Advertisers are always finding novel ways to help businesses and consumers engage efficiently so that the brand stands out in the clutter of promotions around us. Roadsides are filled with billboard ads, popular TV shows are bookended with advertisements and the Internet is replete with popup ads (some misplaced if one gives it a somber reading) and social influencer posts. Businesses need (and, for the consumers’ sake, should find) less-intrusive ways of reaching out to and engaging with consumers more efficiently. Fortunately, the field of sensory marketing offers quite a few interesting solutions.
For example, beer tastes better in a chilled beer glass than in a steel coffee tumbler. Ever wondered why a crisp potato chip tastes better than a soggy one (even though the ingredients are the same)? This is because our senses drive a lot of the decisions that we make, eventually, affecting our purchase decisions as a consumer. The atmosphere that we experience as consumers – smell of the subway bread, the temperature while shopping, the ‘elevator’ music among other sensory indicators critically influences what we purchase or consume, how we do so and why. This is so because our senses- touch, smell, taste, audition, and vision grasp and perceive changes in the atmosphere around us. By making changes in the retail atmosphere, marketers can enable subconscious triggers that influence a consumer’s responses. The aim is to “engage” the consumer by persuasion rather by deliberation. Hence, it becomes essential for marketers to understand how they can use sensory cues to improve a consumer’s shopping experience.
Psychological research suggests that our decision making and judgment is very much guided by what our body experiences and how it responds. Our thinking and feelings are influenced by the close inter-linkages between our body, mind and the environment. Thus, mental activity is essentially grounded in sensory experience, i.e., how one makes decisions is embedded in what one senses through one’s body and, taking it further, what the immediate environment provides as sensory cues for this process. A thing to note is that most of this phenomenon occurs without our explicit intent or awareness (You might not have known or realized that a crunchier potato chip feels tastier before you started reading this article!). For example, a study showed how experiencing physical warmth made one feel more socially warm, i.e., one felt more interpersonal affection. On the other hand, experiencing physical coldness made one feel socially cold, i.e., socially excluded. It seems that people can end up feeling warmer, donate more to charity and cheat less if the level of brightness in their surroundings was increased. Neuroscience further sheds light on such sensory phenomena. Various studies have shown that sensory perception regions are situated in close proximity to memory processing regions. For example, experiencing moral disgust activates neural systems that overlap with those that are activated when one experiences physical disgust. Another study demonstrated that people in a cold temperature condition invested less with an anonymous partner as compared to those in a warm temperature condition. Why does this happen? fMRI studies that were done showed how the neurological structures that get activated when one experiences physical warmth are structurally associated with those that get activated when trust violation is experienced. Furthermore, what is interesting is that the relationship is bidirectional – sensory experiences can affect our emotions and judgment but our emotions and decisions can also affect what we physically start sensing. As an example, while one of the studies mentioned above demonstrated how experiencing physical coldness leads to one feeling socially cold or excluded, another study showed how feeling socially excluded made one feel physically cold. Thus, there exists a strong, intertwined relationship between the body, mind and the environment that can help explain what makes people respond the way they do, or in managerial terms, what makes a consumer tick!
We believe that businesses would benefit from the understanding of how to reach out to the consumer in a more efficient, direct and non-intrusive manner, especially amidst the clutter of advertising that breeds a paradox of choice and decision fatigue among the consumers. The solutions that sensory marketing delivers for businesses are actually quite simple and utilize currently active resources in their infrastructure. For example, subtle and relevant changes in temperature, sound, and light in retail settings could positively influence consumers’ purchase decisions. And sometimes, it might all be just about timing!
A study showed how physical coldness leads to an increased liking for romantic movies. Hence, it would do good for movie studios to release their romantic genre movies in winter. Sensory marketing also holds a wonderful potential to execute social change and enhance consumer well-being. Subtle changes in lighting or temperature can help an individual correct her mood. This can be put to use in healthcare service settings, mental therapy environments, gymnasiums etc. to aid a consumer in her pursuit of better emotional and physical health. Similarly, aspects like willpower and self-regulation can be amplified, as was demonstrated by a study which showed how a simple, non-monetary and independent act of just firming one’s muscles can help one summon more willpower and augment self-regulation.
In conclusion, the fascinating field of sensory marketing has much to contribute to businesses as well as consumers. We aim to tap the immense potential that the field offers in terms of research contribution as it is still in its infancy compared to other marketing fields. After all, it only makes sense to do so!
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors’ and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.