Branding That Makes Sense(s)
by Leah Genuario

In today’s competitive retail environment, many brands engage multiple senses in an effort to connect with consumers.  
For years, brands have perfected the crunch of their food product, the color of their logo, or their product’s memorable jingle in an effort to draw in new customers and create a loyal base. Sensory branding—engaging senses to successfully build brands—is not a new concept among consumer product goods companies, but in today’s increasingly competitive environment, it is becoming more intentional and most definitely more vital for brand marketers.
Bolstered by tough global competition and “increased expectations for higher financial performance,” says Jana Zednickova, partner in Lippincott Mercer’s brand strategy practice in New York, brands are increasingly looking for effective ways to foster stronger connections with their customers.
“We know that 35 percent of the world’s Fortune 500 brands have adopted the [sensory branding] philosophy in one way or another. And this is most definitely only the beginning,” says Martin Lindstrom, brand futurist and founder of Australia-based Lindstrom Company.
Where to begin?
Appealing to just one sense does not necessarily cut it in today’s competitive environment. But it may be hard to know where to start.
Just how is sensory branding effectively incorporated? For brands looking to implement this philosophy into marketing campaigns, Lindstrom first suggests the development of a ‘sensogram’ to determine how many of the five senses a brand is currently leveraging. Once this is identified, brands must learn to optimize the existing senses. Then, in many cases, the addition of one or two additional senses is all that’s needed for successful sensory branding.
“It is important for me to stress that not every brand can or should leverage all five senses,” Lindstrom adds. For example, eBay has effectively used visual clues but would do well to add sound. “Just think about a sound when you’ve secured a bid, purchased a product or had a payment rejected. Branded navigational sounds become integral to the brand’s identity,” adds Lindstrom. Think AOL.
Sensory branding should also remain consistent across all (or at least many) areas of marketing. It works best when it is not limited to one sector of the marketing campaign, though this is easier for some industries to implement than for others. “Hospitality, travel and food industries were among the first to embrace the emerging opportunities for sensory branding, undoubtedly due to the nature of their interaction with customers that enables creation of a coordinated, consistent multi-sensory brand experience,” remarks Zednickova.
For example, Mandarin Oriental hotel group repeats a signature sound throughout its web site, hotel limousines, phone systems, in some reception areas and even in rooms. “The consistent branded signature sound creates synergy across all touch points,” says Lindstrom.
For consumer product goods companies, packaging that engages a variety of senses is an important component to successful sensory branding.
Sense of sight
The first task to accomplish in order to establish the sensory branding philosophy is to maximize the impact of senses already utilized by the brand. This challenge proves most difficult when dealing with a consumer’s sense of sight.
“There’s an overload of visual messages everywhere,” says Zednickova. It “is reducing potential return from traditional visual stimuli.”
Still, there are ways to use this sense to increase a brand’s popularity. One way: “More companies across a wide range of industries recognize that their brands already come with sensory stimuli (such as store lighting) and there is an untapped opportunity to harness these to strengthen the brand,” Zednickova says.
Global brewer SABMiller successfully capitalized on the black lights typically used in nightclubs to launch a special promotion that appeals directly to the sense of sight. Its promotional Miller Genuine Draft beers utilize a label with optical brighteners in its varnish, produced by label manufacturer Spear Systems. When the black lights were turned on at nightclubs, the bottles would visually pop off the shelf because the clear, pressure-sensitive labels became glow-in-the-dark.
Once the bottle was in a consumer’s hands, SABMiller also ensured a pleasing tactile experience that reinforced the brand. The heavy-tactile varnish used on the label enabled consumers to feel the word, “Miller”.
According to a spokesperson at SABMiller, the promotion, which ran in 2005, was deemed a success: “The SMS redemption rate was 33 percent higher than on previous brand promotions,” he said.
Sense of touch
Adding texture to a package can serve several purposes, all of which create loyalty to the brand. Next to visual cues, tactile sensation is the second most common packaging technique used to engage the senses.
For L’Occitane, the incorporation of texture onto its packaging serves a particular group of people: the visually impaired community. Since 1997, the brand has incorporated Braille into packaging. Braille allows the blind and visually impaired to make informed choices about the products they purchase.
“All of our products incorporate Braille, unless they are too small (i.e. Mini Shea Butter) or are a one-shot item (i.e. Verbena Ultra Rich Body Cream),” says L’Occitane’s Tuhina Chakrabarti.
The company has further demonstrated its commitment to the blind by working with non-profit organizations American Foundation for the Blind and Orbis to raise funds directly aiding the visually impaired.
While L’Occitane uses texture for the decidedly functional purpose of aiding the visually impaired in choosing products, a far more popular use for incorporating texture onto packaging is to enhance the experience for a broader base of customers.
In its summer 2007 line, tarte cosmetics is launching Lights, Camera, Splashes!, a waterproof three-in-one mascara. The brand targets busy women, who tend to apply makeup on the go. The waterproof-denim covered package is a good fit for busy lifestyles, and there are no worries if the product accidentally tumbles out of the beach bag and into the pool.
What’s more, the innovative package—complete with an anchor emblem—stands out from the traditional look and feel of mascara tubes and compliments tarte’s summer line.
“Denim seemed like a great choice for summer, especially with the anchor emblem—it just captured that carefree, beachy, nautical vibe we wanted,” says the company’s vice president Alexis Mezzina DiResta.
Texture can also help call attention to special promotions or events. Carlsberg has used an innovative glass beer bottle to celebrate special sporting events over the past two years. Sold throughout Switzerland for the World Cup and throughout Portugal, Turkey, Iceland and the Canary Islands for the Euro championships, the bottle features embossed glass football (soccer) nets. A pressure-sensitive football label, printed by Spear, is placed in the center of the design.
Incorporating texture doesn’t only have to do with making the product feel good in a consumer’s hands. When The Hain Celestial Group launched its Kidz Dream Smoothies last June, it packaged the product in 8-oz. single-serve containers that came with a four-way Turbo Straw. The multiple-holed straw—aside from being fun and different—is designed to direct the smoothie to “different sensory zones in the mouth,” according to the company, providing kids with a “burst of fruit flavor”.
Sense of smell
Although smell is not as prominently used in packaging as texture and visual stimuli, it may be the most important element of successful sensory branding campaigns.
“Our experiments from the BRAND sense study, the world’s largest study conducted on our five senses, shows that you can increase the consumer’s brand preference by up to 56 percent if you embed scent in the right way—that is, in the right context and using the right scent. This has caused sales in some of our experiments to increase by up to 45 percent,” says Lindstrom.
Like texture, scent is being used by today’s brands for several purposes. For years, fragrance companies have used scent for the purpose of product sampling. Procter & Gamble has brought the concept into the oral care category, using scented labels on its Crest Whitening Expressions so potential consumers can get an idea of the new, refreshing flavors.
While this is one popular way to capitalize on the sense of smell, there are others. Strategic incorporation of scent can also conjure up past memories and familiar desires and link them to a particular product or brand.
For example, Arcade Marketing’s new MagniScent technology was incorporated into a “Got Milk?” campaign in December. MagniScent labels emitting a chocolate chip cookie scent were hidden in bus shelters throughout San Francisco, accompanied by a prominent Got Milk? sign, to remind consumers of the heavenly cookie/milk combination.
The technology, which emits a constant stream of scent for up to six months, is generally hidden within a carrier and can be used for product packaging as well.
Other brand marketers are using scent to enhance the flavor of a product, thereby improving customer experiences and hopefully guaranteeing repeat business. AriZona Beverage has been working with Scentsational Technologies to incorporate flavor into the liner of its cap. The project is for one specific product launch that is currently on hold. When the product does roll out, its flavor-injected liner will enhance the taste experience by releasing a controlled aroma.
The technology has also been used successfully in Aroma Water, which has been launched regionally. The water is enhanced with an aromatic cap, so consumers enjoy the experience of drinking a fruity beverage without taking in any calories.
Sense of sound and taste
As far as comprehensive sensory branding campaigns go, sound has played a large role. This high-technology age has provided ample opportunities to help brands engage consumers through sound.
Some brands have found it easy to create and add a signature sound to their web site. Cell phones have been another opportunity—think of the familiar melody attached to T-Mobile, for example.
With advancements in smart packaging technology, packages will also likely capitalize on sound. Until then, it serves a very limited use as far as packaging is concerned.
The sense of taste has also seen limited use in packaging, although if one company has its way, that will change very soon. Inspired by the lick-able wallpaper featured on the kid’s fantasy movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, First Flavor founder Adnan Aziz set out to give brand marketers the opportunity to connect with consumers via taste through its Peel ‘n Taste technology.
Utilizing “basically the same technology” used for breath strips, says Barry Gesserman, vice president of sales and marketing and chief operating officer of the company, the edible film substrate replicates flavors and is made from different forms of hydrocolloid starches.
“In a saturated and fragmented advertising environment, brand marketers are finding it more difficult and costly every day to get their message through to consumers. Incorporating the sense of taste into their communications is an innovative way to get consumers’ attention and let them ‘taste drive’ their product before they buy,” says Gesserman.
The technology is targeted at consumer product manufacturers in the food, beverage or over-the-counter healthcare industries, but Gesserman sees less obvious opportunities for non-food and beverage industries that can use taste to represent a mood or capture the essence of an experience.
In addition to a variety of other applications, First Flavor is working on Peel ‘n Taste neck hanger designs for beverages that would allow consumers to sample the flavor before buying or could serve as a cross-promotional opportunity.
As fierce competition between brands continues, sensory branding will continue to be looked at as a viable way to make strong connections with consumers and build more successful brands.
“We’ve reached a situation where brands have ‘run out of steam’ leveraging one sense only. Research from the BRAND sense study shows that the more senses we appeal to when building brands, the more we remember the brand—and most importantly, the more we become emotionally engaged with the brand,” says Lindstrom.
The author, Leah Genuario, is a New Jersey-based writer specializing in the packaging, printing and beauty industries. Contact her at
Where to go for more information...
Brand identity. At Lippincott Mercer, call 212.521.0000 or visit
Sensory branding. At Lindstrom Company, call 401.441.5684 or visit
Pressure-sensitive labels. At Spear, call 800.627.7327 or visit
MagniScent labels. At Arcade Marketing, call 212.541.2600 or visit
Flavor-injected liner technology. At Scentsational Technologies, call 215.886.7777 or visit
Edible film. At First Flavor, contact Barry Gesserman at 610.785.1325 or visit