Senses Play a Key Role in Customer Perception

You know what your brand looks like: Your logo, color and typeface. But what does it smell like? Sound like? Feel like?

Brands will increasingly have to address these questions to survive, according to Martin Lindstrom, author of Brand Sense and an advertising executive and consultant to Fortune 500 companies.

To stand out in the minds of consumers in an over-communicated world, successful brands, he maintains, will have to fully integrate the five senses.

“We’re at our most effective and receptive when operating on all five tracks, yet not many advertising campaigns, communication plans or brand-building exercises utilize more than sight and sound to put their message across,” he says.

According to a global research project regarding the role of the senses in creating brand experiences, sight is the most important, followed by smell. Touch ranked lowest.

“Generally, though, there was a very small differential…leading us to conclude that all five senses are important in any form of communication,” Lindstrom notes. And, the more sensory touch points leveraged when building brands, the better, he adds.

The study also demonstrated a correlation between the number of senses a brand appeals to and its price. “Multi-sensory brands can carry higher prices than similar brands with fewer sensory features,” Lindstrom concludes.

“No brand…can lay claim to appealing to all five senses,” says Lindstrom, although some mega-brands are ahead of the pack, and as a result enjoy an almost fanatic loyalty. Think of Apple users, Harley riders or Coke drinkers. While few companies in the kitchen and bath industry have the resources to create this exemplary brand loyalty, there are still lessons to be learned. (Although I did once hear about a Sub-Zero being part of a divorce settlement.)

First, think beyond the visual. “Through the work of designers like Terence Conran and Philippe Starck, everyday items have become increasingly sophisticated visually. The next step will include differentiation of scent and sound from one brand to another,” Lindstrom writes.

The Sense of Smell

“The Brand Sense study suggests that, of all of the senses, smell is the most pervasive,” Lindstrom says.

“Many people cite the new-car smell as being one of the most gratifying aspects of purchasing a new car. In fact, there is no such thing as a new-car smell. It’s an artificial construct, a successful marketing ploy that taps directly into fantasy. This smell can be found in aerosol canisters on the factory floor…as the car leaves the production line, the scent is sprayed throughout its interior,” Lindstrom reveals.

Supermarkets pipe in the scent of baking bread, increasing not only the sale of bread but also of other products.

For many consumers, a new kitchen includes wood cabinets. Have you taken a whiff of your cabinets lately? Why can’t they smell like wood instead of a finishing line? Like cedar perhaps? Like pine? Like hickory? The fact that the cabinets themselves aren’t cedar or pine isn’t important. It’s the emotional connection of the scent that’s relevant.

What do your projects smell like after they’re installed? Is there a chemical smell of sealants and caulks? Why can’t a new kitchen from your company have a signature aroma of cinnamon or nutmeg (think of the Cinnabon aroma in airports)? Why can’t a new bath from your company have a signature scent of lavender or eucalyptus?

Do you do laundry rooms? Why can’t they smell of freshly starched shirts?

Is there a scent to your proposals? Your showroom? Your invoices? Thank you gifts to your clients? We’re not talking about the overpowering experience of the perfume counter at Macy’s. “All it needs to be is a subtle scent that in some cases is so fully integrated with the brand that you’d hardly notice it,” Lindstrom advocates.

Sound and Touch

In the late 1990s, Daimler Chrysler established a department solely to work on the sound of its car doors. They understood the connection consumers make between sound and quality.

What do your cabinet doors or drawers sound like when they close? A premium cabinet company experienced complaints from consumers because its doors sounded hollow and cheap when they closed. They didn’t have an authoritative thud. The company wisely took the complaints seriously, changed the sound of their doors and the perception changed.

Lindstrom has this to say about the trend to silent appliances: “What [manufacturers] found was that, by removing the sound, products tended to lose part of their ‘personality.’ Strange as it may sound, they also lost a means of communication with the consumer.”

What sounds are associated with your brand? On the phone, is it rap music? News of a local disaster? A commercial from your competitor? In the showroom, is it bland Muzak or a 20-something’s favorite hit? Why not have a signature sound to your brand?

Just remember to make it slow. Lindstrom says studies show that the slower the music, the more people shop. The faster the tempo, the less they spend.

Another key aspect of the sound of your brand is the vocabulary you choose in your marketing. For example, “crunch” is associated with Kelloggs.

“The first step in integrating specific language into your brand is to identify the words you want to own,” says Lindstrom. “Your selection should be based on those words you think best reflect your brand’s personality. Choose flexible words that are easy to integrate into many kinds of sentences. Integrate those words into every piece of communication your company is responsible for, including internal communications.”

Some examples of this are: “Your neighborhood resource for kitchen and bath,” or, “A boutique design firm serving America’s finest homes for three generations.”

As with sound, is there a feel to your brand? Is your hardware heavy and does it have a solid feeling? The tug of a Sub-Zero when it seals and when you immediately try to re-open it says “substantial” and “expensive.”

Pay attention to how the hinges are set on the dishwashers in your showroom. Do they drop down too easily? Are pantries and other pull-outs loaded so they feel substantial when opened?

Are wood grains smooth? Do counters have any sharp edges?

Kitchen and bath products lend themselves to a range of multi-sensory experiences for consumers that can be creatively associated with your brand. Use these experiences to your advantage when creating your brand.