By Russell Jones, Co-founder / Creative Director of Condiment Junkie
I believe we’re just about to enter a new era, where multisensory design and marketing becomes part of the fabric of everything we do. Lead by well informed, reputable thought leaders and agencies (like us!), and forward-thinking brand managers and product developers, the world is coming to its senses. Bringing ‘multisensory’ design and marketing out of the shadows of gimmickry and experimentation. And into the light, using meaningful insights to create more effective, engaging, emotional, relevant products and brands.
There can be an air of confusion about what ‘multisensory’ means in the marketplace. The word is often used flippantly to describe any activity that involves a sense beyond visual. If someone pays attention to the texture of a pack, they say they have considered a multisensory design approach. If an event features aroma, it’s a multisensory event.
A truly multisensory design approach
For me, a multisensory approach means considering everything, including visuals, that affects our perception of a given quality, through another sense. By that I mean, choosing the shape of a can to make a deodorant seem more refreshing. The colour of a bottle that makes a drink more tasty. It can also mean an aroma in a shop that makes people feel more relaxed and happy to browse. It could be the tschhh! in an advert that makes a drink seem more appealing. Or the clunk of a car indicator that reinforces how solid and powerful the vehicle seems.
In this sense, true multisensory design is fundamentally grounded in science. Mainly focusing on an area of study called ‘cross-modal neuroscience’. This is the science of how the senses and emotions are connected, through ‘cross-modal associations’. High pitch pianos are associated with sweet tastes. Heavy weight is associated with thickness and quality. If a logo faces right the brand is seen as forward thinking. Scientists have been mapping these associations for decades. From Holt-Hansen linking frequencies of sound to Carlsberg Elephant beer on university campuses in the ‘60’s. To modern day superstars in the field like Charles Spence, Barry Smith, Carlos Velasco. Who, along with a host of other scientists and research agencies, have been systematically mapping textures with sounds, colours with shapes. Shapes with emotions. Smells with behaviour. Broadening our knowledge of how our senses and emotions work together.
Where we began
When Condiment Junkie first started working with Professors Spence and Smith almost 10 years ago, the area was little known. Even less so was the creative application of this knowledge in the fields of product development, marketing or brand design. It was only with visionaries like Heston Blumenthal that we first found an outlet for these fascinating scientific insights. When we developed the Sounds of the Sea dish at the Fat Duck, the idea of sound and food being paired together was revolutionary. Now it’s seen more and more.
It’s within the world of food and food experiences that the word ‘multisensory’ gained its first traction. It was easy to see the application and benefits of it as an approach. After all, eating is possibly the most multisensory thing we do. And it’s within the drinks industry that we as an agency first found success. Educating consumers about the complexity of a whisky by changing colours and sounds in a room (such as at the Singleton Sensorium), is an easy sell. That event, and many more like it, generated tons of PR and talkability for the brands that saw the potential in mulitsensory design and marketing.
But PR is one thing. The only way multisensory design and marketing could cross over into everyday practice, across all industries and market sectors, is to be able to generate proven benefits in ROI, as well as lifts in things like brand tracking, customer engagement and so on.
Over the past 3 or 4 years this has become more and more of a reality. Under the radar (as most work is strictly hush hush) we have proved an uplift in sales, perceived value, brand engagement and emotional attachment, with products that have been developed, or brands that have been designed, using a scientifically based multisensory approach.
A multisensory approach at different stages
A ‘multisensory approach’ can mean different things at different stages of the development process, and across the customer journey. For instance, at a product development stage a multisensory design approach would first help define the key sensory drivers for purchase. The desired consumer outtakes. And then consider what sounds the product should make. Its weight. The packaging textures. Use of colour and shape. The shape of its name. The smell. All defined and designed to enhance the desired outtakes or evoke specific attributes.
Engaging all the senses through brand and marketing
At a brand and marketing level, a multisensory approach means knowing what sensory and emotional attributes can be evoked through the brand sound, brand aroma, and the visual identity. Making sure the whole essence of the design and branding is sensorially in-line. Acting in the most effective way. Communicating its purpose and benefits to the consumer instinctually. Enhancing consumer perception and perceived value through every interaction. We helped Axe deliver the brand world through engaging all the senses read more about it here.
The playground for the senses
When we cross over into things more experiential, we enter what we call ‘the playground for the senses’. This could apply to POS in a shop, brand activations, to a whole retail environment. Aromas, colour and sounds take on functions beyond highlighting product qualities and start to affect human behaviour. Slowing people down, increasing dwell time. Guiding choice. Improving experience and creating long lasting sensory memories, where emotions, sensory brand assets and brand values are bundled together. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the applications of a scientific, sensory approach. When we start to look at behaviour, rituals, human interactions as well. It becomes even more powerful.
And, when all this is done in a way that is weaved into the development process, it doesn’t shout out and proclaim itself “This is multisensory!”. It’s hidden. Integrated. Just there making everything better.
That’s the point of multisensory design and marketing in a way. As humans we use all of our senses all the time to evaluate the world around us. And so, product developers and designers should equally pay attention to every sense when creating the things we use in our daily lives. It’s the new era in human centric design. And its application can influence everything from digital experiences to hair products, to how you enjoy your wine at home (listen to Blondie with a Chablis – it tastes 45% more zingy!). Like Dorothy walking out into technicolour Oz. We are entering a new vivid and rich world. And I think we should all come to our senses.