceptionally noisy vacuum cleaner designed that way to give the impression of power.
Reaching the other senses
Other senses are harder to reach for brands without a physical presence. Taste and smell can be catered for by perfume tasters in fashion mags and direct mail for food sample packs, for example. There have even been some noble attempts at olfactory advertising, but activations are still limited.
However, as we’ve seen with Netflix’s recent experiments with haptic feedback, new opportunities will arise – most likely through the devices currently resting in our pockets.
The irony is not lost that, in a world of sensory overload, multi-sensory will play an increasingly significant role in creating stronger connections with consumers.
The combination of cues across channels and across a combination of senses works on a seamless and – to some extent – a subliminal level. This is the case with Hendrick’s Gin King’s Cross Station tunnel wrap – the brand targeted the senses of consumers at one of London’s busiest stations through scented walls, floor-to-ceiling images and audio.
As with all good marketing, we’ll get nowhere by shouting or the sensory equivalent. It’s up to brand managers to decide what combination of sensory stimuli are most appropriate to their audience, to deploy these in a non-intrusive way and to understand how to best deliver their brand persona through each of the senses.
As yet, we’re unsure exactly what home insurance or PPI taste like, but that’s probably not a bad thing. However, one thing’s for sure, multi-sensory is on the way – so watch (and listen to, and touch, and smell) this space.
Lawrence Dodds is communications planning director at UM.