Skip to main content

Visual cues are all very well but don’t forget the other four senses when developing brand codes as they can be just as powerful – if not more so – at creating stand out and appeal.

About 15 years ago I was working in Paris for Guerlain, the great – some would say greatest – perfume house. As part of that work I met with Jean-Paul Guerlain – the last direct member of the family to be the master perfumer and a legend in the beauty industry.

Jean-Paul had recently retired after 50 glorious years creating fragrances like Nahema and Samsara but he was in robust form. We were filming him as part of a quest to identify the brand DNA and codes of Guerlain and I think he enjoyed the chance to tell the new generation a thing or two about perfume, luxury and marketing – which he pronounced with such apparent distaste it made me shudder each time he said it.

He told me a simple story at one point in the interview that he said explained everything. He described an elderly man who entered an elevator and stood next to a woman. The woman just happened to be wearing a fragrance that the old man recognised from his youth. And – despite not having thought of that scent, or the brand, or the original woman that once wore it all those decades ago – the old man’s memories came rushing back with such force he fell to his feet. “C’est ça. That’s it,” Mr Guerlain said and fixed me with his very pale eyes for a second or two to underline the point.

A few months later the team at Guerlain were finishing off their new brand definition. It was a very good piece of work and I can remember telling them exactly that. And yet all of us missed something. In the short and accurate list of brand codes we had forgotten to add anything about smell. Despite it being a singularly important part of Guerlain’s appeal and something that the brand’s most important living executive had emphasised, we went with visual cues only.

It’s one example, from hundreds, of marketing’s overreliance on visual elements and its disregard of the other four senses. While the eye might be the input that people rely on most, it may not be the most potent one to kick start memories, provide salience and generate distinctiveness.

Most good marketing teams have a list of codes or distinctive assets that they consider essential to ensuring their brand comes to mind as quickly and as frequently as possible. But most of these lists are exclusively visual and are possibly missing quite a few sensorial tricks as a result.

The only senior marketer who seems to grasp this point and its significant implications is Mastercard’s much-lauded CMO Raja Rajamannar. He made headlines a couple of years ago when he played with the Mastercard logo and abstracted it to just its two iconic circles. But he has continued to expand and enforce Mastercard’s presence moving beyond the visual realm for effectiveness.

‘People asked if I was smoking something’: Mastercard’s CMO on developing its new sonic branding

“In an increasingly cluttered environment how marketers deploy their brand codes to cut through the noise and the clutter and connect with people has never been more important,” he recently explained. “In traditional marketing marketers relied predominantly on visual cues; colours, logos and so on. In quantum marketing they need to address and leverage as many of the five senses as possible.”

Rajamannar has been as good as his word. His focus on sonic branding has seen Mastercard introduce a distinctive audio asset which you can hear in everything from the acceptance sound when you make a purchase with your Mastercard to the closing jingle of a cinema ad. Sound, like smell, is too often ignored as marketers rely on only visual identifiers.

And the data backs up Mastercard’s move. Eighteen months ago, Ipsos examined which brand assets were generally best at bringing the brand to mind. Their final list showcased brand characters as the most powerful asset most likely to prove effective. But only if you focus on the purple visual options in the chart below. To Ipsos’s credit it also includes sonic brand cues and, as you can see, these assets were – on average – significantly more successful in bringing the brand to mind than any visual option.

Average likelihood of an ad featuring different brand asset types being high vs. low performing on branded attention. Source: Ipsos, The Power of You, 2019

And there is further ammunition to make the case for sonic brands. Soundout, a British company that is a leader in sonic testing is doing some very interesting work on which sonic logos work best. The company has analysed hundreds of what many of us used to call ‘jingles’ to assess how effective they are and the degree of fit the musical cue has with its brand’s personality.

More importantly, its analysis of existing sonic effectiveness is helping it advise brands that lack a sonic dimension on how to use audio in the battle for consumer attention.

The best way to explain Soundout’s work is to look at one of the brands that performs best across the company’s analyses. Just Eat, for example, is one of the most sonically gifted brands in the UK.

The giant food delivery company has spent a lot of money on advertising in recent years, much of it with a strong tactical emphasis on its soulful ‘Did somebody say Just Eat?’. The sonic logo has not only been a focus for its advertising for several years, it is played over and over again within each ad. And whether it’s a suddenly animated cast of TV characters or rapper Snoop Dog delivering the tune, it works wonderfully on its target consumers. And we know that because it outperforms most other British brands on the three dimensions that Soundout rate above all others when it comes to sonic logos.

First, there is propensity to buy. Working with academics at London’s Goldsmiths College, Soundout used an implicit testing method to assess the degree to which the sonic logo did or didn’t improve the perceived value of the brand and thus drive propensity to buy. The Just East sonic effect is extremely pronounced as you can see below.

And the same goes for recall. The degree to which the sonic logo comes to mind among consumers and prompts the brand is also a key factor and something that Just Eat excels at. You can argue that this is partly because the jingle is a lyrical logo – it mentions the brand name in the actual execution. True, but it has other advantages too. It’s a very melodic logo, which also helps drive its success. As does its length – in many instances the Did somebody say Just Eat can extend over five or six seconds.

Source: Soundout, The Effectiveness Edition

Finally, there is fit between the sonic logo and the brand personality. In 2020 Soundout collected half a million reviews of various sonic logos and measured each against more than 200 attributes. It then boiled the 2000 down to 14 core attributes and measured both consumer perceptions of the brand personality and perceptions of the sonic logo from those unfamiliar with the brand.

The perception of the music among those who did not know the brand should ideally align with brand perceptions of those that do. Again, Just Eat performs well because the perception of its sonic logo is relatively in line with the brand itself. It’s not just an asset that people recall or that increases propensity to buy, it’s also one that matches – nicely – to the brand personality.

Source: Soundout, The Personality Edition

Of course, we can go too far with all this sonic stuff. So far that we simply make the same mistake of over-emphasising one sense over all the others. In reality, we humans work best when we combine our senses to create multi-dimensional impressions of something.

Brands need to not only embrace the potential of sonic logos but to go further and look at all the sensory cues that can be used to bring a brand to mind and make it appeal even further. It could be the look, the sound, the feel, the taste and the smell of a brand – together – that truly makes it come to mind, stand out and appeal.

Or to put it another way, is your list of distinctive brand assets exclusively visual? And if so, why?

Source: If your distinctive brand assets are exclusively visual it’s time to come to your (other) senses

Recent multisensory topics

Augmented + virtual realityMultisensoryTechnology
15/10/2021

Augmented reality gives us super human abilities and a sixth sense | Ericsson

What transforms a human into a superhero? Heightened capabilities of vision, hearing and touch, combined with instant transportation to the right place at the right time. In many ways, this…
ArtAugmented + virtual realityMultisensorySmellVisual
12/10/2021

Q+A: The Sights and Smells of Creative Arts Therapies in Virtual Reality | Drexel News Blog

3-D art created by a study participant. Image credit: Arun Ramakrishnan In early 2019, Drexel University’s College of Nursing and Health Professions and Johns Hopkins University’s International Arts + Mind Lab (IAM Lab) formed a collaboration to…
EducationMultisensory
12/10/2021

Rockets rock reading with all five senses | The Citizen

The Rockets know how to rock reading with all five senses. A focus on building systematic phonics skills, such as spelling rules and advanced letter sound relationships, in creative and…
Multisensory
12/10/2021

What food will look like in 300 years | Khaleej Times

The Epochal Banquet brings a curated menu of world-firsts and a futuristic dining experience at Expo 2020 Dubai, all set to transport you to the year 2320 The terms ‘future’…
EntertainmentMultisensorySoundTasteTouch/Feel/TextureTrendyVisual
12/10/2021

Mandarin Oriental Jumeirah brings famous Ibiza’s Sublimotion to Dubai | Hotel News ME

Sublimotion opened to instant renown in Ibiza in 2014 and has been at the top of the world’s culinary rankings ever since. The experience is the brainchild of Paco Roncero,…
MultisensorySmellSound
08/10/2021

Jónsi Talks Hitting the ‘Nose’ and ‘Notes’ of His New Musical Fragrance Collaboration | Rolling Stone

66 North The new perfume will be accompanied by an original musical composition written by the singer, which seeks to capture ‘the great Icelandic outdoors’ Products featured are independently selected…
ExperientialMultisensory
05/10/2021

Shopping for Weed is Now a Multi-Sensory Experience | Green Entrepeneur

Shopping for Weed is Now a Multi-Sensory Experience "Immersion retailing" is getting customers off of their couches and back into stores. By Julie Aitcheson October 5, 2021 This story originally appeared on Green…
MultisensoryScientificTouch/Feel/Texture
05/10/2021

Medicine Nobel goes to scientists who discovered biology of senses | Nature

Ardem Patapoutian (L) and David Julius (R), recipients of the 2021 medicine Nobel prize. Credit: Scripps Research/Noah Berger David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian share the award for identifying receptors that…
HealthInterestingMultisensory
04/10/2021

How Much Can Food Help People Heal From Trauma? | The Swaddle

Image Credit: Alamy French gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote some two centuries ago: “Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you who you are.” What story would the white flatbread bolani, or the…
ArtMultisensory
03/10/2021

Mixing up our senses | Vernon Morning Star

Arora Richards, 4, experiments with her own art piece during the annual Art Walk at the Lake Country Community Complex. (Black Press file) Life & Faith columnist explores art and…
FlavourMultisensoryTasteVisual
03/10/2021

Truly Is Opening A Hard Seltzer Taproom Where You Can Try Exclusive New Flavors | Elite Daily

BY DAFFANY CHAN, OCT. 3, 2021 It's basically a beer hall, except with hard seltzer. Hard seltzer has been all the rage over the past few years, and now, you…
ArtMultisensorySoundVisual
02/10/2021

What’s King Kong got to do with Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony? | SMH

Symphony in White No 3, painted by James Whistler (1834-1903)CREDIT:GETTY There’s only one way to begin a piece on paintings inspired by music – with a famous line by the…
MultisensorySoundTechnologyVisual
01/10/2021

BT Is Turning His 14th Studio Album “Metaversal” Into an NFT Treasure Hunt | EDM.com

Listening to BT's upcoming 14th album comes with some pretty high financial incentives. Rare, one-of-a-kind NFTs await BT's most eagle-eyed fans as the electronic music legend readies the release of Metaversal, a multi-sensory, blockchain-based…
BrandingMarketingMultisensory
01/10/2021

If your distinctive brand assets are exclusively visual it’s time to come to your (other) senses | Marketing Week

Visual cues are all very well but don’t forget the other four senses when developing brand codes as they can be just as powerful – if not more so –…
Augmented + virtual realityEntertainmentMultisensorySmellTouch/Feel/TextureVisual
30/09/2021

New 4D virtual reality experience in Digbeth to ‘dazzle guests’ with ‘incredible’ scent technology | Birmingham Live

In a Box bosses have promised a 4D experience 'like no other' (Image: In a Box) A new 4D virtual experience in Birmingham promises to dazzle guests with its innovative scent…
Augmented + virtual realityCommunicationMultisensory
28/09/2021

Metaverse: The real world amplified by computer-generated perceptual information, across multiple sensory modalities | The Indian Wire

In July this year, in an earnings call, Mark Zuckerberg used the word- Metaverse 20 times. He wants to shift the gear of the company from a social media platform…
EntertainmentMultisensory
28/09/2021

Ramz set to deliver live music multi-sensory experience | Voice Online

PLATINUM SELLING London based artist Ramz will be performing an intimate, multi-sensory (audio, visual, smell, taste & feel), night of live music with performances of previously released hits as well…
CommunicationMultisensory
27/09/2021

Use All Five Senses on Zoom | Radio & Television Business Report

Video communication engages two senses of our five: sight and sound.  But how can we stimulate the other three with the existing digital technology?  Longtime public relations pro and “Zoom…
InterestingMultisensory
27/09/2021

Parents SHOULD let kids play with their food, experts reveal | The Sun

Experts have revealed how you should let your kids play with their food IT can be frustrating for some parents when kids play with their food and make a mess.…
ArtMultisensorySmellSoundTouch/Feel/TextureVisual
27/09/2021

Van Abbemuseum launches the Netherlands’ first, fully multi-sensory exhibition | MuseumNext

The Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven has opened a comprehensive new fully multi-sensory exhibition featuring 120 artworks spanning all five floors of the museum. Delinking and Relinking invites visitors to experience art…