Beyond Sight: The 5 Senses of a Brand

Start with the Logo

Close your eyes.

OK, maybe not close them close them. It makes reading all this a lot harder.

But think about the Netflix logo when you open the app.
What do you see? The red N that unfurls to the full “NETFLIX” logo.
What do you hear? “Buh donn.”

You can’t see “Netflix” without hearing that sound, and can’t hear that sound without thinking about Netflix.

Hungry? Taco Bell sounds good, literally. Their “bong” that accompanies their commercials is a pinpoint on brand (bell ring) sound, a Pavlov’s response amplified in a recent commercial campaign and even at a world-famous landmark. I hear, therefore I am… hungry.

This is how sensory branding goes beyond sight to the other four. Two bass beats in “JAWS” scared the hell out of people. A Kirkland store in December welcomes you with the holiday scent of cinnamon and pinecones. DoubleTree Hotels hand out fresh baked chocolate cookies to arriving guests. YUM! Or lay your head and sleep tight on a luxury pillow at the Ritz-Carlton.

While logos are visual symbols of a brand, they–-and brands themselves––can be reinforced through other senses to put your top of mind. A sound accompanying your logo is like saying, “Yoo hoo! Remember us?” See it. Hear it, feel it, love it.

But as we’ve said before, brands go well beyond a logo in forming and reinforcing your identity. And the five senses––when applied in accordance with your brand––augment it even more. Explore ways to hit the senses to a passive audience. Engage them, awaken them. A slight, extra hook. Not too intrusive. A couple beats.

Why all the senses?

You might have heard that “We remember 10% of what we read. 20% or what we hear. 30% of what we see. 50% of what we see and hear.”

That’s a load of bunk.

But people do learn and remember in various ways. Some are more visual. Others more kinesthetic. Some more auditory. And fans of your brands–-and potential loyalists––don’t all learn the same way. It’s worth it to make an effort to reach them in ways catered to the way they absorb information.

What sensory branding does is reach them in such ways without dedicated campaigns for multiple audiences. The added sense-response items you include are the add-ons that enhance what’s already there, whether it’s on the page, in the store, at the office, over the airwaves, or on the screen.

Build up your brand environment

Ten years ago, Sony stores looked to make women feel more welcome. They literally infused a customized scent of vanilla, mandarin, bourbon and other secret ingredients into its stores. Perhaps they had insight that men wanted big TVs, but that women tended to make the purchasing decision.

Sensory branding succeeds because we are innately wired to have powerful, emotional responses to stimuli whether it’s deliberate or not on the brand’s part. Sensory branding plays into out levels of comfort, memory, familiarity and desires. The red Target bullseye is a logo, sure. But the reds, the circle and sense of energy extends to store design, store circulars, website, delivery trucks, app (Target Circle™) and so on. Brands are always looking for ways to extend their brand into new places. And the ones who do it best do it seamlessly without seeming to encroach on the communication environment. Extending into senses is another tool on the toolbox.

The Netflix sound helps settle us in to watch. Your computer’s ding as you open it up may put you in a “working” frame of mind. Heavier cardstock on a direct mail or brochure evokes luxury and confidence. Coffee bean aroma in a Starbucks may awaken or relax.

The details that surround your brand and which halo your communications to current and prospective customers matter. Filling portions of that space to be received both consciously and subconsciously elevates your brand as your audience’s inherent wiring meets you halfway.

How to fill that space? Wisely. Prudently. In ways that enhance or broaden your brand rather than make it new. Sensory branding is not designed to remake your brand. It’s designed to make more inroads, create more “holds” for your audience to grab on to, more hooks to subconsciously grab them and have your brand occupy more space in their mind.

A bonus sense.

Like with anything in marketing communications, if there’s a way to do something, there is a way to do more of it.

Going beyond the five senses, brands have found one more. The sense of nostalgia. These generally tend to be more temporary (Pepsi throwback with “real cane sugar”) to tap into one’s sense of “the good old days” or as a walk down a “remember when” memory lane, designed to trigger a positive reaction and connected good will and/or purchase.

Brands like Polaroid bringing back their iconic camera for the Boomers that remember and the Gen Z that discover instant prints (digital pictures can be printed, who knew?). Old school Super Nintendo games on the Switch console tapping into Gen X. Sometimes nostalgia-awakening happens to a brand realizing it. Just ask Champion sparkplugs, who had to restock the T-shirt Brad Pitt wore in “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood.” And don’t get us started on music, where bands–as brands– live on and on and on.

Whether it’s real like the above or imagined, don’t discount the power of nostalgia. Even if it’s a throwback logo for a week, reskinning a website or social graphic, or even sharing a then and now ad, case study or article, going back in time for a bit can help take your brand forward too.