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Carly Wickham, Head of Marketing

Customer Experience Series: Part 3

In our third blog in the build up to Retail Design Expo 2016, we look at how customer experiences can be improved through multisensory engagement.

How do you absorb information?

Have you tried the VAK test to find out how you absorb info? If not, give it a go, it takes less than five minutes but the insight gained could be invaluable. It assesses your ability to learn via one of three methods; Visual, Audible and Kinaesthetic. in which case you’ll find resonance within content in this article, which looks beyond visual stimulus, to alternative ways to engage and influence.

Sensory brand engineering (designing product and experience for some senses) is not new. The way Apple’s boxes ‘whoosh’ when opened is designed to delight; Milman’s research, back in 1982, found that slow music increased spend in supermarkets by 39.2%; and Rolls-Royce created the smell of the 1965 Silver Cloud for their entire range, as research proved that this is what ‘quality’ smells like to their customers.

Rolls_Royce_Silver_Cloud_I_1956_licence_plate_1963_Castle_Hedingham_2008

Further research backing up sensory engagement is also compelling

In one study they compared the buying patterns of French versus German wine. On days when French accordion music was playing 77% of the wine sold was French. On days when German ‘oompah style’ music played 73% of the wine sold was German. Astounding results, and amazingly, when they asked shoppers specifically if they thought that the music affected their choice 86% said that it didn’t.

In another study, Diageo showed that certain changes to the multi-sensory environment increased enjoyment of whisky by up to 20%. Variations tested included the sound of a wood crackling fire, the smell of fresh grass clippings and saturation in red light.

Whiskey sensorium

And the Harvard Business Review demonstrated that tactility and touch mattered by discovering that those who haggled over the price of a car sitting in a hard chair offered 28% less than those in soft chairs.

Harnessing the ‘priming effect’

The research manipulates what is referred to in psychology as the ‘priming effect’. It’s powerful stuff. By priming a memory via one of the senses, it is possible to influence subsequent decisions. Patricia Wilson, Study Researcher at La Salle University, Philadelphia describes the ‘priming effect’ of floral smells. “The floral smell is a mood manipulator, so your mood improves, and given this, you are looking for things in your memory bank that match that mood.”

We came across this ‘priming effect’ phenomenon in a previous blog when we visited the Tate Britain’s ‘Sensorium’ art experience as part of our review of London Design Week. Their exhibition set out to intentionally manipulate the experience of art through sensorial engagement. For example, ugly, edible charcoal paired with an uncomfortable, industrial soundtrack brought out the dark nature of Francis Bacon’s WW2 painting.

How does your multisensory experience measure up?

In essence, brand experiences and stores are multisensory experiences whether you design for it or not. Taking Holland & Barratt as an example, imagine what sensory experiences could be possible in a natural health food store with 80 years of heritage. The potential textures, the relevant sounds, the tastes and smells present. With knowledge of the power of the priming effect, this example is a wonderful blank canvas for multisensory brand experiences, but the current sensory engagement does not maximise that potential.

The observation from The Economist is an excellent conclusion to the argument for multisensory design, particularly given the ever-presence of etail; “While computer screens can bewitch the eye, a good shop has four more senses to ensorcell”. And yes we quoted them rightly, ensorcell (new to us too) is the verb to ‘enchant’, fantastic.


This is our third blog in a series looking at Customer Experience in the build up to Retail Design Expo. You can read our first blog here, and the second here.