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More attention to the senses makes sense. Even in a Digital World.

In these times of relentless digitalisation, is there still room for the five senses? Does that still make sense? Or should the Brandr just focus on the visual aspect, the driver in the digital domain? Easy enough, right? There is definitely a case to be made for digital multisensory branding. Let's first start with the definition, which is used within Haystack Consulting:

"The process of focusing on sensory strategies and stimuli with the aim of creating a multi-sensory brand experience, supporting the individual's identity creation through the five senses and the mind to enhance consumer value of and consumer experience with the brand." (free from: Bertil Hultén, 2011).

This definition integrates narrower definitions that, for example, only refer to the implicit power of sensory cues. The above definition contains a number of important elements for brand builders. Let us review some of them.

It is a 'process, a strategy'. Not a one-off. 

This is an important signal, because it is often a strategy that was put into action years ago for the just-started, ambitious marketer. And these multi-sensory attributes of the brand evoke images and sensations. So it is best to cleverly build on them, not to fundamentally change them (unless there is irrefutable evidence, no other way possible. And even then...).

There is a deliberate reference to 'creating a multi-sensory brand experience'. 

The reason is simple: owning one sense in a category, is difficult. An example: from a distance, the sense 'Sight' in the beer category is filled in the same way by a number of brands: Carlsberg, Heineken and Grolsch: they all use green as their main colour. And yet all three are extremely successful, because they have all built a different multi-sensory experience. 

Think of Grolsch beer. 

A brand with 'lovers and haters', certainly not everyone's friend, and that is a conscious choice. It has a somewhat polarising taste and the brand builders in the 1970s also had this realisation and fully exploited this insight of a polarising taste: We are not everyone's friend and we are proud of it!

  • Sight: darker green with white (clearly a different shade of green than the other two beers) and a bottle and crate that looks larger and certainly more robust than most beer bottles.
  • Touch: rough on the outside, because of the cut glass. You also have to use some force to open the bottle.
  • Sound: an unmistakable 'plop' when the clasp comes loose.
  • Scent: a strong hop scent, which does not dissipate quickly.
  • Taste: a spicy, bitter taste.

Because all these senses build on each other, Grolsch has created a rock-solid 'Symphony of Senses', which the brand builders don't need to tell you about. The consumer experiences it implicitly and understands; if I use this brand, I prove myself as someone with character and it is also a clear route for brand growth: all the brand activities we undertake and beers we brew have character.

Perhaps the most important part of the definition is this phrase: 'through the five senses and the mind'. 

Let this sink in: the senses combined with the mind. Brands are literally and figuratively branded in the minds of consumers by the experiences they have with them. And as long as these experiences are consistent (i.e. multisensory consistent), it becomes a success story: Apple ('sophistication/status'), Red Bull ('extreme/dynamic') and TikTok ('do something with your time/inspiration'). They have found a place in your brain by using at least two senses.

Why go to all this trouble? The aim, of course, is 'to enhance consumer value and consumer experience with the brand'. As the definition states.

The intriguing thing about multi-sensory, developed brands is that there is a whole implicit world behind them, which is invisible to a consumer, but which he/she does register. As a Brandr, you can therefore strengthen and/or adjust associations (think of McDonald's Netherlands green logo), but also think of more subtle forms: such as the use of letters. Among Western Europeans, the word Kiki evokes very different associations than Buba.

So should brands strengthen their digital brand signature with all the senses? 

Something that hasn't really been done so far? Absolutely. If you want to excel online, you have to incorporate this into your (digital) brand, otherwise you are not maximising your brand impact. Besides, there is already a revaluation of brand sound (sonic branding) going on. Especially in a smartphone, app-driven society crucial. And the focus on the visual is inherent in the digital domain. Yet this can be even more Brand Distinct Assets-driven. How often are online forms, just 'forms'? While this is a moment in the brand journey? And I am not talking about the small ones here. No, about big, respected brands.

As a digital Brandr, you have to be willing to take on the challenge of translating the senses to online
. The visual and the auditory are the first step. The tactile, aromatic and gustatory are the logical next steps. There is already a lickable screen that can mimic flavours and there are already digital artists who can mimic tactility. So your brain feels a 'push', while you only see something. These are now no more than gimmicks, but integrated into your brand story and 'stacked' on top of each other, you can build an unbeatable digital brand signature.

I don't know Giep Franzen personally, but I do know his work, from which I learn that Giep Franzen is a great advocate of literal branding. So the name Brandr for his latest work is a very conscious one. He inspires me to always stoke up the brand fire and feed it with facts and fantasy, in order to use heated discussions to give a brand - or an expression of the brand - a clearly recognisable yet distinctive stamp that will stand the test of time. Just like Giep's ideas.

This article was published in the book:
Brandr: Kroniek van het merk // Chronicle of the brand (Giep Franzen, 2022), article by Ronald Laan

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Ronald Laan
+31 20 723 42 60
Strategic Advisor