Enhance your digital experience with Sensory Branding

I love this time of year. The smells of spring, the crisp blue sky and vivid new green growth on the trees, the warmth of the sun on your skin, the first taste of summer fruits, the sounds of waves at the beach. And of course that nostalgia that happens for anyone that grew up in Australia, with the anticipation of summer holidays and the excitement of the upcoming festive season.

Spring surrounds us with an abundance of sensory stimulation and prompted by seeing News Corp launch popcorn-scented newspapers last week, I wondered why marketers don’t use sensory touch points more often in their customer experience strategy. And perhaps more importantly how can we leverage these tactics in online experiences.



The application of our 5 senses in marketing peaked interest more than a decade ago when Martin Lindstrom developed research with Millward Brown for his book Brand Sense.

Analysis of the Millward Brown data from the 5!Senses research consistently demonstrated that ‘intent to purchase’ is highest when the sensory impression of a brand comes readily to mind and is positive and distinctive. In addition, they discovered that the greater the number of senses involved, the more loyal people are to a brand.

Sounds pretty compelling, right? So why didn’t Sensory Branding take-off? Because it was gazumped by digital marketing. With audiences flocking to social media and spending more time online, the lure of mastering low-cost digital touch points transfixed our marketing budgets.

Now our attention is turning back to brand differentiation and I can see a resurgence in the use of sensory touchpoints as we look to unlock emotion in our customer experiences.

When looking for great examples of sensory branding, you can’t go past the travel and tourism industry because they have all the right physical touch points and a captive audience.

So what happens when you don’t have a physical environment or retail store to play with? How can you incorporate the power of this subconscious decision making when your product or service is sold online?



1. Your imagination is as powerful as reality

You may think that using the sense of smell and taste are off-limits in an online environment, however, Professor Aradhna Krishna, author of Customer Sense How the 5 Senses Influence Buying Behavior has some interesting techniques you can use.

Krishna’s research shows that mentioning multiple senses in copy and visuals has a stronger impact than mentioning taste alone. And the degree of impact is similar whether a customer touches the object or merely closes their eyes and imagines touching it. Krishna also proves that olfactory imagery – simply imagining smells, has a similar effect to that of actually smelling.

Tip: Use copy, imagery and voice-overs to describe the flavours, fragrances and feelings involved in an experience.

Online Experience Sensory Branding

2. Unlock depth of touch with UX

The rise of mobile phone usage coupled with advances in force touch, haptic feedback and wearable technology introduce an exciting new level of options for UX / Interaction designers.

Apple’s 3D Touch is not just for game designers. The ability for marketers to provide quick-view actions or peek-and-pop previews provides a way to experiment with the sensory interaction of touch. Just consider how Tinder has created an ownable brand experience through the power of swiping left or right.

Sensory Branding Haptic Feedback

The health sector is already thinking beyond clicks by building sensory experiences. Headspace has a mindfulness app which asks you to touch and hold your finger on your watch screen for 30 seconds – not too hard, not too soft. And of course, the native Apple Watch Breathe app uses feedback from tap vibrations to help you synchronise your breathing pattern.

Tip: Collaborate with your UX team to explore how you can push your interaction design to the next level using force touch and haptic feedback.


3. Create tangible moments-of-truth

You may not have a physical shop-front or environment, but you may have a physical product that is sent to your customers. Often when I buy online the arrival of the physical product is a missed opportunity in the customer journey. This is a key moment-of-truth that should be treated more like an instagramable gift-giving rather than order fulfilment. Shopfiy have some good ideas on how to maximise your unboxing experience.

If you don’t have a physical product it is worth testing the impact of creating a physical interaction. Royal Mail research has shown that customers spend 25% more when a business uses a mix of direct mail and email marketing. Obviously, the ROI is lower due to the higher production cost. However, if you consider the sensory branding opportunities and their impact on loyalty it could be worth creating a control group to measure repeat purchase and life-time-value.

Tip: Consider creating a unboxing video or testing the impact of gift-wrapping or direct mail on advocacy and repeat purchase.


4. Lose yourself in immersive visual experiences.

Digital experiences
Whilst virtual reality is the ultimate in immersive storytelling it is still difficult to scale due to the need for a headset. However, 360 photos and videos are a more accessible solution that brings the viewer inside a different world and is available to everyone with a facebook account. The ultimate experience is on mobile where you can discover above and behind you. However, it still works on the web when you drag your cursor around to explore.

Another example of visual immersion is interactive videos that contain hot-spots enticing you to click and receive a pop-up containing further information and a call-to-action. All without interrupting your video. Imagine being able to click-to-buy that item you see in the background of your TV commercial. It’s possible!

Tip: Audit your customer journey to identify where a 360 or interactive video experience would help create a stronger bond to your brand story.


5. Remind and re-enforce with sound

User Interface (UI) sounds are classed as notifications or interactions and they often work in places where Graphic User Interface (GUI) can’t. Just think of how you respond with you hear the ping of a text or message arriving. Or that sense of satisfaction when you drag something to trash. Or how helpful it is when you are multi-tasking whilst waiting for a live chat response and it alerts you that there is a reply.

From a customer service perspective, we shouldn’t forget about the importance of on-hold music. Studies have shown that people perceive a shorter wait time when they hear music they like. And they will stay on the line longer before hanging up. However, providing user choice trumps all – I was recently provided with the IVR option of having no music whilst on hold, which suited me as I was watching an online video whilst I waited.

Tips: Consider user behaviour and when appropriate use sound to alert and re-enforce interaction. Always provide an option to switch-off and consider the default settings, particularly on mobile.


If you would like more examples of sensory marketing in digital experiences or want to discuss how to build sensory branding into your online customer journey, reach out to Simone Blakers, Liquid CX.