Sensory Branding

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by: Roger Dooley

Continuing our survey of neuromarketing books, we recently finished Brand Sense – Build Powerful Brands through Touch, Taste, Smell, Sight, and Sound, by Martin Lindstrom. This data-packed volume was published in 2005, and is based in part on a global research project by Millward Brown which studied the relationship between branding and sensory awareness.

Lindstrom’s basic point is simple – brands that appeal to multiple senses will be more successful than brands that focus only on one or two. These appeals can be part of the brand’s advertising, like using a distinctive color and logo in a consistent manner, or part of the product itself, like a phone ringtone or the fragrance of a soap product. He points to Singapore Airlines as the pinnacle of sensory branding. They not only employ the more common consistent visual themes one might expect from an airline, but incorporate the same scent, Stefan Floridian Waters, in the perfume worn by flight attendants, in their hot towels, and other elements of their service. Flight attendants must meet stringent appearance criteria, and wear uniforms made from fine silk which incorporate elements of the cabin decor. They strive to make every sensory element of their customer interaction both appealing, and, equally importantly, consistent from encounter to encounter. Lindstrom credits Singapore Airlines’ perennial position atop travelers’ preference rankings to these efforts.

One key element of Lindstrom’s marketing prescription is what he calls, “Smash Your Brand.” In essence, he wants a brand to be identifiable even when parts of the marketing program aren’t there. If your logo is removed from your product or your advertisement, would it still be instantly recognizable as your brand? Is just a color enough to signify your brand? Of course, few brands have the power to claim a single color as their exclusive look, but the point is that marketers need to think beyond their logo as the sole consistent element in their branding efforts.

Neuromarketers will find Lindstrom’s discussion of the less common marketing senses quite interesting. Smell in particular is potent in bypassing conscious thought and creating associations with memories and emotions. He notes that only 3% of Fortune 1000 companies have given thought to using smell in their marketing or branding, despite the claim that 75% of our emotions are generated by what we smell.

Interestingly, auto companies aren’t the stodgy behemoths one might expect when it comes to sensory branding. Indeed, they are in many ways the most advanced pioneers in the field. In the late 1990s, Daimler Chrysler had already established a department whose sole purpose was to improve the sound of their car doors. And that wonderful new car smell that’s so enticing in the dealership? Today, it’s largely a manufactured artifact. Lindstrom reports on the efforts at Rolls Royce to improve customer satisfaction with their new vehicles by duplicating the “new car smell” of a 1965 Silver Cloud. An olfactory analysis found over eight hundred distinct elements, with expected ones like leather and mahogany but also including things like underseal and felt. Ultimately, the scent engineers came up with a mixture to duplicate this heady aroma which is now applied below the seats. Even though the synthetic materials that must now be used to build Rolls Royce cars for safety and other reasons no longer release much in the way of detectable odors, every new Rolls Royce owner can enjoy the same new car smell that previous generations experienced.

Lindstrom provides a list, determined by focus groups on multiple continents, of the top 20 brands that most effectively leverage multiple senses in their branding efforts. The leaders are,

  1. Singapore Airlines
  2. Apple
  3. Disney
  4. Mercedes Benz
  5. Marlboro
  6. Tiffany
  7. Louis Vuitton
  8. Bang & Olufsen
  9. Nokia
  10. Harley Davidson

No list of winners would be complete without a list of losers, and Lindstrom also lists some of the major brands that are doing the worst job of developing sensory indentities:

  1. Ikea
  2. Motorola
  3. Virgin
  4. KFC
  5. Adidas
  6. Sony
  7. Burger King
  8. McDonalds
  9. Kleenex
  10. Microsoft

Most marketers, of course, lack the budget or staff of these large corporations. Nevertheless, this book will appeal to even smaller scale marketers. With the plethora of examples of effective and ineffective sensory branding, any marketer should be able to come up with ideas to impact a firm’s brand identity. He provides a six-step process to audit one’s existing sensory brand identity, to create sensory synergy, and implement a sensory branding strategy. Even firms that can’t afford a “door slam” department will no doubt spot flaws in their current sensory branding and find ways to do better without breaking the bank.

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