How to engage with customers using sensory branding » Ipsos » Market leader in people counting, management and behaviour insights


Bricks-and-mortar retail has never been more competitive than it is today. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, some of the UK’s biggest high street brands were struggling to keep their doors open, and the ongoing lockdowns have only made the picture worse.

As customers move en masse to the digital space, only those brands which can successfully fuse their in-store and online offerings into a cohesive whole – where each is as important as the other – are likely to survive in the long run.

One of the ways that retail brands are redefining themselves for the digital age is by placing themselves in a consumer’s consciousness in more ways than are immediately obvious. By making the brand an experienced idea – one which works its way into the consumer’s everyday life – rather than just a commodity with which they occasionally interact, retailers can promote brand loyalty, increase revenues and cement their reputations in the minds of the public. Sensory branding is a core part of how companies can achieve this.


What is sensory branding?

People connect with brands all day, every day – whether they are at home, on the high street or elsewhere. This means that there are constant opportunities for engagement, but consumers are increasingly overwhelmed by the messaging that brands try to push into their lives.

Creating more consistent and subtle ways to cut through the competition is the most effective way to ensure engaging and memorable experiences for consumers without overwhelming them – and this is where sensory branding comes in.

It means creating a powerful connection between the customer and the brand by engaging each of their senses on multiple levels – showing an understanding of every stage of the customer journey.


How to engage your customers using sight

Sight may seem the most obvious way to engage a customer. After all, they look at your brand from the moment they first become aware of it, whether seeing an advert, walking into your store or visiting your website. But because visual branding is so ubiquitous, it’s one of the more challenging aspects of sensory branding.

Many brands make the mistake of simply amping up their visual identity in order to drown out the competition – but in order to truly stand out in the mind of a customer it is well worth scaling back and considering what aspects are really essential.

Choosing colours, typefaces and logo shapes that evoke the right emotional response in your customer can be a subtle and far more powerful way to pin your brand at the forefront of their mind.


How to engage your customers using sound

Another area where cutting through the noise – quite literally – can be challenging is in aural branding. This is an aspect of sensory branding that can be especially effective where the visual market is overcrowded, because one simple sound can have much more power than images or wording.

Some of the biggest brands in the world have a simple sonic logo which is immediately identifiable and creates an instant response in the listener. Of course, this audio relationship is built on years of multi-layered marketing, so simply creating a catchy sonic logo will not instantly place your brand at the centre of your consumers’ attention. However, if you are thinking of creating a sonic logo, think about what sound your product makes and whether this can be incorporated into your branding.

Other ways that you can use sound to engage consumers is in your choice of in-store or advertising voiceover. The timbre of a voice can make a vast difference to the effect it has on a listener, and the choice of music you use in your retail environment can transform the performance of your business.

Classical music is known to create a sense of quality, while especially loud music can cause customers to spend less time in a store. In addition, music with a fast beat may make customers feel more impatient when waiting to be served in a queue, so consider your choices carefully.


How to engage your customers using smell

Scent may not seem such an obvious way to engage customers with your brand, but it is widely understood to be one of our most powerful senses and closely associated with memory – something that’s crucial for brands wanting to stay in the minds of customers.

Many of the most successful retail brands use scent to create a positive response in their customers – whether choosing a signature scent to use throughout their stores or simply pumping the smell of their products around the premises to boost sales.

Anything from coffee and baked goods to new shoes can be an attractive scent for customers who know what they want to buy. The incredible psychological impact of smells can have a direct effect on how long customers spend in store and on spend.


How to engage customers using touch

The biggest brands have a ‘feel’ – it might not be something immediately tangible or easy to pin down, but they create it through every aspect of their sensory branding. Touch is one of the ways that you can bring that feel into the retail experience.

The texture and feel of packaging, the products themselves and even small objects like flyers and business cards can influence the way they perceive your brand, so think carefully about paper stocks and even using unexpected materials – as well as often being more sustainable, this can say a lot about your business and make it easier to stick in consumers’ minds.

The power of touch in sensory branding speaks to the importance of physical retail stores in today’s digital age – people still want to feel things before buying them, and being in a position to offer them the opportunity can help to set you apart.