Marketing Strategy

We have all heard of the estate agent tricks to help sell a property: baking bread in the oven or…

 

We have all heard of the estate agent tricks to help sell a property: baking bread in the oven or simmering fresh pot of coffee on the stove. But marketing assaults on peoples’ senses go far beyond a simple house sale. Global brands have become increasingly aware of the power of sight, smell, touch and sound to influence purchasing behaviours. McDonald’s has trialled scents for use in its restaurants in the knowledge that this not only draws in customers but also improves their perception of their overall dining experience. Lynx, the popular deodorant for men, has spent considerable sums perfecting the sound of its aerosol can to amplify its brand message of strength and effectiveness. This has led to a spray that is noticeably louder than their ‘female’ deodorants. Singapore Airlines even has a signature scent, which is worn by its aircraft crew and sprayed on to its steaming hot towels. All these sensory ploys look to play on the limitations of the human brain, which is unable to cope with sensory overload. When this happens it uses cognitive short-cuts to reduce the amount of information it needs to process information. So a subtle scent or a particular sound can be just enough to awaken positive past associations or simply alter our other sensory perceptions. Charles Spence, professor of experimental psychology at Oxford University and a sensory consultant to brands, points to research conducted by Unilever about 15 years ago. The fast-moving We have all heard of the estate agent tricks to help sell a property: baking bread in the oven or simmering a fresh pot of coffee on the stove. But marketing assaults on peoples’ senses go far beyond a simple house sale. Global brands have become increasingly aware of the power of sight, smell, touch and sound to influence purchasing behaviours. McDonald’s has trialled scents for use in its restaurants in the knowledge that this not only draws in customers but also improves their perception of their overall dining experience. Lynx, the popular deodorant for men, has spent considerable sums perfecting the sound of its aerosol can to amplify its brand message of strength and effectiveness. This has led to a spray that is noticeably louder than their ‘female’ deodorants. Singapore Airlines even has a signature scent, which is worn by its aircraft crew and sprayed on to its steaming hot towels. All these sensory ploys look to play on the limitations of the human brain, which is unable to cope with sensory overload. When this happens it uses cognitive short-cuts to reduce the amount of information it needs to process information. So a subtle scent or a particular sound can be just enough to awaken positive past associations or simply alter our other sensory perceptions. Charles Spence, professor of experimental psychology at Oxford University and a sensory consultant to brands, points to research conducted by Unilever about 15 years ago. The fast-moving have to them,’ he says. ‘It’s a topic that marketers and designers have become more aware of over the years.’ This understanding goes far beyond the drinks industry. From the reassuring clunk of a BMW car door to the subdued lighting in some shopping outlets, many sensory experiences are no accident. They are often the fruits of extensive market research and hours of work from behind-the-scenes scientists such as Diageo’s own ‘liquid development team’, which sits inside its innovation centre. Prof Spence says a push towards sensory marketing has accelerated in recent years following the growth in – and wider availability of – consumer research. ‘If tests say [your brand] does not taste better than a white label, what can you do? You can start selling the experience of the bottle,’ he says. Drinks brands are also increasingly looking to improve the experience of customers in bars and pubs as ways to further engender brand loyalty. He points to a recent trend in Latin America of drinking gin and tonic in balloon glasses, which has led more drinks brands to roll out their own branded glassware for bars and pubs. ‘By developing a signature glass you can change the drinker’s behaviour by changing their experience,’ he says, pointing to research that shows that a particular glass ‘can add 20 per cent to the enjoyment’. Francis McGlone, professor of cognitive neuroscience at Liverpool John Moores University, notes that some butchers use special fluorescent lighting: ‘Lighting meat with certain wavelengths makes it look redder.’ But there can be measurable practical benefits to sensory research too. Toyota is looking to introduce a vibrating warning signal in its car headrests on the back of research which indicates that we respond more quickly to alerts in this area. In a car accident scenario, every millisecond counts. And in the world of trading, every millisecond has a financial value. Prof Spence is also working with a major bank to introduce sensory signals on its trading desks with the aim of shaving fractions of a second off the average trade. Certainly, the advertising world appears to need little convincing of the emerging science behind sensory marketing. In March, JWT, the international ad group, formed a strategic alliance with Prof Spence as it seeks to push its consumer understanding beyond ‘data, questionnaires and focus groups’. JWT says physical experiences and human senses will become even more important in the digital world as ‘more people feel disconnected with the physical world’. Some brands are encountering their own particular challenges as their customers migrate online. Splendid, a US clothing retailer that built its brand by using particularly soft materials, has introduced online tools that allow shoppers to listen to the texture of a material with the roll of a mouse. Other tricks, such as using high-pitch music, can drive people towards the top of a website, Prof Spence says. Meanwhile, by simply changing the background colour on their website, companies can ncrease trustworthiness. This is of particular value, for example, when asking customers to enter their credit card details. But brands do not always get it right. Back in 2008, Frito-Lay knew that consumers responded positively not only to crunchier crisps but also to noisier packaging. So it introduced new noisy packaging for its SunChips. So loud that they reached as high as 105 decibels, louder than a lawnmower or food processor. Two years later it withdrew the packaging following widespread consumer complaints. There was even an active Facebook page entitled: ‘Sorry but I can’t hear you over this SunChips bag.’ There can be advantages in tapping into consumers’ senses. But brands can clearly go too far, says Prof McGlone: ‘People just don’t like their world to be too dislocated sometimes.’

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1 Why are marketers interested in scent and other sensory stimuli?

2 How can sensory stimuli be integrated in the marketing mix?

3 What issues can you envisage in the use of such stimuli in marketing?

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