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  • Michelle Niedziela, PhD & Kathryn Ambroze

It's the Journey, not the Destination: Sensory Journey Mapping

As seen in Insights magazine...

The product experience is a multifaceted process. It involves not just the physical use of the product but encapsulates the messaging, branding, and consumer perception. Consumer decision-making requires the consideration of cognitive, affective, and sensory experiences, as these interactions do not live independently of one another. To have an effective impact on the affective experience, brands can tap into sensory cues to enhance the product story contributing to consumer decision-making. By incorporating the sensory experience into established tools, like journey mapping, brands can better develop a pleasurable and satisfying product experience from start to finish.

Figure 1. Brand harmony is the idea that there is importance in ensuring that all products and experiences within a particular brand and brand portfolio have consistency.

What is journey mapping?

Journey mapping is one tool often used in marketing to capture levels of engagement, understand consumer decisions and behaviors, and uncover potential pain points and successes. These maps expose a myriad of moments in which the consumer either abandons or continues building the relationship with a brand or product. Exploring both direct and indirect contact with a consumer shows how the relationship evolves over time (Micheaux & Bosio, 2019). The chain of events throughout the product experience is often referred to as “touch points” because it shows the sequential decisions that the consumer makes while interacting with the brand. Journey mapping is a major focus for many teams because of the belief that creating a strong, positive experience will elevate its performance and improve customer satisfaction, which then promotes a healthy relationship (Lemon & Verhoef, 2016).

The information regarding journey mapping traditionally has an emphasis on understanding the emotional, cognitive, and social aspects of decision-making; yet there is an element that remains relatively underrated throughout the overall experience: sensory performance. Regardless of the type of touch point, every experience is a multisensorial experience. The sensorial components that are being stimulated impact the consumer’s perception of the product because the sensory inputs communicate a message to the consumer. By addressing the various exchanges and responses of sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell throughout a product experience, companies can ensure they are communicating a congruent message that will propel a positive experience.

Why sensorial mapping?

As a consumer interacts with a product, each sensorial feature contributes to the overall impression integrated in the brain. These impressions impact much of the consumer response including, but not limited to, a consumer’s mood, interests, decisions, and overall perception (HBR, 2015).

Accounting for the sensory experience can serve as a strategy to intensify brand identity and build stronger connections. This process can amplify and cue certain messages by evaluating and adjusting how the senses work in tandem at specific points in the product experience. Developing multidimensional considerations for the product experience increases the number of opportunities to innovate because of its holistic approach. Using touchpoints, companies can understand the relationship among the five senses throughout the consumer experience. By learning what the consumer perceives as prominent or obscure, companies can make sure that important aspects of the sensorial experience are not being overlooked or that a dominating sense is communicating the right message.

Sensory footprint

To display the rating data over the five modalities of sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell, spider plots can be used to illustrate the sensory experience at that moment in time. This provides a cohesive visual representation of the sensory touchpoint, documenting what sense is driving the product perception. The spider plot gives a sensory profile in an intuitive figure, and when collected over various touchpoints, can reveal the need gaps within the product experience. Further, this type of evaluation can also be conducted on competitor products to see what is driving their sensory experience, giving companies a pairwise comparison opportunity to see what is and is not working throughout the overall experience.

Figure 2. The sensory footprint is a tool for tracking how products are experienced via sensory systems like sight, smell, taste, touch & sound – 5 dimensionally.

It is important to note that the sensory experience of a product shifts over time, as specific sensory elements claim or compete for perceptual dominance. Sensory footprints can track the relevance of the senses over a product experience, allowing marketers, R&D teams, and consumer scientists to craft a harmonious experience from start to finish.

Sweet as candy

To understand the sensorial journey of a product, consider a candy bar. The first interaction may not be in a store but through an ad. The first interaction may not be in a store, but through an ad. Seeing the bright colors and hearing the upbeat music may be pulling the sensory experience more so than something like taste or smell. But when the consumer is in the store aisle and sees the candy bar again, the visual sensory experience may still be prevalent based on the messaging and package design, but it is now paired with the added layer of the texture of the box and the outer shell the candy is encased in. The tactile experience then continues if the consumer chooses to purchase the treat and unravel the foil or take off the sleeve to reveal the actual candy. At this moment, the aroma of the candy may take precedence until the inevitable first bite where taste finally becomes prominent, and the flavor profile is either inadequate or satisfying.

Everything leading up to that bite is setting the stage for what is to come. Each of these small moments imprints a message on the consumer about the product experience. Whether it is leading with visuals or smells, the sensory experience must provide an accurate depiction of what not only the first bite, but every bite will entail. This is why it is so important to make sure that the sensorial properties of the overall experience are congruent. The truth is that each of these interactions must work with each other to create a seamless, special experience that meets the consumer’s expectations. By matching smell to the taste to the designs, there is a sense of trust built between the consumer and the company that the consumer is getting what they paid for.

Figure 3. Sensory Journey Mapping can be a valuable tool for understanding the consumer experience.


Every company benefits by acknowledging the multisensory experience that occurs throughout the use of a product. Car companies capitalize on the “new car smell,” while clothing stores brand themselves by having buttery smooth fabrics. Sensory input is intertwined and messy, but by using methodologies, like the spider plot over the entire experience, companies can identify the channels that are most impactful in creating a positive experience. By embracing cross-functional collaboration to build a product, companies can design product experiences that guide consumers to make informed decisions in a simple, impactful, and enjoyable way.


Lemon, K. N., & Verhoef, P. C. (2016). Understanding customer experience throughout the customer journey. Journal of marketing, 80(6), 69-96.

Micheaux, A., & Bosio, B. (2019). Customer journey mapping as a new way to teach data-driven marketing as a service. Journal of Marketing Education, 41(2), 127-140.

The Science of Sensory Marketing. Harvard Business Review. (2015, February 17). Retrieved October 17, 2022, from



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