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Sensory Marketing and Sensory Branding


psychology and influencing our behavior. Research has shown that scent can help us recognize our relatives, choose our mates and even communicate to some degree. Olfaction (ability to smell) has significant links to emotion and memory. Some have called this the “Proustian Phenomenon”, which is that out of all our senses, our sense of smell produces the strongest effects on memory. For Marcel Proust, this was being drawn back into memories of his childhood after smelling madeleine cookies dipped in tea. Another example is how if you’ve ever had food poisoning from a food, like a strawberry smoothie, smelling anything resembling a strawberry after you recover could make you nauseated again (conditioned taste aversion). In a more positive example, you can imagine how choosing a new fragrance to wear on your wedding day and then smelling it when used later may bring back all of the joy and romance of that special day.




Outside of the traditional idea of fragrance as a means to make your home smell better or your clothing smell clean, it can also be used to convey a message about your product and set a mood. One example of how being congruent with the product’s purpose is important might be that if you have a sunscreen lotion you may need to make a choice as to whether it’s more for daily everyday use or for the beach, or for that matter for sport. If it’s an everyday lotion, perhaps you don’t want to go to work smelling like a coconut. So the fragrance will need to be better suited for that environment.

An example of another role fragrance can have can be seen in laundry. Fragrance can change perspective. In one study, people were asked to rate the softness of a set of towels. They didn’t know this, but the towels were all the same, the only difference was the fragrance used on them. Researchers found that people actually rated the softness differently depending on the fragrance. So products designed for calming or to awaken someone would be keen to choose their associated smell wisely.

To that point, fragrance can be very important for setting a mood, conveying a message, branding, or even as an advertisement. A particular coffee smell associated with a brand, experienced at a bus stop might make someone more inclined to purchase a coffee on their commute (http://bostinno.streetwise.co/2012/07/24/dunkin-donuts-sprays-the-smell-of-coffee-onto-buses-to-increase-sales-video/). Or maybe a clothing store would like to make people more comfortable and happy. Or even further, perhaps a hotel would like to develop an entire experience from hotel entrance to room to tiny bottles of body wash that you can take home with you that create not just a branding moment, but a sensory experience that you will want to come back and enjoy again and remember again. The opportunities for innovation are nearly limitless. In fact, at HCD we like to call sensory marketing a “5D experience innovation” opportunity: Products are experienced via sensory systems like sight, smell, taste, touch and sound – 5 dimensionally. This experience forms impressions in the brain that affect mood and arousal levels while setting a context for the product.

At HCD Research we use a combination of traditional market research (interviews, surveys, focus groups, ethnography, etc), psychology (questionnaires, implicit testing, behavioral coding) and neuroscience (physiological measures) to help companies understand the consumer response to all of their communications (from concepts to commercials to flavor and fragrances and from marketing to product development and design). We look at the communications that a company can make holistically and customize our research to get the most useful and actionable answers using the right tools and right research design.

We have worked on a variety of projects, from tv commercials to dish detergents, in a variety of industries, from personal care products to pharmaceutical communications. Our labs are mobile. We have conducted studies around the globe and in setting ranging from the home to a central location lab to a shopping mall. We are versatile and customizable. We can help you determine the appropriate packaging, communication, sensory and ingredient choices to make in your product design.


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