The Five Senses of Branding

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Successful branding comes from the unique combination of delivering a consistent brand experience while creating lasting memories with your target market. While maintaining a consistent brand experience is easily achievable through processes and oversight, building memories can be seemingly difficult. Memories are based around feelings rather than facts that are often a combination of all of the senses. In order to create a truly integrated brand experience, it’s important to harness the power of sight, sound, touch, smell and taste.

Visual Overload

Over 60% of our frontal lobe is dedicated to interpreting the visual information we see. Advertising and design has predominantly relied on this since its beginnings. Early forms of logos were developed by merchants to quickly allow shoppers to identify what was in their barrels. Being visually dominant, this method alone was wildly successful. That is, until more recent times. It’s estimated that we are bombarded by over one million marketing visuals a day from brochures at the doctor’s office to floor decals in the supermarket and banner ads on the internet. We’ve long passed the point of being able to relate to every brand we see, and sadly the visual noise makes it hard to notice the brands that may connect with us.

Taken by itself, a brand cannot be built on visuals alone no matter how compelling and arresting the visuals. By paring the other four senses with sight you can begin to form strong connections with your market that forms the memories associated with brand adoption.

It’s Hard to Hear in a Wind Tunnel

Radio introduced us to the aural side of marketing, first through the introduction of show sponsors in the early 1920’s, and later through advertisements. In the case of radio the visual identifier has been removed, and a whole generation of people grew up on the sounds of taglines and jingles. Television and the internet have pared sight and sound up to great effect creating multiple access points and pathways to the feelings we have associated with the brands we love. Sound has a tendency to become a deterrent to memory when executed poorly. Currently, I find myself feeling the need to jab a sharp pencil in my ear when I hear Red Robin’s tagline at the end of their spots, though admittedly Subway’s “Anytober” and “Februany” campaigns remind me that there are other channels to watch every time the spots ran.

Sound by itself is a powerful memory-forming sense. We’ve all heard songs that felt like they were written for us during a painful breakup, and years later they still have the same power. Unfortunately, the constant hum of everything around us has given us ear fatigue, and the power of sound in marketing has been diminished from overuse. By mixing visual and aural cues you can begin to create a memorable experience, but that’s what everyone does.

The Feeling Power of Touch

Have you ever visited a museum, and had the urge to go up and pet the heavily layered oil painting or run your hand over the brushed metal surface of a sculpture? We’re naturally wired to experience our environment through touch. It’s how we understand dimensional space, and how we form emotional connections. Touch is one of the easiest and most underutilized of the five somas.

We often forget that much of our printed marketing materials are dimensional, because so many of them are just flat pieces of paper. Your business card has dimension, and you should capitalize on that. With thousands of paper stocks available, you should use textures to enhance the personality of your brand. The range of stocks that work with digital printers is expansive and continuing to grow. You can pick a stock with a memorable texture that complements your brand and have it printed with one of your local digital printers. Your card will stand out from all of the other cards in a stack, as more and more businesses continue moving to the cheap online printers that offer the same three stock papers as everyone else. Add some unique printing techniques like embossing, foil stamps or engraving, and you’ll be handing out golden tickets at your next convention.

Having a texture on your card incorporates three of somas into one simple and effective interaction. Cards are typically exchanged before a prospect knows anything about your company. You may talk about your company to a person you happen to be standing with in line. This is the aural soma. You hand them a card as your parting ways giving them a visual clue to remember you, your brand and contact information. Finally, their brain sees the texture of the paper or die-cut shape, and it tells them to touch it. It’s not uncommon for people to pet a business card if you use texture properly. When I hand out my card, eight out of ten people engage in some form of petting my card which incorporates debossing through letterpress on a heavy 100% cotton stock with a rough texture. I know that the recipient of my card is much more likely to remember meeting me when I follow up in the future, because I’ve created a stronger memory connection with three points of access through sight, sound and touch.

The same effect can be created with your packaging to draw the viewer in to touch and interact with your product on the shelf. Using touch on your product is an excellent way to drive brand adoption and retention. OXO Good Grips has been capitalizing on this for years. The design of their soft rubber handles with ridges on all of their kitchen products has become a central focus of the brand. Touch is powerful and easy to use, and there is no reason it shouldn’t be incorporated into your full brand portfolio.

The Sweet Smell of Success

In order to use smell brilliantly, it helps to think of your brand beyond the elements that you create. Outside of the food and fragrance industry smell can be difficult to use properly, but not impossible. I’m not advocating get a bunch of scratch and sniff mailers printed, though you could do it if you’re into gimmicks. Think in terms of your full brand experience in relation to your office or a storefront. What aroma would be welcoming to customers seeking your service?

Take a cue from the real estate industry. When you visit a home with a realtor, it’s not uncommon to smell cinnamon or vanilla from fresh baked cookies or an apple pie. Realtors use smell to create a feeling of comfort or hominess to an unfamiliar environment. Studies have shown that smell is the strongest sense linked to memories. That’s no surprise considering how little we rely on our sense of smell.

So Good You Can Taste It

For humans our sense of smell defines what we taste, and by that same logic taste can be a powerful memory enhancer. When you taste certain foods or even flavors, it’s not uncommon to remember moments from your childhood. Our varying perceptions of comfort food plays directly into memories linked to taste. Restaurants can easily tap into the idea of taste, and often it’s the most refined part of their brand. How do you achieve that same effect when you’re selling something like fashion?

Neiman Marcus has strangely become associated with chocolate chip cookies through a well –known urban legend. While they didn’t offer cookies when the story first began to circulate, they do offer cookie from their website, and from what I’ve heard they are tasty. Through clever use of taste, many customers now think of Neiman Marcus and their high-end fashion offerings when eating a chocolate chip cookie.

Every touchpoint of your brand experience should offer up another pathway for your customers to remember your brand, and how they feel about it. By carefully thinking about how you can engage the senses of sight, sound, touch, smell and taste you can begin to create a rich brand experience that your clients will remember for years to come.

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