Building A Multisensory Brand

Raja RajamannarFebruary 8, 20215 min

In addition to visual and sonic brand strategies, Mastercard has also embarked on a journey to tap into the sense of taste. Taste has a very close connection to the primal brain. It affects consumers rapidly. For the most part, people tend to like or dislike a taste instantaneously. And if they don’t like something instantly, it can take them a long time to acquire a taste for it.

Taste is very natural to a brand associated with edible products or drinks. But what about brands like Mastercard that do not have any natural reason to be associated with taste? Well, we could come out with edible prepaid cards, but that’s probably not a smart idea. Instead, Mastercard launched a program called Priceless Tables, where a fabulous dinner is served at a table or two set up in exotic and completely unexpected places—like on top of a billboard in Manhattan or next to a dinosaur skeleton in a Chicago museum or on a baseball diamond. These tables, thousands of which we created around the world, create a terrific experience for the consumers, at scale. And they directly result in a brand image uplift, with a lot of conversations about it in social media.

We even launched restaurants, including in Manhattan. Some of these restaurants, by design, are faithful re-creations of exotic restaurants from around the world. And we keep changing the themes to keep the concepts fresh. For example, one of the restaurants, called The Rock, was a very exotic restaurant that stands literally on a rock, off the coast of Zanzibar in Tanzania. We replicated the restaurant to a T, including the view from each window to be exactly the same as if the diner were in the original restaurant. The menu, the sea breeze, the fragrance, the specially composed background music leveraging our sonic melody—it created a stunning multisensory experience. The idea was to create such wholesome, multisensory experiences that money cannot buy—only a Mastercard can bring them to you.

Mastercard has even created macarons in unique flavors in partnership with Ladurée, the premier French baker. One flavor is the taste of optimism, the second, the taste of passion, and they are presented in the two colors of the Mastercard logo, red and yellow. Sold through select Ladurée stores, they are also given to Mastercard clients at various events and conferences to reinforce the brand through their taste buds.

How Aston Martin Employs Multisensory Branding 

Another excellent example of multisensory branding comes from Aston Martin, the iconic British carmaker, famously associated with James Bond. This brand has done some amazing work in the multisensory space. As a luxury brand, its sales volumes are naturally limited and similarly don’t have gigantic marketing budgets. So, rather than relying on traditional marketing, they explored new fields to make their brand impact felt. One such direction is sensorial marketing, including sonic branding.

Unsurprisingly for a brand that has been around for more than a hundred years, the sonic identity has been built over many decades and at its heart is the distinctive sound of the engine. The exhaust note is the rumble of the car, a carefully engineered soundtrack that can switch from mellow to malevolent with a squeeze of the throttle. Nothing has been left to chance to ensure that every sound the car makes is in harmony with the engine sound, from the seat belt alerts and low fuel reminders, to the particular click of the gearshift and the soft creak of the leather upholstery.

Each element of the sonic identity, no matter how insignificant, has been given much thought. Using the fasten seat belt tone as an example, Aston Martin decided to make the warning more melodic, to be suggestive rather than demanding. If the driver ignores it, there is a second and a third transition in intensity to convey the urgency. The fundamentals of sonic identity are matching the sounds the car makes to the visual identity of the brand. Sounds that express and encapsulate the craftsmanship, refinement, and unique character of the brand.

Aston Martin also has deployed the other senses of touch and smell. It takes more than a hundred hours to craft the interior of an Aston Martin and it is all done to deliver a sensory experience, from the unique touch sensation when a customer runs her fingers over the leather interior to the aroma of the leather. The aroma is so distinctive that when Aston Martin Works restores a vintage Aston Martin, they will source the leather from the original supplier to ensure the aroma of the leather is authentic to that car. Talk of being obsessed, in a great way, to being true to and consistent with every aspect of the brand manifestation.

Gerhard Fourie, Director of Marketing and Brand Strategy of Aston Martin, says “The identity of the brand has developed over many decades, and even when we move into new fields of marketing, it is essential that we maintain the essence of the brand. And to do so, we go to extraordinary lengths.”

The Emergence Of Multisensory Branding 

A number of other companies have been on the multisensory branding journey, albeit just getting started. Hotel chains, in particular Marriott, have been using “signature scents” as part of their branding campaign for many years. Many retailers also take a similar approach, using scent to engage the brain’s limbic system— the part most connected to memory and behavior.

Nike has found that when they added scents to its stores, purchase intent among customers increased by up to 80 percent. In a similar report, a gas station minimart in the UK found that the smell of coffee in the air increased their sales by 300 percent. However, this should not be confused with sonic branding. Merely adding fragrances to enhance the consumer experience or stimulate their brain or evoke their feelings is not sensory branding. It is just sensory stimulation. Sensory branding is where the sounds, smells, taste, touch, etc., are all unique to that brand and are recognizable and uniquely associated with that brand. It is a brand identity creation, across multiple senses.

Multisensory branding is all about reaching consumers through all their senses in ways that are relevant, authentic, compelling, and non-intrusive, thus cutting through the massive clutter and reaching the consumers’ hearts and minds.

We’re in marketing 5.0, it’s the era of sense and sensibility. The manifestation of all the technology available to marketers means that a lot of dehumanisation is going to happen, there’s going to be a dislocation and displacement of human interaction even more than what we’ve witnessed in the last five years.

The next phase for marketers is bringing the human back into human interactions and understanding the sensibilities of human beings – not just interests and desires, but the finer subtle elements of individuals. Moving your brand and its boundaries is the only way to connect with consumers in a compelling and impactful way.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by Mastercard CMO Raja Rajamannar, excerpted from his book QUANTUM MARKETING: Mastering the New Marketing Mindset for Tomorrow’s Consumers  Copyright © 2021 by Raja Rajammanar. Used by permission of HarperCollins Leadership.

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