The Attraction of Stimulus

The world is steadily growing digital. Simultaneously the lust for sensation is increasing. This leads to exciting new ways of brand management if marketers think of those two trends together.

1,045,510,000. This is the number of websites existing globally as of June 2016*. Two thirds of these are unused placeholders or repeated websites with different top-level domains. The rest, however – about 200 million websites – compete with each other for users’ attention, which is increasingly becoming a scarce commodity as people become increasingly demanding, particularly in digital spaces.

This is bad news for most German websites, as they are often the same as they were in 1995: static, text-heavy and far from sensory: exactly the opposite of what the consumer expects today – and what his brain prefers.

The keyword here is multi-sensory brand management. In practice, this mostly is limited to audio branding in the form of jingles. Multi-Sensory marketing, meaning addressing target groups on multiple senses, is a long-known approach. Evidence of this phenomenon goes back as 1932, when a scientific article reported higher sales of jeans when accompanied by a certain scent. Today we know that classical music in cafés stimulates rest and consumation of Caffé Lattes, and that French chansons played in a supermarket increase the sales of French wine. Thanks to neuroscience we also know how this process works – and that it can be implemented in all fields of marketing.

Let‘s recap: human beings experience their environment using five senses. Pictures, sounds, scents, flavors and textures trigger different associations and therefore emotions. If one message addresses several senses, this means not just an added effect, but a multiplied one. The more senses involved, the stronger the emotion – and the stronger a potential conversion to a brand.

However, our senses are much more than mere triggers for activation. They are also able to transport content and meaning: Car manufacturers use textural signals to activate quality concepts in the brain by using high quality wood, leather or textiles. By creating a bottle that “pops” or a cookie that crunches when chewed, a feeling of freshness and delicacy can be communicated. Seeing a meadow of flowers in an ad for washing agent and fabric softener immediately evokes that particular scent. And when this bottle of fabric softener falls onto a pile of soft towels, the feeling of softness, which the softener produces, is almost palpable.

Mirror Neurons

This was common practice back in the 1970s when advertising was already a multi-sensory production, before the psychology of the phenomenon was studies and the term ‘mirror neurons’ (*1995) was put into use. This term describes a nerve cell “that fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another“ (Wikipedia). Said differently: when someone bites into a lemon on TV, most people viewing this feel a physical reaction.

Mirror neurons, responsible for imitation and empathy, can also be triggered online, where scent, flavor and texture can be evoked in the recipient‘s brain. So why don’t more brand manufacturers use this technique to position their brand?

Many companies reduce their online presence to a visual showroom. Online shops in particular limit websites to a central product exhibition, always enclosed by the same white frame. They give away opportunities that allow for a multi-sensory user address. As mentioned before, the insights from neuromarketing at POS can also be utilised online. Thus, a website can be much more than a digital product catalogue.

Primarily to distinguish from competition, it should thus be imperative to not simply present the products, but rather to include the buyer in a multi-sensory, emotional experience. What contributes to a brand in the real world must to be transferred into the digital world. This means: shapes, colors, textures and sounds must be manifested online, to create a holistic brand experience.

Multi-Sensory marketing won‘t push the button for purchase in the consumer‘s brain. However, it can help directing new attention to a brand in an era when mono- and duo-sensorial communication is limited.