Sensory Marketing: An introduction to engaging with clients through the senses

Do you recall the peculiar scent you can smell when you cross the threshold of IKEA? Have you ever entered a Cucinelli store, elegantly ordered, luminous, with a light palette of colors, and furnished in a warm and minimal style? Maybe you are familiar with the soothing music used in the waiting rooms of medical centers.

In any case, this mixture of images, flavors, smells, and sounds is known as sensory marketing (or branding) and is devised and used to interact and reach out to people and have them perform an action, such as purchasing.

In much more detail, sensory marketing tries to engage with the customer’s senses to guide their behavior through a sensory experience. The rationale behind it is creating an emotional connection—often unconscious—between people and brands and letting the emotions guide and overcome the rational side.

Therefore, the objective is to offer the audience a memorable customer experience by way of stimulating aspects that traditional marketing cannot employ.

As with any other strategy, sensory branding has its limits: to be effective, it requires a physical space for the customers to move, taste, touch, and smell, directly stimulating their perception and creating a purchase experience hinged on emotions.

How can you use the senses to engage with customers and make your brand unforgettable?

Even if the term is self-explanatory, we like to make things clear: sensory branding aims at captivating people through sight, touch, hearing, and the sense of smell. To help you better understand it, we decided to go through each of the five senses and show you how to make your brand, store, or even one product memorable.

  • Sight
    The eyes represent the first contact point between the brand and its customers, making sight the most stimulated sense.
    Colors, lights, shapes, packaging, displays (even shelves), websites, and advertising campaigns are all means to seduce the eyes of the beholder.
    However, watch out and do not exaggerate with them! Stimulating and overstimulating are two different approaches. Every element should be balanced, not excessive, and coherent with the brand's idea; otherwise, the risk is generating some sort of visual pollution.
    Think about the use of colors: Have you ever noticed that fast-food chains tend to rely on warm and lively colors? The reason is whetting the appetite and making people more active. Conversely, you frequently find cold colors in technological stores or medical centers as they are more calming and encourage contemplation.
    What would you think of a dental waiting room painted in bright, aggressive shades, such as red tones? Would not that look unusual or simply too much?
  • Hearing
    When we consider sounds, we are mainly referring to music. A specific track, genre, or jingle in a store can generate emotions, positive or negative. Such emotions affect the time spent in the store and, consequently, the purchase decisions: the more enjoyable the environment in terms of sounds, the higher the chances that customers will stay longer and buy goods.
    As in the case of colors, music also needs some attention. Brands addressing a younger audience will probably pick lively and energetic music, greatly uncommon in luxury stores. The latter might prefer elegant, calm, and refined melodies instead. Confusing the two typologies can be unappealing for your target audience.
  • Smells
    Sight is the most stimulated sense, but the sense of smell is the most powerful in affecting people’s emotional state. Did you know that memories linked to scents survive longer, sometimes even forever?
    It can be a perfume to suggest to the customer the quality level of a product. For example, consider the smell of a leather purse. That very smell helps you understand if the product is good.
    Once again, it is essential to remember not to exaggerate. Fragrances should not be too strong or too many: balance is key.
  • Touch
    One strength of physical stores lies in the possibility of touching the products and perceiving them firsthand. Feeling a wool cloth to evaluate its softness, a rucksack to understand its resistance, the packaging of a new smartphone, and the ripeness of fruit are all actions that help people decide. Sometimes, they are unconscious behaviors that, without even knowing it, provide stimuli to the mind.
    In addition, materials and textures can also support the brand in expressing itself, offering an extra feeling to the customer (pleasant or not).
  • Taste
    It is the dominant sense in the food sector and makes tastings in restaurants and supermarkets possible.
    Together with the sense of smell, flavors can bring back old memories, often considered lost, and reawaken pleasant feelings. The result is a stronger desire to purchase a product.
    However, the mouth is not always needed to trigger tastes. There are ways in which good storytelling can activate parts of the memory linked to known flavors to produce tastes and emotions. If you think about the aroma of a cup of coffee, the bitter nuance of dark chocolate, or the sweetness of strawberries, you can easily evoke their savors.

Sensory branding: 5 steps to apply it to your store

Here are five questions to help you sum up the steps you need to take to bring sensory marketing into your store: five like the senses. Answering them will support you in planning the implementation phases.

  • What is your identity and target audience?
    It is the first question and needs an answer before moving on. If these elements are not clear, nothing else will. Each choice, from music to scents and colors, depends on that to avoid confusion.
  • Every store has its fragrance, even if delicate. Which one will you choose?
    We can consider it an olfactory logo: an aroma that identifies your brand and is based on your identity and target audience.
    Do you sell surfing equipment to sporty customers? How about going for a marine and Mediterranean fragrance? You can tell that cinnamon and orange notes do not fit this picture.
  • Have you already found the right music for your customers?
    A quiet store, without music or sounds, could appear uncomfortable. People should feel free to chat without thinking others might eavesdrop on them at any moment. Not only does music make a place cozier, but it also provides some personal distance between customers and employees. It may be music or white noise; in either case, stay coherent with your identity and target audience.
  • Product disposition is fundamental to making them appealing. Have you already planned how to distribute goods in your store?
    Visual merchandising is rarely recognized by those who do not know what it is; still, it is a powerful tool to stimulate sight and touch. Having a tidy store is the first point to remember, and it is not only about avoiding chaos but, above all, organizing the store clearly based on the product group. That will help customers find what they are looking for autonomously, without requiring assistance.
  • Taste matters too: it is not important if you run a deli or a flower shop; you should think about including it.
    Who says only food stores should offer tastings?
    Tempting the tastebuds is a great way to attract people and make your business known. Themed events and aperitifs accompanying the launch of a new collection or a candy aisle in a toy store are only two examples.

What sensory marketing should do is create a pleasant environment, a place where people can feel at ease even on their most hectic days. However, independently of the sensory experience, the staff behavior is still a central part of the customer experience. An enjoyable store with rude employees will ward customers off and produce negative impressions. Therefore, do not forget to be welcoming, smiling, and helpful.

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Roma | Catania | Torino | Piacenza
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