Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sensory Branding



AMEET PAL SINGH SANDY | IIM I


Sensory Branding: Redefining the way we Market

Ever wondered why the nearby “low priced” restaurant plays loud & fast music during the lunch time but the expensive Business class Lounge at the city Airport plays subtle music?
Well, rResearch shows that people tend to eat faster in an environment filled with loud & fast music and the low priced restaurant would get is seeking an opportunity to serve more customers during the peak lunch hour time. In the same way, the subtle music played at the Airport lounges has an invigorating effect on the exhausted and tired traveller waiting for his onward journey. In both these examples, the sense of hearing (sound) has been used to get the desired effect.
In the consumer market of today, as more and more new products get launched every year and the shelf space per product decreases, there is a need for marketers to differentiate their products/brands from the competitors on not just price or quality but also on the unique set of functional & emotional benefits that their brands provide. In doing so, the role of traditional channels of advertising such as TV commercials, hoardings etc is declining & our ability to decipher and retain enormous amount of information provided by myriad number of commercials is diminishing as well. A recent McKinsey report (on the US Market) says that the effect of TV commercials on influencing consumer choices is likely to fall by around 40 % over the coming years. In fact, advertisers rely heavily on the use of visual dimensions to connect with the customers with only a few exceptions where other sensory stimuli are also used. Companies spend huge amounts on these advertising campaigns and Brand Managers need to come up with viable alternatives so that the Brand gets noticed in the complex consumer market.
This is where Sensory Branding has come into the limelight over the last few years and is creating a buzz among the brand builders and advertisers. Sensory Branding is the use of one or more sensory stimuli to communicate with the customer on an emotional level and building the brand through memorable customer experiences. In his book Brand Sense, author Martin Lindstrom argues that humans are most receptive, and most likely to form, retain, revisit and reinterpret memory when all five senses are in operation. He further states that in the times ahead, brands that provide multiple sensory stimuli will be more successful than the brands that focus only on one or two senses. In fact, almost all unplanned purchases are results of the shopper experiencing the product – through touch, smell, sight, taste or sound. Therefore, the marketing activities need to incorporate as many sensory signals as is possible to reach the consumer.
One of the first movers to inculcate sensory branding is the Singapore Airlines, with its patented fragrance Stefan Floridian Waters, becoming its trademark and a standard company scent. As soon as the customer enters a Singapore flight, he is captivated by this fragrance. The hot towels served to the customers & perfume worn by flight attendants is standardized to this aroma to create an enthralling & memorable in-flight experience. All this acts as reinforcement to the famous Singapore Girls flight crew and excellent in- flight service that the Airline provides.
The cosmetics company Lush has epitomized sensory branding by using smell as a stimulus to influence purchase decisions. Pass a Lush store and you will be enslaved by the fragrance that is in sync with the ambience of the store. In fact, Lush cosmetics created a total sensorial experience for the consumer, right from the scents and bright colours to shapes and textures.
Cineplexes have been using use the aroma of popcorn to arouse the unique feeling of being in a movie hall and a new car has a distinctive smell of freshness & newness. All these supplementary signals have very little to do with the quality or performance of a product. Yet these components have come to play a vital role in our relationships with these products.
Another classic case in point from the Indian market is the advertising campaign of Savlon when it entered the Indian market. Its main competitor, Dettol was the market leader at the time and controlled roughly 90% of the market. Dettol is an antiseptic liquid which stings on application & has a peculiar smell. Savlon tried some really nice clutter-breaking advertising which showed a tough looking man waiting with closed eye & bated breath for the sting & smell when Dettol would be applied on injury. He is pleasantly surprised when there is no sting and application is over. Then the Savlon liquid is revealed. However, Savlon didn’t work out in Indian market as users associate the antiseptic smell and sting with efficiency.
Advertisers from different industries seem to be doing their bit to include sensory stimuli in their campaigns. Remember the Harley Davidson advertisements where the thrust is on the sound that the bike creates rather than the looks? Or the Nokia tune that is installed on all Nokia phones. The breakfast cereal maker, Kellogg’s has patented a crunchy sound and feel of eating cornflakes that is unique in its own way. In case of AirTel, the marketers developed a signature tune composed by A R Rehman and a mobile phone user can instantly recognise the brand upon hearing it without any other stimulus (remember the last scene of the movie 3 Idiots!!!). Other mobile phone operators followed suit and now all Telecom companies have a signature tune of their own. Mercedes-Benz reportedly set up a special department to work on the sound of its car doors to increase the perception of high quality.
Sensory pleasures are considered a luxury by many consumers, especially in case of commodities and mass brands. With Quality no longer the differentiating factor among the top brands and influx of the organised retail, it is a challenge for the marketers to create multi-dimensional sensory experiences in the consumers at every moment of truth. With vision and sound being the two most common sensory stimuli used, it remains to be seen how advertisers are going to encompass other senses into their campaigns and redefine the sensory experiences for this new era of consumer markets.

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