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you are here: back home.our-thoughtsthe benefit of multisensory brands.

I can't smell your brand, but I probably should.

You've got your business cards in a neat-looking aluminium case, stowed away in your wallet. But did you remember to scent them with your unique brand smell?

Let's explore multisensory branding and why startups should explore leveraging all 5 of the human senses in building their brand.

12. Dec. 2018.

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Only a handful of brands are multisensory, and that's a shame.

Multisensory Brands Banner | Heurist - the brand developers | marketing, branding & UX strategy consultants | Brisbane

We at Heurist are a huge fan of multi-sensory brand experiences. We can’t help but smile when we hear a sound or get a whiff that reminds us of some product that we’re longing to have…*ahem* We’re looking at you, McDonald’s.

In all seriousness though — have you ever caught the end of a radio ad and known exactly what it was about from hearing 0.5 seconds of the jingle, or some specific, characteristic noise?

Take Coca-Cola for example. A company that takes their brand extremely seriously. You could probably recognise Coke red and white anywhere  –  they are visually very prominent and recognisable. In fact, they even reinvented the colours of Santa Claus for this very reason [1]. They have quite literally adopted the sound of ice cubes tinkling in glass, and the hiss of carbonated drinks into their brand [2]. Not to mention the closely-guarded secret of their formula for a branded taste experience.

If you’ve ever prided yourself in having recognised a brand or a product from some aspect of its smell, sound, taste, or feel  –  something other than its primary visual appearance or packaging  -  rest assured that you know two things: one  –  you’re good at identifying brands, and two  -  that was no accident. In most cases, that is a calculated brand management decision by the company.

How many brands can you think of that you recognise without having to see? You probably know you’re holding onto a bottle of Coke without even having to look at it [1]. You probably even know there’s a Subway nearby just from its scent.

But the list seems to be rather short, doesn’t it?

Not many brands heavily invest in making themselves different beyond the visual. Some go so far as auditory by having a distinct sound logo, but very, very few go further. How often do we remember the name of the last cafe we went to?

We want to change this. We think brands should explore having a unique identity across more than one of the senses. Obviously, because it makes them more recognisable, but our reasoning goes beyond that. Let’s give you a rundown on why going multisensory is a good thing.

1/4 : Why going multisensory is good for brands - a psychological view.

We recently touched on this topic in a previous article. That article explained how emotions affect the buying process, and why physical interactions were important in generating emotional connections. We further explained that these physical interactions impart sensory experiences — sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches that are inextricably bound to the emotions that an individual experiences in an interaction.

How the different senses affect purchase intent.

Sight: Probably the most commonly-leveraged sense in the history of marketing, our first interaction with any brand is typically with our eyes. But how does appearance affect purchase intent? Well, an experiment by Reimann et al. [3] actually found that customers would choose an unknown (no-name) brand over a known (familiar) brand if the packaging was visually pleasing (i.e. ‘aesthetic’) even if it was more expensive. Anyone who has ever shopped in a liquor store and bought a bottle purely because it was pretty would testify to this.

Smell: Reviewing each of the senses, we find that the sense of smell is the most primitive [4]. It is therefore the most closely linked to our emotions [5]. In fact, the sense of smell for humans begins very early on in the womb [6] — our sense of smell is fully developed by the time we’re 3 months from conception. The area of the brain responsible for olfactory (smell) processing is critical to processing emotion. It’s no wonder then, that smell is a key component in making purchase decisions about products. To extend our previous article that demonstrated how emotions affect purchase behaviour, we can argue that smell can create the emotions that drive these purchase behaviours.

A 1991 study by Hirsch & Gay [7] found that people were more likely to purchase a pair of Nike shoes in a scented environment than in one that was unscented. Another study showed that bakery sales increase by up to 300% when a relevant scent is present [8].

Smells like a good branding opportunity, doesn’t it? No? Fine, we’ll keep the bad puns to a minimum.

Sound: This effect of enhanced sales is not limited to the sense of smell, either. A recent study documented the effect of sound  (music ) on the behaviour of customers in a waiting line. It argued that music, like scent, acts on the area of the brain responsible for emotions. Music can therefore evoke emotions, just as smell can. It has even been shown to alter the perception of time. In fact, music that is fast and familiar is demonstrated to speed up the perceived passage of time [9]. Of course, familiarity is subjective and demographic-dependent, but any company that knows its audience should have a rough idea about their customers’ tastes in music.

A wise company would then explore creating an identifiable sound identity for their brand, wouldn’t they? Yes, they would. Coca-Cola did. Be like Coke.

Touch: Can the sense of touch impact purchase intent? You bet it can. Humans infer a lot of information from touching things. We establish weight, texture, temperature, and hardness of an object simply by touching it [10]. What we infer about the object from touching, however, is subject to our biases. Research has shown that the aesthetics of packaging impacts the perceived value of its contents — in fact, one study found that people would place a higher value on potato chips in hard-to-open packaging than those in easy-to-open packages [11].

Taste: Does taste affect purchase intent? Sort of. It’s often more the case that the other senses of touch, smell, sound, and sight affect perceived taste [11]. For example, a study by Mueller et al. [12] investigated how marketing and sensory aspects affected the preference of wines. They found that both external marketing factors (such as price and packaging) and the smell of the wine had a strong effect on perceived taste, and therefore re-purchase intent. So, yes — in a roundabout way, taste affects purchase intent. But not in the same way that the other senses do. Mostly because you generally have to buy a product in order to taste it. Generally speaking, people don’t evaluate the taste of their next car when they go to buy it.

…Or maybe some do, we don’t know.

So, clearly, if emotions impact the buying process [13], and sensory experiences help create and influence emotions — it obviously follows that a forward-thinking company would engage in multisensory branding, right?

Right, indeed. And some do. Let’s go ahead and look at some brands that are doing it right.

2/4 : Now, let's look at some examples of multisensory brands.

Now, to the meat of this article…

To inspire you all, we’ve decided to find some brands make themselves uniquely recognisable and provide experiences that engage more than one of the 5 senses. We’ve tried to make the industries as diverse as possible, but unfortunately for us, most companies that engage more than one of the senses typically sells food. Guess it’s just easier to relish your customers’ tastebuds and nostrils if you sell something edible.

Subway: Visual, Olfactory, Taste, Tactile

Dwight Burdette [CC BY 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons

Subway is one of the more interesting brand cases we’ve explored. Every Subway sandwich is visually distinct in its appearance (who else sells a sandwich that is…long?). It’s held differently to any other sandwich (tactile/touch), and the smell — oh, the smell. Subway is, in fact, in the centre of conspiracy theories [14] surrounding their scent. Do they use an artificial scent that they waft out to their customers? What makes it so memorable and distinct? 

According to the executives at Subway [15], there’s nothing special to it — it’s just bread. Regardless, it’s clear that Subway offers a multisensory brand experience that is hard to ignore. According to one Redditor [14], even 5-year-olds know to recognise when someone has had Subway for lunch.


Colgate: Visual, Taste, Smell

Photo by Veronica Benavides on Unsplash
Photo by Veronica Benavides on Unsplash

Mmm, minty fresh goodness. We chose to include Colgate on the list because they have trademarked their distinct taste. To our knowledge, this is one of the few companies that has gone about creating themselves a multisensory brand that actually incorporates the sense of taste [1]. Though they may not have necessarily trademarked the distinct minty smell, they have grown to become synonymous with the concept of having ‘minty fresh breath’ and clean, white teeth. Combined with Colgate’s bold red white colour scheme that they have adhered to since at least 110 years [16], our desire for the smell and taste of minty freshness drives us straight to the red and white shelf of the toiletries aisle without even having to batter an eyelid. It’s no wonder then that Colgate is bought by more than 50% of all households globally [17].

Coca-Cola: Visual, Auditory, Taste, Tactile

Photo by @gebhartyler on Unsplash
Photo by @gebhartyler on Unsplash

The world’s most chosen consumer brand has to have done something right to be able to hold that title for the last 6 years (as of 2018) [17]. Coca-Cola takes its brand very seriously; from having created a unique flavour, to designing a distinctive auditory identity, to developing a tactile identity, and taking ownership of its signature red and white. Coca-Cola literally leverages all 5 of the human senses, giving them unparalleled leverage over our emotional connection to their brand. Close your eyes, and you’ll recognise the bottle by touch. Stand away from the bottle, and you’ll hear the fizz and smell the cola. Drink it blindfolded and you’ll experience its distinctive taste. With this 5-dimensional grasp firmly in their hands, they express it with consistency, not only through their various promotional channels (such as TV, out-of-home, and social media [18]), but also through their product itself. With a global market to serve, Coca-Cola maintains very strict quality control guidelines [19] with each bottle of Coke looking, sounding, smelling, feeling, and tasting the same, they set themselves up for a brand that is truly concreted into the minds of its consumers.

Singapore Airlines: Olfactory

Photo by Martin Widenka on Unsplash

To show that it’s not just companies that sell edible (or semi-edible in the case of Colgate?) that are capable of multisensory branding, we’ve chosen to include Singapore Airlines on this list. According to Lindstrom [1], Singapore Airlines created a unique sensory experience for their travellers. By scenting their stewards and stewardesses with a specially-designed fragrance and scenting their hot towels with the same distinctive fragrance, they created an experience that their customers would remember Singapore Airlines by. Combined with their commitment to giving their passengers the best possible in-flight experience, they ensure that the passengers associate the in-flight experience with the scent of the brand. Naturally, when a passenger seeks to fly to another destination, they can more easily recall the brand that both gave them a favourable in-flight experience and combined it with a distinctive scent. It also helps that this scent is naturally bound to the emotions that passenger experienced during the flight.

Now that we’ve convinced you of the importance of a multisensory brand, and you’ve seen some inspiring examples from some of the most well-known brands of the world, we can move onto figuring out how you can make your brand multisensory.

3/4 : How your brand can become multisensory - relevance and consistency.

Hultén [20] argues that brands are built through experiences. In other words, by creating multisensory experiences that are both relevant to the image you want to portray for your brand, and are consistent, you can build yourself a multisensory brand.

But how exactly do you do that?

Creating relevant  -  but unique  -  experiences.

Let’s address the first word in that title; relevance. What are relevant experiences? In other words, what should your brand smell like? Feel like to touch? Sound like?

The key here is to understand the brand — the reputation — that you’re trying to create for yourself. What kind of customer are you catering to? This should govern the kind of experiences your brand should impart. For example, if you sell gourmet or high-quality foods, your store probably should smell like food — but not the greasy kind of food; it should smell the gourmet part. Similarly, the music you play should be appreciated by the audience that you want to attract through your doors. What do they listen to? Play that.

Of course, you already knew about relevance. You’re here to learn something new.

Let’s look at the second word in the title; uniqueness. A study by Pezdek et al. [21] found that the recall of an environment that was unique — had unexpected features — was much higher than an environment that had features that were expected — or normal.

But wait, that sounds a little bit contradictory, doesn’t it? It sort of is. The challenge that you face as a brand genius is to come up with ways to make your brand unique and relevant at the same time. How do you do that? Think back to Coca-Cola and their unique bottle. It is relevant because it is used to deliver their product (the drink), but unique in its shape. Similarly, Subway restaurants smell appetising (which is relevant) and unique — you can only ever describe the smell of Subway as… well, the smell of Subway.

It seems simple, doesn’t it?

Truth be told — it is simple. All you have to do to create a brand for yourself or your company is to create experiences for your customers that are relevant to the image that you want to portray and are unique so that your customers will remember it.

But if it is that simple, why can’t we remember more brands by their smell or their sound, or their touch? You might argue that they don’t try to create relevant or unique experiences for their customers but given the sheer amount of resources companies devote to marketing and brand management, this is highly unlikely.

We think it’s more to do with our next point — keeping the experiences consistent.

Keeping it consistent.

While many organisations might be creating relevant and unique experiences, they may not necessarily be keeping these experiences consistent. Let’s take the Subway example again. Why can we recognise the smell of Subway from a distance? Because it’s consistent. Every Subway restaurant smells the same. To the point where we actually noticed when one Subway restaurant here in Brisbane didn’t smell the same as all the others.

A study by Delgado-Ballester et al. [22] established that consistency was vital in increasing brand recall for unfamiliar brands. Unfortunately, most startups have unfamiliar brands. So, consistency is your friend.

How can you keep your relevant, unique experiences consistent?

Simple — do it all. the. time. Does your brand have its own scent? Put it in the packaging. In your office. In your uniform. In your shoes. Does it favour a certain genre of music? Play that everywhere. Is your brand coarse to the touch? Print your cards, flyers, brochures on coarse paper.

Take for example what we do here at Heurist. Our uniforms are consistent, along with our accessories. We all use the same fountain pens. We all use the same cologne. We write in blue. We envelope our business cards and wax seal them. We print our proposals and envelope them too. Every single experience we offer our customers is done with purpose and consistency.

Heurist cards and wax seal

The result? People remember us. They recognise us from across the room. They know what we do just by the nature of the experience we impart upon them. 

Heurist uniform

That’s what consistency achieves for us, and what it can achieve for you, too.

4/4 : What can you take away from this article?

Your brand is your reputation — a set of associations your customers make with you [23]. The reality is, you create a brand in the minds of your customers regardless of whether or not you want to. So, you may as well make it a brand worth remembering, right?

Unfortunately, not all brands are as memorable as they can be. On the bright side, it means that yours can cut through the clutter. Engage your customers with experiences that stimulate all 5 of the senses if you can. Multisensory brand experiences give you the ability to ramp up your customers’ purchase intent towards your brand on a psychological level.

Brands are built over time through multiple experiences that are imparted upon customers. Creating a multisensory brand boils down to two key factors: relevance and consistency. By creating relevant, unique brand experiences to share with your customers and applying these experiences with consistency , you can build yourself a multisensory brand that customers can engage with. A brand that they engage with is a brand they intend to purchase from, and will remember with ease.

All in a day’s work.

[1] M. Lindström, “Brand sense,” Auto-Tech Bus. B. Summ., vol. 15, no. 1, p. 16, 2006.

[2] Viacom Inc., Sonic Branding: Coca-Cola. YouTube, 2017.

[3] M. Reimann, J. Zaichkowsky, C. Neuhaus, T. Bender, and B. Weber, “Aesthetic package design : A behavioral , neural , and psychological investigation,” J. Consum. Psychol., vol. 20, no. 4, pp. 431–441, 2010.

[4] Y. Soudry, C. Lemogne, D. Malinvaud, S. M. Consoli, and P. Bonfils, “Olfactory system and emotion: Common substrates,” Eur. Ann. Otorhinolaryngol. Head Neck Dis., vol. 128, no. 1, pp. 18–23, 2011.

[5] E. A. Krusemark, L. R. Novak, D. R. Gitelman, and W. Li, “When the Sense of Smell Meets Emotion: Anxiety-State-Dependent Olfactory Processing and Neural Circuitry Adaptation,” J. Neurosci., vol. 33, no. 39, pp. 15324–15332, 2013.

[6] R. Herz, “I KNOW WHAT I LIKE : UNDERSTANDING ODOR PREFERENCES A Sense of Smell Institute White Paper UNDERSTANDING ODOR PREFERENCES Department of Psychology Prepared exclusively for the Sense of Smell Institute The Research & Education Division of The Fragrance Fou,” no. March, 2014.

[7] P. F. Bone, D. Ph, P. A. M. S. Ellen, and D. Ph, “Scents in The Marketplace : Explaining a Fraction of Olfaction,” vol. 75, no. 304, pp. 243–262, 1999.

[8] E. Kang, C. A. Boger, and K.-J. Back, “The impact of sensory environments on Spagoer’s emotion and behavioural intention,” 2011.

[9] J. M. C. Donnell, “Music, scent and time preferences for waiting lines.”

[10] J. Peck and T. L. Childers, “To Have and To Hold: The Influence of Haptic Information on Product Judgments,” J. Mark., vol. 67, no. 2, pp. 35–48, 2003.

[11] A. Krishna and M. Morrin, “Does Touch Affect Taste? The Perceptual Transfer of Product Container Haptic Cues,” J. Consum. Res., vol. 34, no. 6, pp. 807–818, 2008.

[12] S. Mueller, P. Osidacz, I. L. Francis, and L. Lockshin, “Filling the gap — how do sensory and marketing attributes interact in consumer choice ?,” pp. 223–229, 2003.

[13] J. Jaraved, “emotions, sensations, and customers: what online marketers need to know.,” Heurist — the brand developers. blog., 2018. .

[14] “What is the ‘Subway Smell’?,” Reddit, 2011. [Online]. Available: https://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/lvs27/what_is_the_subway_smell/. [Accessed: 05-Dec-2018].

[15] S. Farrington and L. Cooper, “Subway boss on the sandwich chain’s ‘distinctive’ bread smell,” BBC News, 2017.

[16] R. Klara, “How Colgate, the Famous Minty Goop, Found Its Way Onto Your Toothbrush,” Adweek, 2015. [Online]. Available: https://www.adweek.com/brand-marketing/how-colgate-famous-minty-goop-found-its-way-your-toothbrush-165322/.

[17] Kantar Worldpanel, “2018 Brand Footprint: A Global Ranking of the Most Chosen Consumer Brands,” 2018.

[18] Coca-Cola, “‘One Brand’ & ‘Taste the Feeling’: Marketing Fact Sheet — Australia,” 2016.

[19] Coca-Cola, “Product and Ingredient Safety,” 2012. [Online]. Available: https://www.coca-colacompany.com/stories/quality. [Accessed: 05-Dec-2018].

[20] B. Hulten, “Sensory marketing : the multi-sensory brand-experience concept,” no. August, 2015.

[21] K. Pezdek et al., “Memory for Real-World Scenes : The Role of Consistency With Schema Expectation,” vol. 15, no. 4, pp. 587–595, 1989.

[22] E. D. Ballester and M. Sicilia, “Revitalising brands through communication messages : the role of brand familiarity,” no. February, 2012.

[23] P. Kotler, K. L. Keller, and S. Burton, Marketing Management, 1st ed. Frenchs Forest: Pearson Education Australia, 2009.

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