Do multiple modalities allow deeper emotional brand attachment?

It’s long been known in memory studies, that the greater number of modalities you use to encode or store information, the better the recall. Skilled communicators may use auditory (their spoken words), visual (movements, gestures, body language, visual aids, slides, flip-charts and white-boards), kinaesthetic or movement (including active note-taking), an perhaps tactile, olfactory or gustatory if applicable – all to ensure multiple encoding and securing recall.

I suggest that something similar can happen with emotional attachment to brands. The greater the number of modalities through which people can engage with a brand at a phenomenological level, the greater the opportunities for attachment.

Some brands have far more channels for sensory experience at their disposal thanks to the nature of their physical manifestations. A retail brand can present itself visually, through its premises, signage and graphics: at an auditory level customers can engage with the sound experience through the retail buzz, and constructed sounds of music etc. There is the kinaesthetic experience of moving through the outlet and physically purchasing. There may also be other phenomena such as the smells and textures.

The automobile industry has many such levers to pull and car brands have so many emotional associations. There is the obvious visual dimension, the reason design is so crucial to car brands. But there is also the auditory communication. Not only the engine sound and exhaust note, but more subtle sounds of soft door closures and even the silence – there was a time when Rolls Royce capitalised on the fact that, ‘at 60 mph, all that can be heard is the ticking of the clock.’ The tactile dimension is also important, the feel of the upholstery, plastics, wood and leather, and also the kinaesthetic experience of sitting in the car and manipulating the controls. We must not ignore the olfactory sensation – the famous ‘new car’ smell.

One of the reasons people make strong emotional attachments to the Apple brand, rather than say, Microsoft, may be to do with the number of modalities at its disposal. As well as the visual and kinaesthetic engagement with the software and operating system, Apple also make product. This allows users to have a deeper more personal attachment, a tactile experience and visual appreciation of the product.

The phenomenological dimensions are only one side of the story however, and we must not lose sight of the deeper, purely emotional connections with the brand. These often operate at sub-conscious level and are products of history, culture, experience and prejudice. The phenomenalogical may be more obvious and apparent, and more controllable, but it is often the deeper emotions that determine real attachment and can sometimes appear to defy logic.

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2 comments

  1. Hi Ian, PLEASE NOTE THIS IS FOR YOUR INFO NOT FOR PUBLICATION-
    THIS IS A VERY INTERESTING POST AND THERE’S A LOT TO BE SAID ABOUT THE ISSUE OF MULTIMODALITY- AS I’M BETWEEN PAPERS RIGHT NOW I CAN’T POST IMMEDIATELY, BUT IN THE MEANTIME AS A FRIENDLY ADVICE YOU MAY WANT TO REMOVE THE WORD PHENOMENOLOGICAL, AS IT SEEMS TO BE USED IN A MANNER COMPLETELY DIFFERENT TO WHAT IS PHENOMENOLOGY AS A DISCIPLINE – YOU MAY WANT TO SUBSTITUTE IT WITH A LESS SCIENTIFIC TERM, I.E. PHENOMENALLY- WILL TRY AND POST SOMETHING AS SOON AS POSSIBLE, CHEERS , GEORGE

    1. Thanks George, I would love to debate that with you, but I did use the term advisedly, speaking as a psychologist. I used it in the context as in the studies by Husserl, while not wanting to get deep into such concepts as qualia, I am concerned in the ways in which subjects experience brands through phenominal experience and the study thereof.

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