What is Sensory Design?

POSTED BY Greg Keating ON Jun 30, 2016 8:30:00 AM

sensorydesign.pngThe way that we view the world is through the lens of multiple senses that interact and help to give us an impression of our surroundings. No matter what product we are looking to purchase, it’s our sensory input that tells us what we should buy, or leave on the shelf. This is why businesses need to learn to market with all five senses in mind.

Multi-sensory design as a concept has been around for years, but is more recent as it applies to brands. Today, many people understand that applying multi-sensory design to a product produces a more complete, and ultimately better brand experience. In fact, there is an interesting article that was published by Branding Strategy Insider that discusses how product experience is what ultimately determines brand loyalty. 

Sensory design is the combining of all the senses to provide one single message about a particular brand. But branding is most often associated with the logo, colors, images, icons or characters of a specific product. That being said, this is an inadequate appreciation of what the term represents. A viewpoint such as this reduces branding to a purely visual construct, an aspect that is fundamental to the success of an organization, but not the only element involved.

There are businesses out there today that take advantage of branding on a higher level, therefore gaining significant economic benefits, and advantages over the competition. Let’s take a look at each piece individually, and break down how sensory design can be leveraged through sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell.


This has traditionally been the most important tool used by businesses to develop their brand on the market. People like to see attractive logos, corporate colors and characters with which one can identify a specific product. Most individuals recognize the Pepsi or Coke logos right away, and these types of elements have been the focal point of business strategy in most corporations for a long time. However, this has been changing for years. The fact of the matter is that the use of the logo is not so important provided that the product is adequately positioned and associated with other stimulus.


Perhaps second only to sight in terms of popularity with branding specialists, sound is used in marketing and advertising to appeal to our sense of hearing. Corporations realize that using purely visual devices in their campaigns will not be sufficient to influence consumer purchase decisions. For this reason, advertisers might use a pleasant sound or jingle to make a lasting impression in a consumer’s mind. Folgers is a great example of this. Who doesn’t remember “The best part of wakin’ up” song? Or what about the distinct sound that an Apple computer makes upon startup? These types of sounds are meant to add to a consumption experience and enhance recall and consumer association.


There is almost no better tool for garnering brand recognition than having a product with a very distinctive taste or flavor. Take KFC for example. Their recipe is a closely guarded industry secret, and to this day there are very few individuals who know the exact blend of herbs and spices that they use. Coke has also been rumored to use a secret ingredient that gives it a different taste than other beverages. The idea of grandma’s secret recipe is nothing new, and the involvement of taste in brand development has been around for a long time as well, but it is only recently that corporations have started realize the importance of using taste combined with other senses to make for a better overall consumer experience.


It can be said that certain brands understand our sensitivity and natural tendency to feel our environment as a means of interaction with it. For example, many of us can operate our phones without actually looking at the device. This illustrates how we develop a physical memory and include certain products in our daily activities. Textured labels, bottles that are adapted to our hands, or soft fabrics in textiles are other examples of how our sense of touch can enable us to make a closer connection with a specific brand.


The human nose can tell the difference between thousands of different odors. In addition to being the most acute of the senses it also has the power of memory association. Think back to your childhood and try to remember a product that really stuck in your mind. Whatever it is, you might be able to recall how it smelt if you concentrate. Maybe it’s a special bubble gum? Perhaps a particular brand of perfume your mother wore? Brands can use the incredible power of human smell to endear their products to consumers. Nostalgia is a very useful tool in advertising and most corporations know how to use it.

Final Thoughts

Not every sense will apply to all products, but certainly it's worth looking into a little, and making sure you are doing the right thing for your brand.

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