Sensory Branding

by Jeremy Powers on August 23, 2010

This article is from my July 16th newsletter. 

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Consistent messaging is more than just controlling what your customers and consumers see.  The other senses can be a great differentiator for your business.  What draws you to the Japanese grill in the mall?  Is it the smell of grilling chicken, or is it the tap, clang, tap of the grill master?  Think before you answer so confidently.

A great example of scent branding is illuminated by Farnam Street.  Here is some of their article on sensory branding:

Like any other airline, Singapore Airlines employs common consistent visual themes. Unlike other airlines the company incorporates the same scent, Stefan Floridian Waters, in the perfume worn by flight attendants, in their hot towels, and other elements of their service. Flight attendants must be physically attractive and wear uniforms made from fine silk which incorporates elements of the cabin decor. The airline strives to make every customer interaction both appealing, and, equally important, consistent from encounter to encounter.

I had a great reminder of the importance of scent in my new venture.  After having lunch with a former coworker, she remarked something was different about me.  “Yeah,” I grinned, “I am smiling now.”  That was not what had changed, however, and it was ten minutes before either of us figured it out.  “I don’t wear cologne anymore.”  “THAT IS IT!” she said with a laugh.  She was suddenly embarrassed.

Now I know you are uncomfortable with discussing it, but how people smell is part of their identity, their brand, in your mind.  You can meet someone and instantly like her because she smells like your grandmother.  You can meet her husband and have an immediate dislike because his hands smell of motor oil, which your subconscious forever associates with the mechanic that ripped you off when you were a teenager.

Now that you are beginning to recognize this truth, what should you do?  Where possible, be consistent.  Your offices should be not only appealing to the senses, but reinforcing your brand.  If you stock candy on your desk for your clients, consider using only one kind.  I think of the same person every time I eat a certain type of butterscotch; for more than 5 years he had butterscotch in a bowl on his desk.  My great uncle carries suckers in his truck; my kids now call him “Sucker Bob.”  While the name is funny to the family, the truth is my children now associate red Ford trucks with suckers, and they probably always will, for life. 

If you already have a strong visual brand identity, consider the ways your customers’ other senses interact with your company.  Do your product cases give people paper cuts?  Is the coffee in your lobby terrible?  Does your voicemail recording sound like you have the flu?  Every touch point is important.

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