Sensorial Branding – The Future of Brand Building

“People spend money when and where they feel good”
– Walt Disney

Most brands & products are now interchangeable. This sad statement emanates from one of the fathers of marketing, Philip Kotler.

For a brand to be identified, recognized and understood in its values is the core of every strategy, the nagging issue of every marketing manager.

However, in a competitive environment where the usage & functional value of a brand (a product or a service) can be easily copied or duplicated, what is left to stand out from the crowd? How can the customer’s preference be triggered to ensure their loyalty? How can the tie that will closely link your brand to the consumer and put you ahead of the competition be built, retained or strengthened?

These are questions to which sensorial branding answers: use senses (and their impact on the consumers’ perceptions) to enrich the brand experience and build up its uniqueness and personality, while ultimately paving the way to the consumers’ affection, preference and loyalty.

Sensorial branding (and sensorial marketing) fills the gap left by traditional marketing theories when it comes to answering today’s consumer mindset. This new kind of thinking finds its origins in the ’90s, with the shift from the rational mindset that formerly prevailed in the consumer’s decision-making process to the emotional and hedonist quest that now drives their desires and consumption acts.

In reaction to an increasingly virtual and pressurized industrial world, people have started seeking a way to reconnect to reality in their private sphere, for a pathway to re-enchant their world. The individual values of pleasure, well-being and hedonism rose along with a true new concept of consumption that exposed the limits of traditional marketing theories.

Consumption today is a form of “being”. Just like any leisure activity, it becomes a place to express a piece of your personality, where you share common values with a small group of other individuals (a tribe). And maybe more than anything else, consumption acts must be analyzed as “felt” acts, as experiences capable of providing emotions, sensations and pleasure.

Purchasing acts are driven by this desire for sensational experiences that re-ignite senses and drive emotions. No matter how effective a product may be, it is its hedonist and emotional added-value, as well as the distinctive experience it offers, that lead consumers to buy it and ensure its loyalty.

What does it mean from a branding point of view?

First, it means that price and functionality are now taken for granted (or, in other words, not sufficiently differentiating). It is now the intangible, irrational and subjective attributes of the brand offering that are the new factors of success.

Second, it highlights the fact that sensations, new experiences and emotions must be part and parcel of the brand experience. It is through these 3 channels that the brand can create greater differentiation, influence consumer’s preference and secure their affection.

In summary, focusing the brand strategy on rational arguments regarding its functional value is no longer sufficient to ensure success. What is clear is that empowered brands are the ones managing to deliver hedonist and emotional attributes throughout the brand experience. This is where brands can add meaning and, therefore, value and sense to products and services, transforming them from interchangeable commodities into powerful brands.

This is where sensorial branding is competent: exploring and unveiling how brands can connect with people in a more sensitive way, at this true level of senses and emotions. To put it more clearly, it focuses on exploring, expressing, and empowering the brand’s hedonist and emotional potentials.

In this theory, sensations prevail because they are a direct link to consumers’ affections. Senses are directly affected by the limbic part of the brain, the area responsible for emotion, pleasure and memory. In a way, it is no big surprise. This is all about going back to basics, to what actually appeals to a human being on an everyday basis. Sense is a vital part of our human experience. Almost our entire understanding and perception of the world is experienced through our senses. A growing number of research shows that the more senses your product appeals to, the greater the brand experience.

While communication & visual identity focus mainly on sight and sound, an accurate poly-sensorial identity integrating touch, smell (and taste when applicable), sends a more powerful emotional message to consumers, multiplying the connections or touch points through which the consumers can be attracted, convinced and touched by the brand. It enables and encourages consumers to “feel” and “experience” the brand (product or service) with their “emotional brain”.

As Martin Lindstrom, author of best-selling book Brand Sense states, success lies in mastering a true sensory synergy between the brand and its message.

The first brand to intuitively implement the sensorial branding theory was Singapore Airlines. Like any other airline company, Singapore Airlines’ communication and promotions primarily focused on cabin comfort, design, food and price. The breakthrough was made when they decided to incorporate the emotional experience of air travel. The brand platform they implemented aimed at one simple, but rather revolutionary, objective: to present Singapore Airlines as an entertainment company. From that moment onward, every detail of the Singapore Airlines travel experience was scrutinized and a new set of branding tools were implemented: from the finest silk and colours chosen for the staff uniform, to the make up of the flight attendants that had to match Singapore Airline’s brand colour scheme; from the drastic selection of the flight attendants that had to be representative of the “Asian beauty archetype”, to the way they should speak to passengers and serve food in the cabin. Everything had to convey smoothness and relaxation to transform the Singapore Airlines travel experience into a true sensorial journey. Right after turning the Singapore Airlines flight attendant into an iconic and emblematic figure of the brand (the famous “Singapore Girl”), they broke through the barriers of marketing again by introducing a new dimension to the brand: a signature scent. They specifically designed a signature scent, called Stefan Floridian Waters. This olfactory signature was used by the crew, blended into the hot towels served to passengers, and it soon permeated the entire fleet of planes. Described as smooth, exotic and feminine, it was the perfect reflection of the brand and achieved instant recognition of Singapore Airlines upon stepping into the aircraft. It soon became a unique and distinctive trademark of Singapore Airlines, capable of conveying a set of memories all linked to comfort, sophistication and sensuality.

Another example given by Martin Lindstrom is Rolls Royce. To recapture the feeling of older “rollers” and maintain the luxurious aura surrounding the brand, Rolls Royce analysed and recreated the unique smell made by materials like mahogany wood, leather and oil that permeated the interior of the 1965 Silver Cloud Rolls-Royce. Now every Rolls Royce leaving the factory is equipped with a diffuser in the underside of the car’s seat to convey this unique identity of the brand.

What we learn here is that only when all the sensory touch points between the brand and consumer are integrated, evaluated and leveraged can true enrichment of your brand identity be achieved. In the future, it can become the most cutting-edge tool to stand out from the crowd, boosting the brand experience and eventually influencing consumer loyalty.

Few brands today are truly integrating sensorial branding in their strategy, while forward thinking companies are already implementing it with success. Adding a sensorial dimension to the brand experience is surely about to become the next competitive asset.

In the future, brand building for marketers may lie in one simple question: what does my brand feel like?
To get more information about Sensorial Branding services, either in China or internationally you can come have a look at Labbrand website.

Vladimir Djurovic

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