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Why Synesthetic Experiences Make Sense for Branding

We like to think that the choices we make are based on rational analysis. But fMRI neuro-imagery reveals that when we evaluate brands, our emotions—in the form of feelings and past experiences—have more impact on the decision-making process than the functional attributes of the brand’s service or product. The fact that emotion plays this key role is well known to marketers, who’ve been attempting to predispose audiences to their brands through emotional triggers for decades.

We are now in a new era of branding: Today, consumers have more control over which brands they incorporate into their personal ecosystems. The more brands they allow in, the more connected they become, through a growing array of sensors, devices, and the Internet of Things, which brands across the board have adopted. Marketers have the opportunity to trigger the emotional responses that drive decision-making via those devices and sensors—The Age of You has heralded a new era in sensory marketing.

Sensory marketing techniques can become key elements in the experience principles brands incorporate into their strategies. These principles establish and maintain branded connections with audiences through a set of strategic rules and guidelines that shape the experiences brands wish to consistently deliver to individuals.

These sensory techniques can be deployed in ways that are subtle or substantial. An IMAX experience, for example, floods us with sensory input: Subsonic frequencies shake our bodies; High-resolution imagery and 3D technology amp up the realism; Real time system adjustments keep the audience deeply immersed, from the first scene to the final credits.

Marriott Hotels’ Teleporter uses Oculus Rift, plus heaters and misters, to provide guests with a virtual Hawaii beach experience, complete with sun and spray on their skin.

British Airways takes a more subtle approach by employing sound to augment the passenger experience. Because our taste buds don’t perform as well when we fly, the airline has harnessed proven audio science to enhance the flavor of in-flight meals. “Your ability to taste is reduced by 30 percent in the air, so we do everything we can to counteract this,” says British Airways chef Mark Tazzioli, in a Skift interview. “The sonic seasoning research is fascinating, and our pairings should really help bring out the flavors.”

Low frequency sounds bring out the bitterness in foods, while high frequency sounds accentuate sweetness. With this formula as a foundation, British Airways now provides a music playlist called Sound Bite, which is designed to make meals and wine taste better at 35,000 feet. In the near future, expect the alcoholic beverages you pick up at your local store on the way home to come with pairing notes for food and music.

Sensory effects can also be triggered at the deepest levels of the brain, well below our level of awareness. This explains why the scent of cinnamon seems to make a heating pad work more effectively; why cabernet sauvignon tastes better in a wine glass than it does in a juice glass; why a warmer room can make a focus group more likely to conform to one person’s opinion. When multiple senses are engaged simultaneously, they amplify each other to intensify an experience. Sensory signals have the power to elevate a consumer’s logical cost-benefit consideration to an emotionally-driven purchase decision.

The senses can also be tapped in order to amplify buyers’ connections (and ultimate loyalty) to the brands they bring into their ecosystems. BMW’s M5 stereo system simulates the sound of a twin-turbocharged V-8 engine, which is locked in sync with the M5’s real 560-horsepower engine already lurking under the hood. This virtual combination accentuates the driving experience, delivering an extra frisson of thrill when one puts pedal to metal. As auto brands continue to adapt to individuals’ tastes, drivers should be able to download a range of engine sound options and choose among them to suit their various driving moods.

As a marketer, are you considering all five senses when you think about the experience principles that guide the interplay between your brand and your audiences? While all of the senses are important in marketing, most companies only utilize sight in their marketing efforts. In the Age of You, creating experiences that will be emotional and memorable means putting the full power of the senses to work for your brand.


Senior Director, Creative
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