A sneak peak into sensory branding experiences
When we first moved to Los Angeles, I had the idea to combine two passions of mine, cooking and discovering more about the senses. So I created a new type of dining experience; one that would use all of the senses in order to bring more awareness to how they are connected.
What triggered this idea?
Working in the flavor and fragrance industry for almost a decade, I became fascinated with the senses and how they have a strong influence on buying behavior.
Imagine for a second you are watching TV and a commercial comes on for the latest perfume. Close your eyes and think about the commercial. What do you see, hear, feel, or taste? What memories do you associate with what you see?
The fragrance industry is extremely skilled at sensory marketing. Why? Well let’s face it, there are thousands of fragrances introduced each year and it is technically considered an impulse buy. Therefore, they need to pull on our emotions by tantalizing our senses so we are left feeling we need the fragrance to live in that dream world they are portraying!
Now imagine your favorite dish at one of your favorite restaurants. What is it that makes it appealing? Is it just the taste of the dish or a combination of the taste and how it looks on the plate? What about the price of the dish, or the décor in the restaurant or even the music playing in the background?
Did you even consider these factors when you thought about your favorite dish and restaurant? Most likely not, but unconsciously these are the things that go into our purchasing decisions.
But what is the science behind this and how does it actually work?
These were the types of questions which triggered my curiosity for learning more about sensory marketing and how it impacts our purchasing decisions.
I decided to start reading as much as I could on the topic and to experiment with these concepts using a medium I am very passionate about, food. After all, taste is one of the most underutilized senses in marketing but it super powerful because it is the fusion of all the senses.
How did I bring the idea to life?
I created a five course menu which involved simple exercises targeting each of the five senses (smell, touch, sound, taste and sight) in order to experiment with sensory perception and ultimately see if this experience is interesting to people and if they would learn something new about the senses and/or themselves.
What kind of sensory exercises did i create?
One way I focused on our sense of smell was by asking guests to put on blindfolds for a smelling test. I passed around a few ingredients to smell and then asked the guests to remove their blindfolds and write down what they smelled.
The guests were surprised to learn that we recall smells in different ways. Some people can name the exact ingredient while others can only use descriptions and then there are others who can only recall certain memories involving the smell.
Why would this type of dining experience matter to people?
Besides breathing and sleeping, eating is life’s most vital activity. But for the most part we eat on auto-pilot and forget how essential it is. In today’s fast paced and busy world, we are influenced by large FMCG (fast moving consumer good) companies or large restaurant chains conveying the message that “faster is better!” This leaves us feeling that we should make choices based on convenience rather than enjoyment.
In addition, we are surrounded by technology which encourages us to be connected to our phones rather than the people and things in front of us.
Lastly, research shows that in today’s world consumers crave “experiences” more than anything else.
So I decided to take the opportunity to create a new type of dining experience which would encourage people to slow down, in order to enjoy their meal. I did this by encouraging guests to use their senses in a unique way.
Why did people enjoy this dining experience?
Everyone that participated in my dinners raved about the experience. But why? There were several reasons but two stood out the most:
1) They were actually able to slow down and experience real conversations with each other without any other distractions
2) They actually learned something new about themselves which opened their minds
What did people learn?
Since I surveyed people after the dinner, here are a few testimonials of what people learned:
“I had no idea how powerful sight is in making choices about my food.”
“I am better with identifying smells than I would have thought.”
“I was surprised to learn that taste is a muscle you can strengthen and train!”
“I enjoy food more when I close my eyes and take my time.”
“I had no idea how much memory and smell influence what I taste!”
Why is this important to sensory marketing?
Though many companies are becoming more consciously aware of the importance of sensory marketing there are very few who are skilled at the execution.
If we are just looking at the dining experience example, after doing the research and before embarking on my own project, I could find only a handful of restaurants that are intentionally stimulating all the senses. Some examples include, Ultraviolet in Shanghai, China; Opaque in Santa Monica, California; or El Bulli in Catalonia, Spain. These pioneers in molecular gastronomy are not only using chemistry to entertain their guests but they are also creating a multi-sensorial experience to create a completely different dining experience. Of course, this comes at a high ticket price of as much as 250 euros per plate!
The key takeaway for branding and marketing professionals is that by only focusing on one or two senses you are missing out on other ways to engage customers. And since customers are engaged in different ways, the more senses you leverage for your brand the more chances you have to engage your customer and the more likely they will buy into your brand.
However, in order to be good at sensory marketing you must understand more than just how the senses interact but also how to use multi-sensory cues without overwhelming or confusing the consumer. This is not just a science but an art which involves a balance of both.
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