Sensory marketing: get a sense for driving sales

Sensory marketing is a type of marketing which uses touch, taste, or smell to connect with customers on an emotional level.i It targets your customers’ subconsciousness, and aims to create a positive, emotional connection with the brand. This connection in turn makes customers more likely to preference the brand over others. ii And, while its effectiveness depends on its execution, it has been proven to work.

Smell is one of the most powerful senses

Humans have a highly developed sense of smell – and it’s very difficult to ignore. Our ability to smell comes from specialised sensory cells, called olfactory sensory neurons, which are found in a small patch of tissue high inside the nose.iii These cells connect directly to the brain, making smell one of the most powerful senses.

Not only this, our olfactory system has a close relationship with the limbic system, which is strongly linked to our emotions and our memories.iv According to Mindy Yang, a designer and olfactory artist, humans are largely defenceless to smells. “There is no guard against a fragrance as an emotional trigger so long as one is not anosmic [unable to discern smell]! Done right, olfactive marketing is an incredibly powerful tool.”iv

Owners of small retail businesses can greatly benefit from scents that are associated with the brand or store image. Therefore, scents can stress attributes that best describe your store and products (for example, fresh, homey, energetic, young, elegant), creating the ideal ambiance to put your customers in the right mood to shop. However, keep in mind that a response to a scent, for instance if it triggers a pleasant or unpleasant emotion, is often a highly personal matter, as it depends on the customer's individual experience and memories.

Music to my ears

Similar to scents as described above, music is an effective tool to impact on a customer's mood while shopping in your store. Music can have a variety of effects on customers, including attracting their attention, enhancing or recalling their memory of products of experiences, creating a brand image, and exploiting associations already existing with the music.v It can evoke emotions, create a particular mood, or simply provide a pleasant experience. Music can also help you target a certain buyer group: for example, loud, upbeat electronic music can signal to seniors that this store probably does not cater to their wants.

Seeing red

Colour is another factor that plays a significant part of branding, and impacts purchasing In fact, researchers have found that up to 90% of snap judgements about some product are based on the product’s colour alone. vi

At a basic level, colour association is a great asset for brand recall and identity.vii But colour plays an additional role as well. Colours convey emotions faster than words, and can be used to create the “personality” of a brand. vi “One of the greatest assets and one of the easiest ways to sway decision or attract an emotive response – or alienate a consumer – is through colour,” says June Mcleod, author of Colour Psychology Today. “Purple with Cadbury; Shell with Yellow; National Trust with Green – they all work and work wonderfully well.” vii

Specific colours can also be used to invoke certain moods and feelings.

Specific colours can also be used to invoke certain moods and feelings. For example, blue can have a calming influence on the customer, and Google famously tested 41 shades of blue before landing on an option for their paid ad links. vii

But more important than the colour itself can be the way the colour interacts with your product or customer experience. It is colour appropriateness rather than any specific colour itself can create the right reaction in potential purchases. vi As a result, it’s best to think about the kind of experience you want to convey, and what you want customers to think about your brand – and then think about a range of colours that might match.

Finishing touch

Touch and taste can also have an influence on customer purchasing behaviour. A pilot study undertaken by the University of Washington, involving more than 1100 participants, found that people who read descriptions of the taste or touch of a product were more likely to want to try it than those who did not. viii By the same notion, advertising messaging incorporating a touch element is perceived as more persuasive than a message without one, especially when the touch stimulates positive sensory feedback.ix

For your retail shop, think about how these two sensory stimuli can contribute to the store ambiance you want to create. What fabric are you using for seat covers, cushions or drapes? Can you offer small treats or any form of refreshment to your customers?

A multi-sensory approach to enhance the customer experience in your store can increase sales and impact on your business's bottom line. In order to benefit from sensory marketing carefully asses what kind of emotions you would like to evoke, analyse the current shop environment, and then make necessary adjustments to provide sensory stimuli suitable for your target group. During this process, don't hesitate to take on feedback from staff and customers, as their perception might differ from your own.

iRebecca Sullivan, 2017, How Retailers are Using Sensory Branding,, viewed 1 March 2018

ii Harvard Business Review, 2016, When Sensory Marketing Works and When It Backfires, viewed 1 March 2018

iii National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, Smell Disorders, viewed 1 March 2018

ivThe Guardian, 2016, The Missing Sense: Why our technology addiction makes us crave smells

v Anaelle Lorre, 2017, Sensory Marketing: The effect of music on consumer perception and behaviour, Helsinki Metropolia University

vi Gregory Ciotti, 2016, The Psychology of Colour in Marketing and Branding, Entrepreneur, viewed 1 March 2018,

viiMarketing Week, 2017, How brands are using colour to influence purchase decisions, viewed 1 March 2018

viii BYU News, 2017, Now or Later: How taste, touch and sound affect when you buy, viewed viewed 1 March 2018,

ix Science Direct, 2016, The power of sensory marketing in Advertising, viewed 1 March 2018