Sensing the Market

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Sensing the Market

Perception doesn’t only impact the way we think but also infl uences the way we make and store memories.

--By Saurav Satyal

As social animals we are perceptive beings; however, the dominant role our senses play in how we perceive the world has remained something of a mystery up to now. 

However, in recent years, with the development of the field of marketing and neuro science, scientists have started to understand the way the five senses interact with one another in the brain to influence our perception of everything from the food on our plate to the environments in which we live and work.  

The theory of perception and implications are astounding in the real world, from the perception of the colour of a car to the golden MacBook that we see around. Perception doesn’t only impact the way we think but also influences the way we make and store memories.

For example, the business of selling fabric conditioners can influence the perception of the customers. Adding the right fragrance (i.e. smell) to a fabric conditioner makes clothes ‘feel’ softer. Add a ‘clean’ smell and whites may even appear ‘whiter’, provided the combination of multi-sensory cues are correct (what we call congruent), and it brings dramatic benefits.  

A research conducted by Aradhana Krishana, a professor at the University of Michigan, states that a product’s fragrance can appear 30 percent more intense if the consumer’s other senses are also stimulated, and food and drink will taste more than 10 percent sweeter when given a suitable colouring.  

A research conducted by scholars in France has said that even expert wine tasters can be fooled into thinking they’re drinking red wine, simply by adding colouring to white wine. 

Such discoveries are leading companies to develop packaging with multi-sensory appeal. For example, wrapping for crust less bread is now coated with a soft-touch lacquer, to echo the softness of the product.  

For other products that are expensive and delicate, the soft texture of the packaging helps customers relate to the delicateness of the product increasing the perceived quality.

Pandering to the sense of touch is important– the skin is our largest sense organ. 

Fragrance companies such as Prada and Polo have introduced testers in their promotion pamphlets which induces smells when rubbed, which will not only create an immediate impact, since the sense of smell can be triggered every time when the contact sees or rubs the paper again. Another company perfumes its packaging to mask any smells that might make people think the product had been on the shelf for some time.  

Sound too is important in shaping consumer expectations. Why else are crisps so often sold in noisy packets? And most Japanese car manufacturers have, for years, recognised one key selling point– the sound a car door makes when it closes.

Sensory Signatures and Brand Recognition 
In the past, industries that focused on the creative aspect discovered the multi-sensory phenomena through serendipity. But with marketers, psychologists and cognitive neuroscientists now uncovering the fundamental rules underlying multi-sensory perception, there is a real opportunity for manufacturers to develop ‘signature’ sensory attributes that can be uniquely associated with their brand.  

Companies have, for years, tried to protect their ‘brand’ colours– think of HTC mobile’s green or Kodak’s yellow. Product sounds (or ‘signature sounds’) are also often strongly associated with a particular product. Nokia, HTC, Samsung have gone to great lengths to try to patent the sound of its startup window. Beer and cola manufacturers are trying to vary the hiss of cans and bottles as they are opened. 

It won’t be long before companies start mass-producing products and packaging that have a ‘signature feel’ and/or ‘signature smell’. British Airlines has already experimented with a signature scent, ‘Meadow Grass’, released in all of its executive lounges in airports worldwide.  

Marketers are now using multi-sensory appeal. One perfume has ‘I sense therefore I am’ as a strapline. Unilever has released five new Magnum ice creams, each one targeted at a different sense. Tourist boards are doing the same. You can ‘Come to your senses in Helsinki’, and holidays in Scotland promise that you will not only ‘see it’, but also ‘hear it’, feel it’ and even ‘smell it’.  

The tourism board of Scotland has also incorporated sensory branding in the visit Scotland campaign by focusing on all the five aspects.

Increasingly, brand owners are trying to create emotional attachments for their products in the minds of their consumers. Traditional media (TV and radio) are fundamentally limited in this regard: hearing and vision are rational senses and have a very weak link to the emotional centres of the brain.  

The challenge is to stimulate a consumer’s more emotional senses, such as touch, smell, and taste (which have direct links to the emotional centres in the brain). This is one of the reasons why advertisers and marketers are looking at ways to include a ‘synesthetic’ element in their advertising.  

In Nepal, businesses have not focused much on these strategies to connect with the customers, and building a stronger brand. But with the increasing choices and niche market, organisations have to work towards creating a signature experience.

The writer teaches marketing at King’s College and his research interest is on sensory marketing.

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