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Sensory Marketing and Branding: The power of the senses

In this post we will discuss a topic that refers to the work carried out by marketers in order to position a certain brand, maintain its validity on the market and enhance its value; i.e. branding. But also, how it relates to a practice increasingly prolific in the world of marketing: the use of the senses.

Commonly, branding is associated with every graphical stimulus that characterizes a specific brand; that is, its logo, colors, images, icons, characters, etc., as well as the transmission of its values ​​through these. However, this is a quite limited appreciation of what the term represents. Let's say that traditional marketing, as well as other related disciplines has been somewhat unfair to reduce branding to a purely visual expression, being such a fundamental and important variable to the success of a company, brand or organization.

It is common to have everyday work conversations with various professionals of the industry, from graphic designers, advertisers, even other marketers, and relate to this issue as a exclusively visual element, setting aside a whole range of possibilities to exploit the identity, characteristics, values ​​and virtues of a brand.

Fortunately, all is not lost. There are companies that exploit the advantages of branding to a higher level, thus obtaining significant economic benefits, a solid market position and competitive advantages over its competition.

As part of a strategy of differentiation and positioning, modern marketing begins to make use of tools that would have never thought in the past, starts to break traditional schemes, and thinks laterally in order to expand and solidify the mental territory each brand occupies in our brains as consumers. One of such tools is known as sensory marketing, i.e. the exploitation of the senses through stimuli designed to be directly related to a particular brand.

It may sound too sophisticated and for many even perverse, however, that link product-consumer through the description of the first and our sensitivity to receive and process information from the environment in which we live makes it a natural process as always has been, only that it had never properly being exploited as a marketing strategy or at the levels that is done in modern times.


Until today, the most important variable used by brands to generate recognition and develop an identity in the market is the sense of sight. We can appreciate logos, corporate colors, characters and other graphical tools with which one can identify a specific product. It's rare a person who does not recognize the Apple logo, the golden arches of McDonald's, the white wave on the red background of Coca-Cola, etc. The list goes on and on. These elements, so far, are the epicenter of all business strategy in most corporations. However, this is changing. A study described in the book "Buyology - Truth and lies about why we buy"  (Lindstrom 2009) showed how brands like Marlboro, suffering the brunt of the ban on advertising on many places of the world, decided to invest in the atmosphere of bars and nightclubs with motifs of their brand identity: images of horses and beautiful landscapes on the displays of such centers, mountain-shaped seats, images of racing cars (Marlboro is known for its sponsorship of this important branch), among others. This paid juicy profits resulting from the consumption of cigarettes- and this without having to use their logo. The conclusion of this study was that at the end of the day, the use of the logo is not so important (at least for some brands), provided that the product is adequately positioned and associated to other variables with easier access to our brain, given that as people, when watching such advertising information we tend to have an automatic rejection of the stimulus.


Perhaps the second most used variable by marketing and advertising is the sense of hearing. Corporations realize that visual objects are not sufficient to influence the consumer purchase decisions and decide to provide new features to their products and brands. Certainly we all recognize the famous Nokia tune, the specific Intel notes at the end of each commercial, the Iusacel ringtone of an incoming call, not to mention a few jingles. As well, separately from the previous examples there are others less obvious but equally or more transcendent as is the case of the "click" of Zipo lighters; Messenger alert sounds, even the sound coming out of the doors of many car brands such as GM or Chrysler is designed to be unique and generate acknowledgement in our mind. Finally, many of the sounds derived from the use of certain particular product begin to be taken advantage of overused to contribute to a consumption experience and therefore an enhanced recall and consumer association.


Perhaps some readers may have this extraordinary ability to change the TV channel and do something even more sophisticated without ever seeing the remote control, or, as in the case of many teens that are able to send text messages on their cell phones hidden under the palette in their seat while attending math class. This shows how we develop a physical memory and include certain products in our daily activities. Textured book covers, labels and some printed shirts, forms that are better adapted to our hands in bottles of mayonnaise, sauces, beverages; plush, furry fabrics pleasant to the touch, not to mention the mobile devices and sensitive touch screen tablets so common today. No doubt brands recognize our singular sensitivity and natural tendency to feel our environment as a means of interaction and involvement with it.


Nothing like a nice and very distinctive flavor. Variable overused (for obvious reasons) especially for food and beverage brands. Secret formulas jealously treasured, “x” ingredients, grandma's recipe, exotic ingredients, a whole mystique developed around our favorite food or drink. On the other hand, there are medicines with a pleasant taste for children, and bubble gum flavored toothpaste. However, the involvement of the sense of taste in business strategies has come out of their habitat to start their “baby steps” in unexpected areas: pencils and other office supplies (for those who like to bite incessantly), as well as toys and clothing with flavor for toddlers.


The human nose can distinguish over 10,000 different odors, besides being the most sensitive of the senses; it has a tremendous evocative power of memories and experiences over the years. I still remember as if it was yesterday the smell of my Bubble Gummers (bubble gum scented tennis), the shopping mall I used to visit every Sunday with my family and the characteristic smell of the food court, which I still visit from time to time just for the memories it evokes; my first day at school with the smell of Play-Doh and crayons, not to mention the fragrances that remind us of some person, place or thing. You will agree that like it or not, a myriad of brands have been with us throughout life, which from the cold, commercial standpoint of business quite functional.

Not everything applies to all products, but certainly it's worth experimenting a little and making sure what we are doing for our brand. To find out if it's being seen, felt - to find out if it is actually present.