If Dunkin’ Donuts plasters ads on the inside of city buses, it is because they believe riders exposed to the brand – over time – will be more inclined to stop for coffee and a donut at DD rather than at Starbucks, McDonald’s, Krispy Kreme, what have you. Or even that a consumer getting on a bus not thinking about coffee or donuts will exit the bus with these items at the forefront of their consciousness.
If Dunkin’ Donuts continues with this line of thinking, they will ask themselves what else could persuade riders beyond “seeing” an ad of the brand logo and pictures of the products? Would riders be further compelled if they could “smell” the coffee or glazed donuts on the bus?
Over the past few months, we’ve been talking a lot about augmented reality marketing and virtual reality marketing – two important pieces of the sensory marketing puzzle. Effective marketing requires engaging all or many senses, however, so CMOs must identify the right multi-sensory mix to positively impact the target buyers (whether they are consumers or business users).
Sensory marketing and experiences have been around for decades and examples abound. Much of it comes down to the effects of a desensitized audience. A theme park visitor who first rides the tallest roller coaster in the world will have a thrilling experience, but what happens when the visitor rides the coaster a second, third or tenth time? So theme parks might try and activate other senses through smoke, sound, lights, etc. If you want to know where theme park attractions are headed by the way, Legoland’s new Ninjago 4-D attraction offers a hint as the first ride in North America that uses hand gestures in place of physical devices to control a ninja warrior battle. The attraction also adds sensory experiences such as heat, smoke and wind for the virtual journey.
In a recent article for Harvard Business Review, a pair of professors shared results from four studies they conducted on when sensory marketing works and when it doesn’t for brands. The studies focused on taking product brands consumers were familiar – Nokia and Apple phones – and adjusting the product and packaging to gauge impact on brand perception. Prior to showing research subjects the new phones and packaging, the researchers first determine that Apple was viewed as the “exciting” brand and Nokia the “sincere” brand. This was important, because according to the study, brand perception impacted the amount of leeway Apple and Nokia had to fundamentally alter the product, packaging, and promotional experience.
The bottom line, according to the authors, is that consumer preference can be altered by sensory marketing tactics, but how well the tactic works depends on the brand’s personality. Apple as an “exciting” brand may be able to get away with surprising consumers with unexpected sensory experiences without undoing positive brand perception, whereas Nokia may risk alienating loyal customers if radical changes run counter to its brand sincerity.
The researchers went on to conclude from the four studies that overall, individuals prefer sincere brands (hallmark, Ford, Coca-Cola) over exciting brands, “when the brand’s packaging or promotional accessories felt and looked the same, but they preferred exciting brands (Mountain Dew, BMW, Pepsi) when the brand’s packaging or promotional accessories did not feel and look the same.”
As sensory options for marketers extend from see and hear to smell, touch and immersion, a host of new opportunities open up for CMOs – opportunities that become risks if the CMO overlooks some key takeaways from these studies. Creating a virtual or augmented reality experience in and of itself will not necessarily turn off users of a sincere brand, but marketers must be mindful of risks if the experience itself does not stay true to sincerity of the brand. To learn more about the importance for VR marketing, reach out today: