Branding your senses

Explorative findings of sensory branding

Written by Ruben Panagopoulos


Interactivity and targeting are the keys to success (Careless, 2013). In his article Careless (2013) states that yet only 10%-15% of current online video ads are interactive. The other 85% of video content is simply a TV ad, placed online (Careless, 2013). This finding could be linked to the fact that the discipline of marketing hasn’t kept up with the rapid changes facing 21st century businesses (Wind, 2008). This finding of Wind (2008) now gets an even more important impact since the next approach to marketing has come along, sensory branding. Consumers are no longer merely passive recipients in the marketing exchange process (Hanna et al, 2011) they are ever more demanding. The aim of this short paper is to touch upon the first explorative findings of sensory branding, describe those and elaborate further upon them.

In order to understand what sensory branding is, it is important to first take a step back. Currently Apple, seen as one of the most advanced and innovative companies in the world, receives negative reviews by established websites (Baptiste, 2013). Nevertheless, Apple is still able to break their sales records (Souppouris, 2014). A research published by the European Journal of Business and Management states that emotional responses establish a strong association with consumer buying behavior (Abideen & Saleem, 2011). This emotional connection is the foundation of sensory branding. Linking this to Apple’s sales records, their ads and videos focus on the emotional relationship (YouTube, 2014) between the user and their environment. It is not about what the product does, the ad focuses on what the product means to its user and its ability to strengthen the emotional connection between the user and their desires.

Lippincott, a design and brand strategy consultancy, made a report (Dixon et al, 2013) on sensory branding defining this new phenomenon:

“Sensory branding is an emerging business discipline that applies analytical techniques to amalgamate the use of sensory stimuli such as scent, sound and texture in order to develop strong brands that are more memorable for customers than conventional visual branding techniques alone.”
- Dixon et al. 2013 in Lippincott report


One of the more ‘easier’ ways of introducing marketing for the senses is the usage of sound. A great example of sensory branding is what Julian Treasure, @JulianTreasure, experienced at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Treasure is chair of the Sound Agency, a firm that advises worldwide businesses on how to use sound (TED, 2014) and at Schiphol Airport he encountered bird songs (, 2014) playing, to give passengers passing by a comfortable and relaxed feeling. In a short TED talk (TED, 2009), Treasure explains in which 4 ways sound affects humans: physiological, psychological, cognitive, and behavioral.

Minsky and Fahey (2014) take these affects on humans into account in their HBR blog ‘What Does Your Brand Sound Like?’ (Minsky & Fahey, 2014). Here they relate them to marketers and sounds’ possible usage. Referring to using sound as audio branding, sonic branding, sound branding, or acoustic branding, cognitive studies show that relevant sounds and musical cues can truly influence people in ways marketers want (Minsky & Fahey, 2014). Providing an example of the French national railway station, they come to the conclusion that if you do not have an audio brand, the time is now to get started. Done right, your efforts can provide rewards for years to come (Minsky & Fahey, 2014).

Examples of video and sound contribute to the relevance of sensory branding, however two other elements are necessary when it comes to a complete scene. Touch and smell are equally as important as the ability to see or hear in order to pick up signals. Jinsop Lee (TED, 2014) shows why it is important to keep in mind the 4 mentioned senses of sensory branding plus an additional one, taste. He introduces ‘The 5 Senses Graph’ in his TED talk (TED, 2013) and explains with simple examples how products can have an effect on people’s behavior, all arguments in favor of sensory branding.

In order for a brand to know what to incorporate, Martin Lindstrom, @MartinLindstrom, brand futurist and founder of the Australia-based Lindstrom Company, advises to determine how many of the five senses a brand is currently leveraging (Genuario, 2007). Brands have to learn how to optimize the existing senses and implement the ones that are lacking (Genuario, 2007).


An advice from also mentions to keep in mind the type of industry the brand is active in (Tuckman, 2012). Video and photography enable numerous options for consumers to interact with the product or brand. Nevertheless, it needs to be the correct interaction. The bottom line is that images tailored to a specific customer experience are the ones that win (Tuckman, 2012). Scarpi (2012) assists in gaining an understanding of what is described at MarketingProfs. He notes that consumers have different personalities when it comes to how they approach shopping (Scarpi, 2012). For sensory branding this is an important consideration. If a consumer wants to be immersed in the shopping experience and they pursue sensory gratification and fun rather than efficiency (Scarpi, 2012), a sensory branding strategy could be the persuading decisive factor. On the other hand, if the consumer is goal-oriented (Scarpi, 2012) it could be questioned till what level a sensory branding strategy would be effective.

A good example can be taken from Coca-Cola and their Coca-Cola Light sensory branding efforts. At first sight it does not seem to be particularly special. Could this even be considered as sensory branding? The answer is yes. The limited edition Coca-Cola Light bottles (YouTube, 2009) attract a certain type of consumer, using different images and textures of how the bottles feel. Notice the type of music used for the commercial, it all resembles a more exclusive feeling, unconsciously activating consumers’ senses. The additional emotional value that as being created between the limited edition bottles and the consumers was of such an amount, that consumers were willing to pay for it. A finding, which comes across with the thought of Cova & Dalli (2009) in their effort to answer the question of how value is created, communicated, and transferred to a market.

The thought that remains here is related to what eventually is the return on investing in branding while keeping sensory in mind. A cross topic comparison can be made to investigate this. In the last couple of years a relatively large amount of research has been done on the ROI on social media. Hoffman and Fodor (2010) made clear investments should not always be measured in how much resources a company puts into the idea. Returns from investments should not always be measured in dollars, but also in customers’ behaviors (customer investments) tied to particular applications (Hoffman & Fodor, 2010). Applying this to sensory branding shows how important it is to track how consumers react to the introduced senses that come along with this type of branding.


Another comparable aspect of sensory branding and social media investments is related to consumer-generated content. Since many studies have demonstrated that members of brand communities are capable of extensive creation of brand content (Muñiz & Schau, 2011). The quality of these capable members in brand communities should be used and taken into account while figuring out what type of sensory branding a brand is able to undertake. While noting that, as shown by Min Antorini et al. (2012), collaboration is most successful when outside parties have a particular area of expertise.

All of these impressions give a first insight into what sensory branding could do, or is already doing. Nevertheless, traditional ways of marketing should not be forgotten as are the lessons learned from other relevant marketing areas. Inspiration is key in being able to brand with the senses of humans in mind, TED talks, HBR blogs, trend watching, and other current information streams provide a perfect foundation for such a feat.

Sensory branding will affect consumers in the near future, for now the question is, at what pace will sensory branding introduce itself on a large scale to let people truly see, hear, feel, smell, and taste brands?



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