Designing multisensory brand experiences

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By Sarah Le Faucheur & Carlos Velasco at the Center for Multisensory Marketing, Department of Marketing, BI Norwegian Business School.

Marketers know that visual design is critical for brands. If the brand’s look isn’t appealing enough to the eyes of the consumer it might just not do well in the market. In recent years, however, many researchers and practitioners have started to uncover the role that other senses (such as hearing, touch, taste, smell) can have in brand differentiation. Just think of the smell of Abercrombie & Fitch, the characteristic sound of Snapple, or the recent strategy of Stella Artois in which they worked with The Roots to create specific songs to enhance the sweet and bitter notes of its beer. Yes, that’s right! Music can influence the perception of a beer, and brands are capitalizing on this.

Many brands are now considering different human senses in order to differentiate from their competitors.

The idea of differentiating brands through the way they look is turning into differentiating brands through the way they look, sound, feel, smell, and even taste. This approach is now considered in everything from logos, through packaging and websites, to advertising and events. Let’s look at some examples.

In 2012, Dunkin’ Donuts launched a campaign, namely “Flavor Radio”, that reinvented the traditional radio advertisement.

The brand installed coffee aroma dispensers in different buses in Seoul, South Korea, which were designed to be triggered by the brand’s jingle sound when presented in radio ads. This unique campaign based on sound and smell, and also visual ads in bus stops, intended to remind the commuters of Dunkin’ Donuts. According to the brand, more than 350,000 people experienced the ad during the campaign, leading to an increase of 16% to the number of visitors of Dunkin’ Donuts and an increase in sales of 29%.

More recently, Finnair decided to capitalize on research suggesting that music and (airplane cabin) noise can modify the perception of foods and drinks to innovate on their inflight food menus. In particular, after having travelled to different Nordic countries and gathering field recordings (streams, crackling tree branches, wind), Finnair chef Steven Liu created three signature foods + soundscape menus. For instance, the sweet corn and chicken soup with coriander oil dish is featured with bubbling sounds. Their suggestion is that this may boost freshness, and that harmonic frequencies may emphasize sweet tastes (read more here).

Another example comes from Guinness. The beer brand has recently brought a virtual reality (VR) beer tasting experience to Tesco stores across the UK. By using technologies such as VR, brands can immerse consumers in multisensory environments where they experience colours, textures, movements, and sounds that are meant to enhance the flavour profiles of the beer. Thus, the voice of Guinness master brewer Peter Simpson guides the consumer through the experience by telling them exactly when they should taste and smell the beers. In parallel, intelligent cups equipped with chips sense the amount of drink remaining and activate the digital multisensory environment accordingly, thus enhancing flavours and aromas. For instance, the grapefruit smell of Hop House 13 is reinforced with brightly-coloured, fast and angular shapes, along with high-pitched sounds to enhance the bitterness of the beer (read more here).

Multisensory branding is one of the topics that we’re studying at BI’s Center for Multisensory Marketing. For example, in a recent study, we evaluated people’s associations between packaging multisensory attributes (shapes, sounds, tastes) and the concept of premiumness in beer brands. We observed a positive relationship between premiumness and visual roundness and balance in design, glossiness and roughness, expected packaging loudness and pitch, and properties such whether the beer was expected to be cooling, refreshing, thirst-quenching, and crisp. All-in-all, it appears that those beer brands that emphasize such attributes in their packaging may also be perceived as more premium.

In conclusion, not only visual design but also multisensory design matters. Next time you interact with any brand (which will likely happen very soon!), think about the role that different multisensory information (what you see, hear, feel, taste, smell) is playing in your experience of the brand.

Are you interested in multisensory marketing? We’re currently looking for participants for a study (on April 9th, April 16th, April 20th, and April 30th 2018) where you’re given a beer and NOK 100 to tell us how you associate the beer’s flavour to colours, shapes, and sounds. It only takes 20 minutes. Write us! Contact:

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