Sensory Marketing: What it is and how can it help your online business

Have you ever walked down the street and caught a whiff of freshly baked bread and immediately felt hungry? Or caught a glimpse of a red and yellow ‘M’ and felt like you could really go for a burger? Well that is not a coincidence. You have just experienced sensory marketing.

What is so interesting about the marketing industry is the way it can use customer’s senses to better their experience. It is, in essence, a psychological practise in and of itself. Marketing is much more than promoting and advertising products and services, it is a detailed and well thought out process of providing people with information they don’t know they need. It is also making sure that that information is valuable, interesting and eye-catching to the average person. To achieve this, the power of the human senses is a marketer's most valuable and cherished resource.

So, what is sensory marketing? Sensory marketing uses people’s senses, i.e., touch, taste, smell, sight and sound, to appeal to their emotions and memories. A person’s senses are a gateway to their memories and emotions of which sensory marketing can, with the right techniques, unlock. Sensory marketing is a way in which brands can connect with their customers on an emotional level, creating a trustworthy and lasting relationship. By utilising a customer's senses, brands can create a positive association between them which will continue to reinforce good and familiar memories.

Now this does seem complicated and much easier said than done. Especially since we are now living in a digitally dominated world. How can brands appeal to their customer’s sense of smell digitally? It seems almost impossible doesn't it? Physically yes, psychologically, no. It’s all about what memories and emotions your marketing strategies can evoke. There are also new technologies that are pioneering sensory marketing in digital marketing. Let’s take a look at what I'm talking about shall we?

Firstly, why is it that our senses have such a powerful effect on our psyche? Also, how is it that marketers can use customer’s senses to connect with their emotions and memories? And what can we, the consumer and the marketer, learn from sensory marketing?

The power of a multi-sensory customer experience

The human sense of smell and taste are undeniably some of the most powerful senses we have. They have the ability to bring to mind memories, emotions and occasionally even cause hormonal changes in the body. Think about one of your fondest memories of when you were younger. Often, that memory is linked to a particular smell or taste you experienced during the time that early memory was formed. Our brains have an incredible ability to remember experiences simply through an association with a smell or taste.

The smell of popcorn is a familiar and fond smell for many. It is often associated with visiting the movie theatre, a highly enjoyable activity for most. It may remind you of your first date, or going to see a movie with friends, even perhaps staying at home on a rainy day wrapped in blankets and munching away on perfectly salted (or buttered) popcorn. Well now I'm hungry for popcorn and if I was passing a movie theatre right now, I would be totally hooked. This is why movie theatres make popcorn throughout the day even when they aren’t busy and selling it. Because it's not about the taste of popcorn, which quite frankly is nothing special, but the memories and nostalgia associated with the taste and smell of popcorn.

But why is it that popcorn can have such a powerful effect on us? Research shows that the more emotionally engaged one is when they are experiencing a particular event, the more likely they are to remember that event. Our brains are wired to store memories through our senses. This creates endless possibilities for advertising, especially since it relies on telling our brains what we want instead of asking.

How the senses can be utilised in a digital environment

Usually, physical stores can strategically let off sensory stimulants within the immediate environment to condition their customers to associate those stimulants with their brand. Research shows that a customer’s emotional levels can increase by 28 percent when scent is used within their in-store shopping experience. However, how can online stores achieve this when they cannot control an online retail space?

Many argue that this is why scent marketing or experiential advertising trumps digital marketing in terms of customer experience-to-memory association and rates of response.

However, what if I told you that you don’t have to smell popcorn in order to smell popcorn? This is where you have to have a good grip on the written language. Digital marketers can use emotive language to evoke the sense of smell in a customer. Just like I have done above by associating popcorn with an experience, descriptive language is a powerful tool and when used right, it is almost as impactful as the sensation itself. Now I know it’s not the same as literally smelling the warm and toasty smell of freshly popped popcorn, but it sure is the next best thing. And if you use the correct words, the results are just about the same.

If language is just not your thing, then there are other ways to use sensory marketing in the digital environment. In 2011, a group of tech graduates developed an air-freshener that sprays a particular scent every time you are reTweeted. Now imagine if this could be applied to when a customer purchases something online? Although this is still far from becoming a reality, it is a very interesting concept and here is why:

Long ago there was a psychologist by the name of B.F.Skinner, you may have heard of him. He is the guy who experimented with salivating dogs. Well, Skinner is the man who proposed that people learn through operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is when a behaviour is learned through positive and negative reinforcement. Now although most of his research consisted of associating a bell with dog food, the theory remains one of the most popular psychological theories of our time.

Much like food can be associated with the ringing of a bell, so can smell, sight and taste. By having a device that squirts a particular scent whenever someone is retweeted, a person is conditioned to associate that smell with the feeling they feel when receiving a retweet. Similarly, if a scent could be associated with the feeling a customer gets when they purchase a product online, the likelihood that person will continue to buy from that brand is really high. However, such technology is yet to become the norm so for now, I would advise sticking with the emotive language techniques.

I can go on and on about all the many ways in which brands use customer’s senses to create a positive association with their products but what you are really here for are the specific ways in which YOU can use sensory marketing for your digital business.

Here are 6 ways you can use the human senses in your everyday marketing strategy:

  1. Make sure you have a mixture of visual and written content. Balance out the amount of videos, photos, and webinars/lives you post on your social media platforms and website pages. Try posting 1 video or webinar per every 3 images.

  2. Review your product descriptions. Are the words you are using evoking enough emotion? If you are struggling to find descriptive words, click here.

  3. Perhaps there is something physical you can compare your product to that may help with making the customer’s experience feel more real? Maybe a sensation you can direct their focus to? For example, “these shoes are like walking on cotton candy clouds”.

  4. Contemplate how you can emotionally engage a customer in each interaction through their senses. Keep in mind different ways in which you can appeal to their sight, smell, taste, and sound.

  5. Are there any typical memories and emotions they might have experienced in their lifetime? For example, you could evoke the feelings of excitement they may have felt when having their first kiss or getting their first pet.

  6. Lastly, appeal to a customer’s curiosity and need to fulfill their senses. For example, you could say, “Can you guess what this milkshake tastes like? Visit our shop and order one to find out”.

“It is not enough to notice the beautiful flowers as you walk past them. You need to reach for their soft petals, feel their essence, remember what it is to grow - Christy Ann Martine.

The human senses are a powerful ally to marketing and can be evoked with the right techniques. One just needs to know exactly how and when to use them.

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