Smell, taste, sound: Getting sensory branding right

Apple accessories company Twelve South normally sells things like docking stations, covers, and cases. But the latest product in its portfolio is the New Mac Candle that, when lit, emits the smell that is released from the box when you open a newly purchased Mac.

This Candle smells like a new Mac | CNBC International

Whether or not you find that appealing, it’s an interesting exploration into the strength of the sensory equity built by the business over the years—regardless of whether Apple realized it was doing so.

The what and why of sensory branding

Sensory branding is by no means a new phenomenon. There are many documented cases of businesses finding opportunities to build stronger brands along the auditory, olfactory, gustative, and tactile journeys consumers go on with their products.

The Mac startup chime, the Intel jingle, the McDonald’s “I’m lovin’ it” campaign, and even the distinctive Tarzan yell owned by Disney, are all auditory brand expressions as unique and memorable as any visual equity a brand creates. It’s arguable that the growl of the V-twin engine of a Harley-Davidson is a far more important emotional equity than any logo could ever be.

For generations, signature scents have been used by luxury hotels (the Fullerton Bay Hotel in Singapore is my personal favorite) and retailers as sensory equities designed to create recognition and differentiation. But scent can do much more. Research has shown that smell is the sense most directly connected to the part of the brain (the limbic system, if you want to get scientific) responsible for processing emotions, so it can be used to actually drive behavior.

In a study by Nike, it was discovered that by adding scents to its stores, it increased purchase intent by 80 percent. Similarly, by pumping the smell of coffee near its gas pumps, a petrol station mini-mart saw coffee sales increase by 300 percent. Abercrombie & Fitch, meanwhile, led people to its new London store by hiring models to walk around town wearing the signature scent, leading people to Savile Row where the store was located. 

Coffe scent olfactory branding

The above examples highlight just two of the senses, and depending on your product, consumers are potentially on a much more complex sensory journey with your brand than you realize. Like it or not, you have a sensory brand. The question is whether you are actively cultivating it.

Sensory branding in Asia

Asia, as a region, has so much potential for growth in the sensory arena. As a foreigner relocated to Asia, one of the first things I noticed was what a sensory-rich place it is. The sights, sounds, smells, and tastes are so much more intense and diverse here than in the West. But most Asian brands are still focused on the visual aspects of brand building. Herein lies a big opportunity: Asian brands can deliver a whole new level of sensory experience that can make them every bit as captivating as the place they come from.

Scent olfactory branding

Technology is developing. Virtual reality and artificial reality are gaining stronger footholds in contemporary culture. Utilizing these platforms, brands are identifying opportunities to take consumers on immersive sensory journeys and enriching brand experiences. Boursin (Sensorium), Topshop (Catwalk Experience), Volvo (virtual test drive), and Marriott (Teleporter) are just a few of the brands taking advantage of new technologies to deliver a sensory-driven brand experience.

Now is the time for Asian brands to study the sensory journey their customers go on—to follow them on every step of that relationship and to find opportunities to amplify what the brand stands for using all the senses. Think about your brand today and ask yourself these questions: “What does my brand feel, sound, and taste like?” “What would its scent be?” If you don’t know, then you have an opportunity to create stronger (and potentially far more action-driving) emotional connections with your consumers.

 

This piece was originally published in Branding in Asia Magazine (20 October 2016).

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