The importance of sensation in brand communications

The summer of the five sensesOur emotional response to brands is vitally important, but what are the stimuli that trigger our responses? It is very easy for organizations to focus upon the overt communications that they push at their audiences, but we respond to the full range of stimuli that surround a brand. In an obvious example, if we visit a restaurant, we experience the warmth, the decor, the scents and sounds, long before our taste buds are called upon.  Some of these sensations we process consciously, but more importantly they can trigger emotional responses – feelings of comfort, wellbeing, excitement, anticipation etc. And it is emotional responses that utlimately lead to behavour.

Imagine if you enter another restaurant: it is steamy and quiet, no bustle or chat. Immediately you respond emotionally – the food when it comes may be excellent, but the whole brand experience you may have found lacking.

I often tell clients not to think of their USP as a unique selling point, but a unique selling proposition; i.e. it is a proposition of a number of points combining to make the offer.  The same is true of the brand experience – we sense it holistically through a mass of sensations.  Thankfully the days are gone when businesses allowed their exteriors to deteriorate or their reception areas to be unclean or full of packing cases, but still some details can be missed.

At a recent networking event, a businessman approached me on the basis that his brand offer was to save clients significant amounts on all their purchases.  He handed me his business card and immediately I registered the feel of the perforated edges where the card had been torn from the ink-jet printer sheet. I made my judgement long before he got into his persuasive sales pitch.

This summer, my stepson was working at a seaside fast-food outlet. One afternoon he was wiping the tables (no table cloths here) and the CEO wandered in and began chatting to him. After a while he said; “Let me show you something about cleaning tables.” He ran his fingers under the rim of the table, it was damp and a little greasy. “That’s what people feel when they sit down and get up from the table, so always clean under the edges.” That man had the attention to detail and awareness of sensation that made him an ideal brand steward.

So, when considering your brand, of course you will obsess over the logo, colours and font, the look of your packaging and website – but consider the whole brand experience and every stimulus you put out to the world at large – not just visual material, but the touch and feel of your products and collateral, the sounds of your offices and the way people answer the phone, even the smells and scents of your premises. Take a leaf out of the car salesperson’s book – they will display the car to its best advantage, freshly polished that morning. They’ll encourage you to get in, feel the comfort of the seat and driving position – even the used car will have that new-car smell. They will shut the well-hung doors with a reassuring clunk, and maybe even turn on the engine so you can appreciate the purr or throaty growl.

Emotional triggers are very important – remember Proust and the scent of a madeleine triggered a whole book in ‘À la recherche du temps perdu’, and we all know the old trick of making coffee or warming some vanilla essence in the oven before potential house buyers visit your home. Your audience has five senses – make use of as many as you are able.


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