sense marketing online

What role can sensory branding play when it comes to online marketing?

Many offline brands have woken up to the importance of marketing activity that appeals to all five senses, rather than just the traditional senses of sight and sound. Research proves that touch and taste has an equally important impact on the purchasing decisions and brand loyalty of consumers. And surprisingly, smell is the most important sense as it has an instant impact straight on the cortex limbic system the part of the brain controlling emotion and memory (cortex is rational thought) and can emotionally affect a person up to 75% more than any other sense.

Brands such as British Airways, Coca Cola and Mercedes Benz are waking up to these discoveries. Today they are thinking more about how their products and marketing activity can reach and satisfy all the senses, rather than just creating the latest clever advertising campaign starring today’s talk of the town celebrity. And more big brands are looking to engineer their product so it appeals to all the senses. In practical terms this means they are focusing on improving the physical touch and feel of their products (Marks and Spenser’s), introducing patented smells (Singapore Airlines) that can be associated with them as a company or utilising food within their marketing (think of the latest and very popular Skoda ‘cake car’ advert.) Sterile TV and print advertising is increasingly replaced by experiential marketing, with consumers actually interacting with the product and human beings. A minor revolution is set to take place. If creating a digital strategy was the key objective of the last decade, then get set to see ‘brand sensing’ dominate the next ten years.

But what can online brands do? Most have no physical environment in which to sell, no taste they can engineer and no associated smell. Most are stuck with the look, and occasionally the sound of their customer interface. Maybe they will just have to sit this particular revolution out?

Well maybe not. The problem that the marketers of online brands have is not so much the lack of opportunities for sensory contact with their customers, but their over emphasis on the digital customer interface. That’s understandable given the massive amount of focus, time, energy and love lavished on integrating the latest technology or introducing the coolest interactive designs but it has been at the expense of other key elements in the purchasing process. The all important actual physical delivery of the product; be it a book, ticket, lawn mower or insurance documents has for too long been a sad secondary consideration, which many e-marketers would actually be happy to dispense with all together if they could! To recall an earlier dotcom phrase, its time for a ‘paradigm shift’ in thinking.

E-marketers are only limited by their imagination. The physical delivery of the product presents an opportunity to appeal to a customers sense of smell, touch, sight, sound and even touch. Yet many online brands will simply settle for a cheaply branded box with which to ‘get the product out.’ E-marketers must think harder, and invest more, in this crucial aspect of the customer experience. Using better quality, quirky and scented packaging would help to deliver a large increase in brand loyalty and demand. Environmental concerns aside, those brands that have introduced the ‘e-ticket’ or printable papers (for example insurance companies) should get back to traditional print and postage.

And why stop at just the delivery of the product. Many online brands have got themselves stuck in a mind set that because they operate online, they should only be marketing online through the like of Google, banners and affinity marketing. In fact the exact opposite is true. Pure online brands need to make an extra special effort to utilise forms of marketing that allow all the senses to be reached and stimulated. Hats off to for its recent marketing campaign. Rather than just throwing more money at Google, they took a bold step to promote themselves using field marketing by giving away branded mini bottles of sun cream. In an instant they had provided potential customers with a long term promotional device that looks fun, smells nice and feels good.

Online brands should start their marketing planning by thinking about direct mail and experiential marketing. Two routes to market which allow them to reach out to more of the potential consumers senses. All other forms of marketing should be secondary. Couple this approach with an improved brand experience in the physical delivery of the product and they might be able to keep up with their traditional offline brand rivals. Maybe online marketers can be revolutionaries too?

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About Simon Harrop
Simon is a sensory branding expert, such an expert in fact that you will often find him popping up on television and radio.

After building an internationally renowned agency focusing on communication through fragrance, he has now gone beyond just the smelly stuff and utilises his extensive sensory branding experience to guide and inspire brands and business owners.
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Simon Harrop
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Tel: +44 (0)7899 916331