Building customer loyalty via the five senses

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By: Wise Marketer Staff |

Posted on June 8, 2006

The role of consumers' senses in happiness and satisfaction are becoming more of a target for retail and service industry companies, according to a survey by Omni Hotels which noted the importance of making a sensory connection with customers.

Interestingly, the Omni Hotels study found that some retailers are beginning to tap into the consumer's sense of smell to help enhance the customer experience - and consequently the bottom line.

Smells like satisfaction
Companies such as ScentAir specialise in creating 'scent branding' for retailers (with users of these products including Club Monaco, Coach and Thomas Pink). Similarly, special scents are being tapped by major hotels. For example, ScentAir has created a signature lemongrass scent for Omni Hotels, as well as a mochaccino scent used in the hotels' coffee bars and during catered business affairs.

ScentAir also created a special winter smell for Coors Brewing Company's annual distributors meeting, and for Bloomingdale's they developed individual scents for specific departments, like a baby-powder scent for the infants' department and coconut for the swimsuit area.

The five senses
Omni Hotels surveyed nearly 1,000 of its frequent guests about their preferences related to each of the five senses, with the following results:

  • Sight
    When asked to name the sense that is most vital to them during the day, 69% said sight is the most important, followed by 17% who said smell was most important. When asked about colour schemes, 44% of respondents said blue is the colour that helps them relax most, while green came in at 24%.
  • Smell
    When asked to name smells that promote relaxation, 32% of consumers said citrus, grassy smells help them relax the most, followed closely by floral and eucalyptus (which came in at 29% and 22% respectively).
  • Sound
    Surprisingly, nearly 43% of people said that sound is the most vital sense during the evening. When asked to name the sound that most helps them relax, 58% of respondents said waves crashing on the shore, while 25% said they prefer the sound of silence.
  • Taste
    When asked about a taste that helps them relax, 47% said wine, while 23% preferred chocolate.
  • Touch
    When it comes to bedding, 42% said they prefer the feel of soft cotton, followed by 28% who prefer a down comforter, and 23% who prefer crisp sheets.

Emotional ties
While conducting its study, Omni Hotels also noted that many companies are increasingly using sound to evoke memories and emotions that help develop positive bonds with customers - for example, a familiar hit song often takes people back to an earlier time and place, and hopefully establishes a connection between their current experience and a happy time in their past.

And the internet has turned into a good environment for marketers to use sound to connect with their customers. For example, AOL tapped Brittney Spears to let many young web users know "You've got mail", while Coca-Cola's web site used the familiar sound of a fizzing Coke being poured into an ice-filled glass, and Starbucks' web site used the well-known sound of coffee brewing.

Getting sneaky?
Even when it comes to making cars more attractive, sound and touch are surprisingly important. According to a Brand Sense study, 44% of consumers said that the sound of a new car is more important than the design. It has been reported that Mercedes-Benz employs a dozen engineers dedicated to fine-tuning the sound of opening and closing doors.

Apparently a car door opening and closing is no longer a natural sound: One car maker's engineers worked hard to perfect these sounds - and the feeling of the exercise. On one particular model, the sound of the car door opening and closing is artificially generated and the pleasing vibrations felt from the door are artificially generated.

Sense branding
In practical terms, though, Singapore Airlines has been a pioneer in developing a "total sensory environment" for its passengers: By appealing to all senses, combining music, fragrance, manner, and demeanour in the aircraft cabin the airline has created a uniquely branded flying experience that passengers won't forget.

The research suggests that, while the hygiene factors of marketing can't be ignored, the fine-tuning of customer experiences, satisfaction, and ultimately loyalty, can come down to the subtleties of a comprehensive sensory campaign.

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