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Experience design best practices: Sensory marketing



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Our senses fuel our perceptions of the objects and events that surround us. Yet as marketers we're often limited to just two of them—sight and sound.

How much more compelling could brand experiences be if we used the science of perception to design better, more persuasive interactions—taking into account all of our senses?

In our latest white paper, we explain how an experiential approach harnesses the science of the senses to create more effective, more engaging experiences that amplify your message and brand.

Experience design best practices: Sensory marketing

  1. 1 Experiential coding The science behind experience design
  2. 2 Introducing experiential coding As marketers, we’re in the persuasion business, yet psychology and science rarely enter the conversation. Doesn’t this seem strange? If we want to become more effective at changing consumer behaviour, why don’t we delve deeper into behavioural economics? Or gain a clearer understanding of what attention is, and how it works, so that we can help brands “cut-through” the clutter? We live in a time of great advances in many different fields. This is creating a new reality for brands, and a deeper understanding of the unconscious forces that shape how we think, feel and behave. It simply makes sense to combine these forces with people’s inherent desire for stimulation and engagement to create better experiences for brands. At Jack, we’re not cognitive scientists; we’re in the business of creative communications. But we do use science to better connect people to brands. We’ve been codifying and distilling the research available, so that we can build better experiences by applying these insights in a systematic way. We call this approach experiential coding. Lewis Robbins Associate Strategist
  3. 3 73% of UK and US millenials crave experiences that stimulate their senses. JWT Report, 2013
  4. The new science of the senses Many brands have a blind spot when it comes to the senses. As marketers, we’ve been trained to think in terms of images and words—thus the old “art and copy” model of the Mad Men era. It’s almost too obvious to say that we live in a multisensory world. Our senses are the bedrock of our experiences; they’re rich, vivid, immediate. The more they are stimulated, the more memorable an experience will be, because they activate more of our brains. A single scent can stir the emotions and take us back to a forgotten place. Stimulating the senses stimulates new ways of thinking, feeling and behaving—so just think of what brands can accomplish by taking a more multi- sensory approach to designing their brand experiences. This paper focuses on how harnessing a scientific understanding of all the senses can create more effective, more engaging experiences. Forego the dominance of sight and sound, trigger all the senses, and you’ll lift people’s imaginations—and your brand. 4
  5. How? Based on years of experience in designing and tracking the effectiveness of brand experiences, we see three key ways that brands can leverage the new science of the senses to impact the feelings, understanding and actions of their customers and influencers. 5 Intensify Engage multiple senses to create more memorable experiences Evoke Stimulate senses that build emotional relationships Embody Use sensory metaphors to show what your brand stands for
  6. 6 Thinking about your brands in terms of pictures, not just words, is really powerful, but why wouldn’t you use all the senses? Three- dimensional marketing is about a more holistic view of what your brand stands for and is about. Nik Keane, Diageo
  7. 7 Intensify Engage multiple senses to create more memorable experiences Evoke Stimulate senses that build emotional relationships Embody Use sensory metaphors to show what your brand stands for Have you ever wondered why fish and chips never taste as good as the time you ate them by the seaside out of paper? It’s because our taste buds are intrinsically linked to our other senses. It’s not just about what we taste, but also what we see and touch. Press release announcing Heinz’s collaboration with “food architects“ Bompas and Parr.
  8. 8 Intensify Engage multiple senses to create more memorable experiences Science has demonstrated that experiences become more intensely memorable when multiple senses are triggered in concert. As a practical matter, our senses overlap, blend together and combine to create our experience of the world; understanding how senses can work together represents an opportunity for brands. The food industry presents an excellent case study of exactly this “cross-modal” nature of the senses—and indeed, a team of scientists at Oxford University have studied how contextual perceptions frame our experiences of food. Among the Laboratory’s findings: Touch Weight and materials matter. Yoghurts eaten with a silver spoon taste creamier and more expensive than those eaten with lightweight imitation cutlery. Sound The lab found that we associate higher notes with sweetness, and lower notes with bitterness. Adrian North of Heriot- Watt University found that background music influences wine tasting. Three groups drank the same wine, but assigned different characteristics based on the pitch and tempo of the background music they heard. Colour Desserts eaten from white plates were rated as 10% sweeter than those served on black plates. When the laboratory teamed up with researchers at the Polytechnic University of Valencia, they found that orange cups deliver the most intense flavour of hot chocolate; cream cups scored highest for aroma and sweetness.
  9. 9 Intensify Outside the food industry, several brands demonstrate an apparent understanding of this cross-modal quality of the senses. We all experience a level of synesthesia, a phenomenon where “cross-wiring” in the brain means that one sense triggers another, so people may “taste” scents or “see” sounds. It may have been the inspiration behind an interactive experience that promoted Sonos wireless systems in both New York and the Sonos headquarters in LA, bringing to life their tagline of “Fill Your Home with Music”. Colours and animations, generated by the music, were projection-mapped onto four minimalist rooms, creating a multisensory exploration that enabled participants to see music and hear colours.
  10. 10 Intensify Hero your product to create an unforgettable experience When Bompas and Parr created The Tasting Rooms for the Guinness Storehouse in Ireland, the taste of Guinness was at the centre of every design decision. They worked with flavour scientists to define the environmental factors that served to enhance taste perception, creating customised soundscapes and the vaporised scent of hops, barley, malt and wheat. In The Velvet Chamber, where visitors learn to drink Guinness correctly, the taste and texture of the beer was translated into “sensual and luxurious” design language.
  11. 11 Intensify Engage multiple senses to create more memorable experiences Evoke Stimulate senses that build emotional relationships Embody Use sensory metaphors to show what your brand stands for The [McLaren Technology Centre] emotionalises my brand. I asked Norman [Foster, British Architect] if he could conceptualise the idea of a mental aftertaste. I wanted it to be 90% NASA, 10% Disney… No one comes to the building without being blown away. And the environment in which you design or work is critical to the mindset. Ron Dennis, McLaren
  12. Evoke Stimulate senses that build emotional relationships We know intuitively that there’s a connection between sensory stimuli and emotional response, and it only makes sense that brands can leverage positive associations to evoke emotions around their brands. Of course emotions are inherently subjective— but there are multiple practical applications for experience design, particularly in physical environments. Light Philips have developed a lighting system for schools where teachers can create the right ambiance for different daytime activities. Four different lighting scenarios—Normal, Focus, Energy and Calm— have been created by combing different wavelengths and intensities of light, supporting the rhythm of activity within the classroom. Scent Scent is the only sense that has a direct line to the limbic system, the part of your brain that processes emotions. Lemon scents have been found to increase concentration, whilst orange and lavender scents have been found to reduce anxiety and improve the mood of dental patients. Hotels leave lavender sprays on your pillow to help you sleep. Colour Blue has been shown to increase creativity, (hence perhaps the dreaded phrase “blue-sky thinking”) whereas red inhibits creativity but amplifies our ability to identify errors. 12
  13. Evoke A deeper understanding of the senses is inspiring designers to create new touchpoints that can cater to previously ignored psychological needs. For example, dedicated “mood spaces” are disrupting typical customer journeys and creating a new kind of value for the customer. “Mood Spaces“ “Switchrooms” in the luxurious ShinQ shopping centre in Japan help female audiences shift mindset from work to play, or vice versa. Soft lighting, gentle colours, soft, curved furnishings and 3D surround music create a comfortable, immersive atmosphere. Visitors can also browse art, browse and apply cosmetics, or experience an “air-shower” booth. In Selfridges’ “The Silence Room”, shoppers can shelter from the bustle of the street in a calm environment, where no mobile phones are allowed. Subdued, coloured lighting and soft grey furnishings create an ambiance that promotes a meditative calm, helping people to unwind. In a hyper-stimulating world where attention is a finite resource, creating such calm spaces can be an important part of the customer journey. 13
  14. Intensify Engage multiple senses to create more memorable experiences Evoke Stimulate senses that build emotional relationships Embody Use sensory metaphors to show what your brand stands for “We understand abstract concepts like morality and understanding by mapping them to more concrete concepts.” Cognitive Scientist, Benjamin K. Bergen 14
  15. Embody Use sensory metaphors to show what your brand stands for Brands are adept at telling stories through traditional media. But many brands struggle to translate these stories into an experience. It’s hard to turn abstract concepts— honesty, integrity, progress—into something tangible. And so for a century or more, communications professionals have typically told people, rather than shown them, what the brand stands for. Yet science has uncovered again and again how sensory stimuli convey values and abstract meaning far more powerful than words—creating metaphors in people’s minds that represent a neglected but potent resource for brands. 15
  16. Embody Morality = Verticality Moving up and down is the ideal scaffold for understanding morality. Virtue is up, depravity is down. Good people are “high-minded”; some perhaps “look down” on bad people, who are “underhand”. Crucially, what we experience with our bodies can drive our actions. Schnall cites the findings of an experiment which took place in a shopping mall, which found that people who had just moved up an escalator were more likely to donate money to a charity box than those who had just moved down an escalator. Difficulty = Harshness. Ease = Smoothness. Priming people with physical sensations can influence a person’s perception and decision-making. In another experiment, volunteers perceived a social interaction to be more difficult if, before undertaking it, they handled puzzle pieces covered in sandpaper. Here, the physical sensation of roughness maps to disagreeability (so metaphorically think of a “rough” day vs. everything going “smoothly”.) Affection = warmth People holding a warm cup of coffee will use warmer language to describe their interaction with a stranger than those who aren’t. The increase was 11%. Another experiment showed that people who had been socially excluded estimated the temperature of a room to be lower than those who hadn’t. This is borne through metaphors like “warm-hearted”, “cold-hearted”, “an icy stare”. Weight = competence, seriousness, importance The sense of “weight” becomes an embodied metaphor for seriousness, respectability and trustworthiness, as evinced by an experiment that showed that people gave more “weight” to CVs that were presented on weighted clipboards. This example also highlights the importance of context—as weight can also denote burden, responsibility. 16 Research in the field of cognitive science holds the key to how sensory design can lift your values of your brand from behind a screen, and bring your story into the living, breathing world. According to Simone Schnall of the Cambridge Embodied Cognition and Emotion Laboratory, these “embodied metaphors” are “a common language of the mind… the building blocks of perception, cognition and thought”.
  17. How to translate values into experience Explicit description [conscious, rational, abstracted, forgotton] Implicit understanding [unconscious, emotional, embodied, remembered] Identify your values and differentiator Microsoft wanted to communicate that Windows8 was “Fast and Fun“ For the Nike Free event in Beijing, Japanese agency Supernature wanted to celebrate freedom of mind, body, and self-expression 1 Identify the metaphors that surround it So they translated the “speed“ of the OS into physical movement - fast, slick, and fluid. They made use of metaphors surrounding freedom - bright, weightless, gentle, spacious 2 Translate these into embodied experiences And build a gigantic slide in a shopping centre The result, “Free Oneself“, was a large, illuminated glass cube, full of white downy feathers, which people gathered in their arms and threw into the air 3 17
  18. 18 What’s next?
  19. 19 A new era of sensory marketing It doesn’t feel overly grand to assert that we’re living in a new era of sensory marketing. The more digitally driven communications become, the more potent and special multi-sensory engagement will feel. And look at our culture: the most celebrated art of recent years has been immersive, encompassing, engaging and yes, multi-sensory. Experiences that move beyond visual spectacle to create a more total experience have proved wildly popular with the public. Think of Olafur Eliasson’s “Weather Project” (2003) at the Tate Modern, or Random International’s Rain Room (2013) at The Museum of Modern Art, or United Visual Artist’s “Momentum” (2014) at the Barbican. If you have any doubt that brands are drawing inspiration from these cultural expressions, just look at Tropicana’s Trafalgar Sun installation. So what’s next for brands? We’ve always believed that creativity drives great business. And every fresh insight into how we’re governed by the senses opens up new ways for brands to engage people. Harnessing and applying the science of the senses can take brands in creative directions that make brand experiences more beautiful, unforgettable and effective than ever before. Lewis Robbins Associate Strategist
  20. Talk to us Contact Melinda Lindland SVP, New Business and Group Account Director Read our blog at Follow us on twitter @jackmorton Visit us online at About Jack Morton We’re a global brand experience agency. We generate breakthrough ideas, connecting brands and people through experiences that transform business. Our portfolio of award-winning work spans 75 years across event marketing, sponsorship marketing, promotion and activation, experience strategy, employee engagement, digital, social, and mobile. Ranked at the top of our field, Jack Morton is part of the Interpublic Group of Companies, Inc. (NYSE: IPG). More information is available at: or @jackmorton © Jack Morton Worldwide 2014 Want to learn more about experiential coding? We’re happy to share more from the JACK Codebook, a resource we use to design better experiences— just drop us a line, and look for more white papers on new experiential coding topics in the months to come. 20