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Brand experience is the lifeblood of business, especially for those with a physical presence. Without a solid and coherent Brand experience, it would be difficult to attract customers. So what are the individual components of the brand experience?
Let’s zoom out for a moment to consider what “experience” really means. We humans “experience” life through our five senses. LAW. Uh. But here’s the catch: many brands fail to capitalize on all five.
As curator of physical experience of your brand, you can have a more powerful impact on customers by engaging their five senses in your branding strategy. This multi-sensory approach to brand marketing and brand execution is called “sensory branding”.
Let’s take a tour of the five senses from a brand perspective and look at some ways brands can expand their use of sensory branding into their physical locations which are, in truth, their theaters of brand experience.
Of all the senses, sight gets the most press, but usually the spotlight shines on imagery and iconography. The golden arches of McDonald’s. The green silhouette of the Starbucks mermaid. The kind face of Colonel Sanders on a bucket of KFC fried chicken. These icons are so indelibly linked to these brands that they have permeated our collective imagination.
Let’s instead open the hood and look at the color psychology that makes this motor run. Just as soft lighting or bright lighting can drastically change the mood of a room, colors set the tempo of a branded environment.
The ubiquitous presence of yellow in McDonald’s branding evokes notions of sunshine, warmth and joy, making you think of childhood and smiling faces. The green of Starbucks and Whole Foods suggests robust health and oneness with nature.
Recommendation: Use color theory to your advantage. Understand what feelings your brand intends to evoke, then deploy colors in your environments like secret agents, in charge of secretly punctuating the moods and emotions of your guests.
The sense of smell – the “emotional sense” – runs a unique pathway in the human brain that connects it deeply to memory. Brands that successfully blend pleasing scents into the memory of their customers have an added layer of seductive ability.
Consider Abercrombie & Fitch. The clothes that fill its stores are infused with its signature scents, creating powerful associations between these fierce outdoor scents and the brand, as well as the lifestyle suggested by the brand.
On your escape from the Abercrombie store in the mall, you might then be drawn to another powerful scent emanating from Cinnabon. The aroma of cinnamon is rightly associated with warmth, comfort and perhaps guilty pleasure.
Fitness brands – of course – don’t have this kind of natural olfactory advantage, but there are preventative measures that can be taken to offset this. For example, a fragrance diffuser can be used to pump in the energizing scent of eucalyptus in a gym or the relaxing scent of lavender in a spa.
Recommendation: Admit it: to some degree, your brand probably already smells bad. Assess if this can be amplified to your advantage or if other scents should be deployed as defensive agents.
Her is often thought of in terms of music. In this sense, brands like Starbucks use playlists as audio wallpapers in their locations, suggesting certain moods and lifestyles to associate with their brands.
But sound impacts the brand experience in a number of other ways. As sound engineers and good architects know, reverberation levels in interior spaces can significantly affect the quality of experience in that space.
Speech intelligibility is significantly impaired in highly reverberant spaces. If you can’t understand what your dinner companions are saying, you probably won’t bring them back to that same restaurant. On the other hand, if there is too little reverberation in a dining room, there can be a frightening feeling of closeness to the surrounding tables. It’s all about finding the right balance. Depending on the type of environment you are looking to create, elements can be added to absorb or reflect sound.
You can also flip the script on bad sounds. For example, Planet Fitness features “Lunk Alarms” on its walls. The net effect here is that by incorporating the occasional alarm sound into its brand experience, it deters certain other sounds that it explicitly doesn’t want in its brand experience – namely, beastly grunts and loss of noisy “lunk” weights, common at other gyms.
Recommendation: go to one of your competitors and sit quietly for a while with your eyes closed; write down what you hear – and also what you don’t – then apply those thoughts to your brand. Is the banging of metaphorical pots and pans something you want to hide or highlight for energy? Choice of dealer.
Often overlooked, the meaning of hit can have a powerful impact on the brand experience – from feelings of temperature comfort and the texture of furniture, to using hands-on experience with products or even other humans.
Consider how Apple deliberately has a very hands-on experience at its outlets, intended to give you the tactile experience of feeling the newest iProduct in your hands, showing its devotion to those same hands – until the next model comes out, of course .
Recommendation: Think about the textures people will encounter when interacting with your brand and how long they will interact with them. Be consistent with your temperatures, furniture, and high-fives.
Admittedly, taste is the sense most often confined to a single vertical, catering. However, outliers exist. Consider Ikea, famous for its furniture, but also for the Swedish meatballs you’re probably embarrassed to admit you love. These are indeed part of the Ikea brand experience, adding a touch of tasty Swedish cuteness to the mix.
But going back to food service, strategic gifts can do a lot in the realm of taste. If you go to your local Friendly’s or DQ, you’ll likely be offered free samples of different flavors of ice cream, which will tickle your sweet tooth — and soon after, your wallet.
Also consider the hot, fluffy, unlimited breadsticks you get after ordering your meal at Olive Garden. After stuffing your face with these, chances are you’ll take half your entry home, but also go back to the OG.
Recommendation: consider ways to integrate the sense of taste into your brand experience; but if you’re offering to put something in your customer’s mouth, make sure it tastes good. In other words, if you’re an oil change franchise serving coffee in the waiting room, make sure the coffee doesn’t taste like your motor oil.
Final Thought: “The 6th Sense”
Finally, a general tip for your sensory branding efforts: Be knowledgeable, be intentional and be consistent!
Some brands that have mastered weaving the five senses into the mosaic of their brand experience can capture that elusive “sixth sense” – the insight of being in the presence of the master touch.