Sensory Marketing in the time of Covid the Barbarian

Sensory Marketing in the Time of Covid the Barbarian – a blog, podcast, and vlog.

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My Nan went blind in the latter part of her life. I was in awe of her throughout my childhood. Before I could help, I would watch her put the potatoes on the gas. She would literally feel for the heat, and wouldn’t hesitate to put her finger in boiling water to test the temperature. I was horrified and fascinated in equal measure.

I’ve been told that people who lose a sense have a strong tendency to have other senses step up to meet the challenge. To compensate. I believe this, even if it is only an increased conscious awareness. Close your eyes in the garden on a sunny day and within seconds you will become far more aware of what you are hearing around you.

Where some, though not all, aspects of touch have been removed from the current Customer Experience, intentional Sensory Marketing rises up to the challenge and enables us to deliver an enhanced customer experience. Nan experienced sensory-loss and rallied to the challenge. Prisoners of War have experienced sensory deprivation and have risen to the challenge. We are at war with COVID and its causes. With purposeful Sensory Strategies, we can rise to the challenge… and win!

The Greatest Ally: Scent

The signs of cleanliness are going to be all-around every Customer Experience going forward for the next months. Therefore, they will be taken for granted. They will only be noticed if they are missing. Think back to a time when you noticed that the floor of a Bar or the table of a Restaurant was sticky! Icky! I bet you felt revulsion! The stickiness ‘said’ something about the venue… and hence the experience. These are hygiene factors that only count when they are absent! You’ll get no thanks when they are all present and correct.

Research into consumer behaviour around Laundry Products highlighted a fascinating priority. The customers checked first for how the washing smelled rather than the expected check for how clean it looked. When it comes to the perception of cleanliness, scent rules! And when we say, “cleanliness,” now, we mean the associated “safety” that goes with it.

This has always been the case but often at a subconscious level. If you smell rotten eggs, you recoil because they can kill you!

Thus we come to something that has really tickled me. When I ask people,

“Which scent do you most strongly associate with cleanliness?”

Well, let me pause there for a moment and let you answer that for yourself.

“Which scent do you most strongly associate with cleanliness?”

Most of you would have said, “Bleach!”

It turns out that bleach is a terrible scent to use.


Because bleach means “cleanliness-where-there-was-formerly-a-nasty-problem” – or as I indelicately put it, “The Bucket or the Bog.” Yes, it’s poo or puke that is the association ‘behind’ the Bleach!

ScentAir to the rescue

My eldest son, Samuel, works for ScentAir – a company that specialises in the manufacture and delivery of custom scents to influence the customer experience.

Here are five scents or scent genres that they recommend to create a sense of cleanliness and a strong message of Natural Freshness in each instance.

  1. Lavender – a firm favourite that customers will often use in their own homes – thereby strengthening the association between the brand experience you deliver and the customer’s own values AND what they value.
  2. Exotic Tropicals – the scent of Paradise! Could your Reception Area work equally well for the Reception to “The Garden of Eden”?
  3. Refreshing Marine – ie. not like the Holes Bay when the tide goes out! This needs to be the kind of Marine scent that says, “Fresh open water, symbolising freedom is calling you, dear customer!” It says, “Sunshine and Spray – enjoy!”
  4. Invigorating Citrus – just like a healthy breakfast. Grapefruit, Orange, Lemon – all shout, “Clean! Clean!! Clean!!!” and we all know that Lemon juice is a very effective cleaning agent.
  5. Natural Green – for example, Bamboo, Aloe, Soft Moss – all three of which may well already be part of the customer’s home experience.

There’s more, far more, so check out ScentAir if you can see the value of pursuing this research into the ultimate feel-safe and feel-good customer experience.

The Dominant Conscious Sense: Sight

A huge percentage of our higher brain is dedicated to processing vision. No surprise then that it is the dominant conscious sense for most of us. Given that our customers are going to expect, nay demand, clean surfaces and signs of provision for their protection, how can we go the extra mile. Any trip to ASDA will convince you that a huge percentage of the populace don’t understand that the direction an arrow points in is the direction they are supposed to follow for their own safety. Furthermore, most people don’t know what 6 inches is, let alone 2 metres… so those measures won’t work!

No, what we need is to enlist the peripherals! The artwork has an impact. The colour-scheme has an impact. The lighting has an impact. And so does the sense of space – in fact, Harvard University’s Professor Howard Garnder talks about “Visual-Spatial” Intelligence.

To highlight this, I ask,

“Where would you rather shop? ASDA or Waitrose?”

It’s Waitrose in Wimborne every time for me. But not for the reasons you might think – though I am a snob.

No, it’s the light flooding in from the Recreational Park alongside the River. This illuminates the checkouts and much of the store. Secondly, it’s the light in the store. Thirdly, it’s the breadth of the aisles.

Now here’s a thing. ASDA’s aisles may be the same width. Their lighting is also very good but it’s suspended from a cavernous ceiling that makes it feel like shopping in a warehouse.

So much to think about!

Sound: And a Lesson from “Tubular Bells”

Yes, this article could be a book. So let’s just keep is short with few examples. I loved the back of Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” where it says,

“This stereo record cannot be played on any old tin boxes no matter what they are fitted with. If you are in possession of such equipment please hand it into the nearest police station.”

I’ll leave the thought there: the quality of your sound system says something about the quality of your brand. The quality of your musical choice says much about the quality of your character!

Taste: Do You Have Good Taste?

Using chocolates made by Michael Collins speaks volumes about your taste – literally.

What does your brand taste of?

Touch: The Power of Texture and the Magic of Movement

With touch under fire, have we lost ‘touch’ with this sense?


Other aspects of touch become disproportionately important.

I remember Chris Muirhead deliberately slapping down a triple-layered business card onto a hard-topped table. I was ‘sold’ instantly. The card had weight (therefore so did the brand), and it had tone – since I’m a sucker for sound, I was sold! Of course, it was visually great but it was so much more.

Direct Print has kinaesthetic power… the power of touch (texture and weight.)

Then there’s kinetic power – movement – which we all associate with freedom. This is a topic for another presentation but just think of how effective videos are that move compared with talking static heads.

The Sixth Sense: Humour

The unsung sense is a sense of humour. We had a most enjoyable experience with a colleague at B&Q. Before we could go in, we were cheerfully and clearly briefed on what measures were in place for our safety and for the team. It was a good retail experience – wrapped in good humour.

I leave you then with a thought from Maya Angelou,

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Make them feel great by planning their sensory experience – you know it makes sense.

Author’s note: if you’d like help working on your sensory strategy, send me a direct message, and we’ll make sense of where to go next with your brand experience to create ‘Customer Delight’.


Lex McKee

Member of The Boardroom Network