Sensory Branding

29. January 2021, MAXFIVE

When it comes to shopping, it’s no longer the product that takes centre stage – there are many more things behind that all-important purchasing decision than we think.


customer expectations
Sensory Branding

In the beginning – there was the product

First impressions dictate whether a product is purchased or not. Many companies are now working with sensory branding in a bid to awaken customers’ curiosity and induce them into putting their hand in their pocket. The process is all about drawing a customer’s attention to a product through as many senses as possible.
Until recently companies had been focusing on just two: sight and sound. But in the past few years, touch, taste and smell have started playing a decisive role in sales.

The early days of sensory branding are still recent, and it was only after the dawn of the new millennium that companies and researchers started to give the subject any serious thought. This is also illustrated by the fact that the first academic conference dedicated to the topic, organised and led by Professor sensory branding pioneer Aradanha Krishna, did not take place until 2008. The conference proved to be a watershed moment, with more and more companies subsequently developing an interest in this marketing discipline from that point on.

Customer loyalty – how do I become unique?

As first impressions count, sensory branding is becoming increasingly important from a sales point of view. Customers need to be given a unique feeling – not just when making the purchase, but every time they pick up the product they bought. Important aspects include appearance, design, shape, how it feels in their hands, material and sound, colour, taste and smell. Clearly not all of these are applicable for every product, but with sensory branding it is important to bring as many of them into the fold as possible.

The look – “Ooh! An apple…”

External appearances carry a great deal of weight. Studies show that sight accounts for 83% of the way that a product is perceived. A key aspect that comes into play right at the start of the sensory branding process is acknowledging that a product is only as good as its packaging. Does it appeal to me in some way and trigger my interest in its contents? Or is it dull and not immediately intuitive and ends up going straight back onto the shelf?

“Good packaging not only wraps up the product, it also reels in the customer.” – Werner Mitsch

Apple is a great example of sensory branding done the right way:
the elegant rectangular white packaging gives the customer the feeling that they have made absolutely the right decision – all show, and all substance. The hard white card, paired with supremely legible text inscribed on the outside, gives the box a simple yet elegant aesthetic that has been striking a chord with customers for years. And then comes the moment that the packaging is opened: the three seconds that it takes for the base of the packaging to slide out of the top part feel like a countdown and transform the unboxing routine into an experience. People are familiar with it, and people love it.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” – Leonardo Da Vinci

But it is not just in its packaging that Apple plays a pioneering role in sensory branding. The product itself gives the user a good feeling every time they use it. The beautifully-shaped silver metal of the MacBook and the glowing apple on Apple’s laptops instantly made them head turners with an undeniably strong USP. It is no different with the iPhone, whose design led other brands to lay out their smartphones almost exactly the same way. Despite this, there is still something unique about unpacking an Apple product, and that is indispensable when it comes to customer loyalty.


Looking from the outside, the colour of the packaging in combination with the logo plays a crucial role. Colour schemes can significantly raise a product’s recall values. For many years certain colours have accompanied certain products, such as the striking red of Coca-Cola, McDonald’s golden arches or the simple black Nike swoosh. Colours and logos ensure that customers make subconscious connections and that perhaps even that they are reminded of the brands more often than they realise.

Sound – “Whoever has ears, let them hear”

Sound is also an important tool for a brand. Every single one of us recognises the noise the Skype app makes when it opens. In combination with the blue and white logo, the app has strong recall values. And the 20th Century Fox melody at the start of many films is also well known and has people humming along involuntarily. Everyone can think of the melody that plays when their Windows PC boots up. Slogans and jingles can get stuck in our head, meaning that we find ourselves constantly reminded of that particular brand or product.

Smell – “Mmm: new!”

Smell is another interesting sense, and an increasingly common focus of sensory branding. In many hotels there is a pleasant ambient fragrance hanging in the air. But what few people appreciate is that it is all part of their marketing efforts. More and more hotels are commissioning their own scents which are then used in the individual rooms. When guests take the shower gels home with them, they are instantly reminded of the great time they had and long to return. But the smell of a certain drink or food can also get people salivating. Dunkin’ Donuts piped in the scent of fresh coffee in buses in South Korea, which had an appreciable impact on sales in branches close to bus stops. For years now, car makers have been working on ways to preserve that elusive new car smell for as long as possible.

What remains – sense and sensibility

Times have changed and customer expectations with them. Around 20 years ago advertising was unrecognisable, compared to its current form. But since digital media have successful worked their way into all parts of our lives, anyone can find out about any product anywhere in the world. Back then design, practical considerations or similar factors were decisive. All that mattered was that a product worked, and continued to do so for as long as possible. But things are different in this day and age: more and more details have to be taken into consideration to ensure that customers respond to a product with all the senses. Quality alone is not enough. In times of oversupply, uniqueness is king. The more senses that a product appeals to, the more likely a customer is to select it.

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