Sensational Branding!

Multi-sensorial branded luxury in SIA's first class cabin (courtesy of Richard Moross)

What do leading brands like Apple Computer, Singapore Airlines and Disney have in common?  

The answer?  They are the world's leading sensory brands, according to Martin Lindstrom, author of the book Brand Sense - Build Power Brands through Touch, Taste, Smell, Sight and Sound.  This highly readable volume on creating immersive branding experiences shared that truly great brands do not just leverage on sight and sound (the most frequently branded elements) but seek to engage as many senses as possible.  In fact, the brands which leave the most lasting impressions are those which can affect the other three senses - smell, touch and taste.  These are often the most deeply rooted in our mental and emotional psyche.  

To build a multi-sensory brand, one first needs to look at how to smash one's brand.  Now this term doesn't mean that you should destroy all copies of your prized Elvis collection, but rather that you should develop such strong sensory values into your brand that each individual element can be recognised independent of the rest.  The 12 components of Martin's Smash Your Brand philosophy are: Picture, Colour, Shape, Name, Language, Icon, Sound, Behaviour, Service, Tradition, Ritual and Navigation.  

An example of a successful brand that can be smashed is that of the Coke bottle, which even when broken into pieces, can still be individually recognised.  Melodies like Nokia's signature tune or Intel's jingle can also be recognised without the need to include a visual element.

How does one craft a rich sensory brand?  The book cites that one needs to move up a pyramid that Stimulates, Enhances and Bonds.  Greater degrees of brand smashability and customer loyalty will be forged as one moves up the ranks from a brand that can achieve branded stimuli (touch, taste, scent, sound, sight), create branded enhancements (eg the tactile feel of keys on a Texas Instruments calculator) to finally bonding with one's customers (eg IBM ThinkPad's navigation system, or Nokia's cell-phone menu).  In the bonding stage, the process has become intuitive and a natural part of customer's everyday life.

A six step strategy is proposed to develop a sensory brand:

Step 1: Conduct a sensory audit.  This entails leveraging existing sensory touch points, creating synergy across them, innovative sensory thinking ahead of the competition, ensuring sensory consistency and authenticity, making sure that one's sensory elements are positive, developing constant progress across touch points, and finally determining if one's brand is smashable.

Step 2: Brand Staging.  This involves doing a benchmarking exercise with sensory leaders in various categories, which may or may not hail from one's industry, and comparing how one's brand matches against theirs.  The best practices can be employed with modifications to one's product or service.

Step 3: Brand Dramatisation.  Like in theatre, brands need to have a personality and to touch one's feelings and emotions.  Can the various sensory elements help to convey the values of the brand?  Are they able to effect the right stimuli, or enhance the existing virtues of the brand?  Can the brand bond with its customers and can extensions help in developing a deeper linkage (eg the distinct smell and taste of Colgate toothpaste across other products like dental floss and toothpicks)?

Step 4: Brand Signature.  This is the unique quality of the brand that cannot be easily replicated by competitors.  An example is the roar of the Harley Davidson motorcycles, the aromas of cookies baked by Famous Amos, or the smooth feel and lines of Macbooks.

Step 5: Implementation.  This is where the rubber (or its burnt smell!) hits the road and again this consists of a 5 step process:

- Development of sensory touch points (which are the ones that will work best, and can be branded - stimuli, enhancement or bonding)

- Testing concepts of sensory touch points (using internal or external test subjects)

- Integration of touch points

- Testing with prototypes

- Natural environment study (ie doing a reality check away from the research lab)

Step 6: Evaluating the revised sensory brand and its impact. 

In one of the more fascinating chapers in the book, Martin highlighted that the best sensorial or holistic brands in the world belong to the realm of religion.  As companies move towards building strong cult brands (like Apple's MacBook followers, or Coca-Cola's legions of "coke addicts"), they could learn how to employ the tools of sensorial branding to emulate the following qualities of religion:

1) A unique sense of belonging and community.  Being able to elicit a feeling of being part of a greater cause will help.  An example is the creation of Linux and how its community is united by a common goal to create the best open source operating system to rival Microsoft's juggernaut.

2) A sense of purpose, which can be embodied by a charismatic and visionary leader.

3) Taking power from your competitors.  Most religions do have a common enemy and uniting one's followers (eg Apple versus Microsoft) helps in strengthening brand communities.

4) Authenticity.  Being real and having a strong heritage helps.

5) Consistency and stability.  This is ever more important in an uncertain and troubled world. 

6) Perfect world - creating a utopian end-state that is aspirational and inspirational for followers.

7) Sensory appeal.  Employing the tools and techniques which I have earlier mentioned.

8) Rituals.  How traditions can be moulded into practices that help reinforce brand beliefs.

9) Symbols.  These can be very significant and iconic representations, eg flags, crucifixes and crescents.  

10) Mystery.  The sense of mystique (eg what happens after death) can be especially powerful in brand leadership.

In the age of ever increasing visual and audio clutter, the way to achieve true competitive advantage may rest in developing a truly differentiated and multi-sensory brand. This book presents a useful step towards understanding how one's senses could be leveraged upon to develop enduring brands in the crowded consumer marketplace, and the ideas that are within are useful in the realm of not only marketing, but product development, operations and customer service.

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