Sensory marketing: Scent marketing vs Virtual Reality (VR) integrated marketing

In the marketing world today, brands are fighting for the consumers’ attention so much so that every couple years new platforms are launched in an attempt to catch the most number of eyeballs. As more ads pop up both online and offline, it is evidently getting harder for brands to leave a lasting impression on their target audience. Consumers are smarter now though – skipping through ads giving them little to no attention. And this is the reason why the future of marketing may just be sensory marketing, a marketing technique that involves subconscious influence over customers’ senses. What better way to market products and services when the consumer is oblivious to this new marketing tactic? One of the first experts to identify the strength of sensory marketing is Dr. Aradhna Krishna, a behavioral scientist at the University of Michigan. She defines it as “marketing that engages the consumers’ senses and affects their perception, judgment and behavior”. Jennifer Johnson, senior vice president at Bioscience Communications, calls sensory marketing ‘a powerful communication vehicle that allows you to feel’.

Let’s take a look at where it all began. In early 2000s, innovative companies, such as hospitality giant Marriott International, started experimenting with sensory marketing. Marriott invested in the diffusion of carefully chosen scents to stimulate positive memories, reduce stress and relax customers. Studies have shown that the right fragrance has been able to make guests feel more comfortable at hotels.

sensory marketing
Image courtesy – Pexels

According to Forrester Research, customer experience programs are as responsive to emotional experiences as they are to functional experiences. In other words, marketers have an opportunity to invest in sensory aspects of the customer experience. Not only will this help them build loyalty among customers, it will push them to overcome similarities in business such as products, prices, and services. While sensory marketing provides a more holistic brand experience, Pam Scholder Ellen, a marketing professor at Georgia State University points out that in the case of scent marketing the ‘brain responds before you think’. Since smell generates 75% of emotions, this powerful quality combined with not having to bypass a logical brain makes scent a strong tool in terms of marketing (Scent of a Brand, Davis). Reaffirming this, JW Marriott’s Vice President – global brand leader, Mitzi Gaskins, stated that ‘scent is just as important as music, lighting, and botanical elements in creating the right mood’.

Surprising to some, another finding claims that scent marketing doesn’t suit all customers. Some guests are skeptical and often believe that strong odours in hotels are probably diffused to conceal a less pleasant odour. Additionally, in scent marketing, only a limited number of people can participate in a physical location (Marriott Hotels brings consumers on virtual-reality expedition, Precourt).

While the primary aim for sensory marketing is to express the values of the company to help establish a brand image, scent marketing is evidently a long-term strategy as compared to short-term strategies that dominate visual mediums such as Virtual Reality.

VR offers a complete immersive experience which would not be possible in the real world. A perfect example is that of Virtual Reality integrated in Marriott’s marketing strategy in 2014 with the launch of Teleporter booths. The targeted customers were newlyweds who were given options to travel to exotic honeymoon destinations through ‘the Teleporter’. Fitted with Oculus Rift headsets, they were ‘teleported’ to Hawaii and London. This innovative 4-D technology heightened customers’ sensory experiences by splashing water on their skin, blowing wind through their hair and making them feel the warm sun rays. As Marriott’s global marketing officer, Karin Timpone, points out “V.R. helped us tell a story and inspired people to travel”. By blending VR with the firm’s marketing strategy, it is possible to invite people from all over the globe. This redefines the relationship with the firm’s most important stakeholder – its customers. On the other hand, the current high cost of VR equipment and production cannot be ignored. However, this seems to be minor blimp on the radar as VR is expected to be a part of the average home-entertainment packages in the near future.

Linnaeus University’s Professor Bertil Hultén gives a deeper understanding of these two distinct sensory marketing strategies in his research paper on ‘Sensory Marketing: the Multi-Sensory-Brand Experience Concept’. Hultén’s multi-sensory brand-experience hypothesis focuses on the neglected customer experience and how its influenced by the five human senses.

Lasting brands are created by developing a strong emotional connection with the consumer since it’s been proven that in addition to products and services, customers also buy emotional experiences.

Built on several primary and secondary information sources, Hultén’s study describes how a customer creates an image in his mind after interactions with the brand service or product, thus creating an experience.

Comparing scent marketing strategy and VR-integrated strategy, one can note that while smell is vital, when paired with another sense, the overall effect can be enhanced. VR has proven to be a multisensory opportunity for brands to engage with its customers, differentiate themselves from their competitors and build loyalty (Marketing to the senses: Opportunities in multisensory marketing, Pathak & Calvert). A well-developed multi-sensory marketing strategy will help companies differentiate their brand’s identity from competitors and create successful customer relationships.

 

This analytic case study was first put together as a part of my coursework for master of marketing communications at the University of Melbourne.

Previously published on YourStory.

The evolution of digital content in 2016 and opportunities in 2017

I recently stumbled upon an article by Bala Srinivasa and Darshit Vora called ‘The Future Of Digital Content And Media Disruption In India’. Inspired by it, here is my take on how content is changing under the influence of digital transformation.

I vividly remember when a friend of mine asked me if I had a smartphone. This was back at the beginning of undergrad years when I used to think – just how smart can a smartphone be from my usual phone? Millennials, do you remember the time you used phones just to make and receive phone calls? I do. Cut to today, there are 220 million smartphone users in the country.

Video consumption – what’s the hype?

As of 2015, there were more than 110 million video viewers in India and this was primarily possible due to the introduction of inexpensive smartphones and faster Internet (Future of Digital Content Consumption in India, EY report). 2016 saw tremendous increase in individual consumption of digital content spreading across several formats. For instance, at my first semester in Melbourne, I discovered ‘#LoveBytes’, easy to consume because of its length (around 10 minutes/episode) and availability (YouTube). The series essentially deals with the issues an Indian couple faces while in a live-in relationship. Modern-day concepts, choices and struggles have become the subject of these web series. On further research, I found that #LoveBytes was in fact India’s first-ever show exclusively for the digital platform. In the past 2-3 years, similar advancements have been made to create short-form content for news (like the inshorts app), gaming (Rummy) and education (classteacher).

With aggressive marketing, there is undeniable competition and it’s getting harder for companies to maintain their brand recall. This is especially prominent in a world where people are exposed to several hundreds of brands each day. As Richard Edelman, CEO at one of the best public relations firms in the world, mentions in his blog ‘The Way Ahead: 2017’, ‘native advertising will have to change to survive’ by creating unforgettable video and graphic experiences for audiences.

Digital content is meant to be short, quick to consume and omnipresent. With the increasing number of smartphone users, social media platforms are introducing features that enable users to share more digitally. In the words of Bala Srinivasa and Darshit Vora, “Content – especially video is a key focus area for social platforms.” Facebook with its live video option, Twitter and Instagram with short ad videos, and of course Snapchat, with its perishable short video-sharing feature. More platforms that give users the space to share live video streaming are joining the current scenario like Periscope and the most recent introduction of 360-degree live videos on Twitter. Even traditional Indian media is experimenting with the online medium and successfully building audiences. Earlier this month, a study revealed that Times of India had the most viewed videos on Facebook, with over 112 million views in just a month.

Digital content and brand building

This is my personal favourite. Over the past couple of years, experts in their respective fields have been using digital platforms to publish their own video content. I’m talking about the likes of Vani Kola (MD, Kalaari Capital) and Shradha Sharma (Founder, YourStory) who take on professional spaces like LinkedIn to express their views through blogs, and now even videos.

Producing organic video content and publishing it on a relevant platform is helping these influencers build themselves into a brand.

There are possible opportunities in this space this year where I find that increasing number of C-suite level executives, CEOs, founders are recognising the significance of personal branding. 2017 will see a rise in the number of people sharing perspective, predicting future industry shifts and more. In addition, 2017 is going to be the year of three-way conversations, where thought leaders will share their expertise with their audiences, who, in turn, will create and share their own organic content–becoming an integral part of the conversation. This nature of conversation promotes a healthier, more transparent dialogue among corporations, brands, and their most important stakeholders – consumers.

Looking at Internet penetration as a whole, a recent Assocham – Deloitte study revealed that Internet connectivity has yet to reach Tier II and III cities and touch the lives of a staggering 950 million Indians. When this does happen, the country will witness a revolutionary wave of growth. In September, Reliance Jio launched services, including unlimited voice calls, SMS and high-speed data in 2,00,000 villages across India, further strengthening digitisation in India. Further on, the demonetisation has acted as a catalyst in helping people make the shift to digital payments.

While digital content consumption is on the rise like never before, opportunities for 2017 remain exciting and prominent. With several advancements in the digital space, it’s an inspiring time for us digital enthusiasts.

 

Previously published on YourStory.

 

Nike India Commercial: Embracing Women Body Image Issues

One of the globe’s largest corporations, Nike is known for their athletic shoes and apparel. In fact, “in 2014 the brand alone was valued at $19 billion, making it the most valuable brand among sports businesses. Today, Nike is one of the largest public companies in the world.” (Forbes, 2016). This year, the multinational corporation has jumped to 91 from 106 on the Fortune 500 list. (Fortune 500, 2016).

But the company was not always growing at this pace.

Despite being one of the top athletic companies of their time, Nike was not the first to introduce sporty products exclusively for women. “In 1981, Reebok, one of Nike’s competitors in the athletic shoe industry, chose to make women its primary target market” (Lucas, 2000). Reebok went on to earn profit that year while Nike experience a significant dip in sales. It was not until the 1990’s that Nike started marketing products for women. Nike used icons, symbols and indexical signs to create and develop a concept of community for an audience that was once uncatered, that is, the athletic female. Nike introduced women to the idea of being strong, athletic, in an approach that did not threaten their femininity. It was an accustomed option, a new identity that women could embrace without feeling as if they were stepping into an unknown territory. This way, Nike positioned itself as a brand that united women to the idea of stepping into a category, previously only dominated by men. (Grow, M. Jean. 2006).

Distinct from their first commercial aired in 1982 (Nike’s first television commercial – 1982, 1982), today Nike strategically creates advertisements specifically for female audiences, involving their intricate life experiences and hurdles and blending them in a way that appeals to all those women who strive to either enter sports or those who have already achieved credibility as a sportsperson. With numerous online and offline marketing campaigns to add to their brand value, their tagline ‘Just Do It’ has been named as one of the top five slogans of the 20th century. (Advertising Age, 1999). Nike allocates a huge part of their marketing for just women sports products. “Nike is bullish about what’s ahead, projecting $50 billion in sales by 2020 due to a global shift toward fitness and significant growth from the women’s business, Jordan brand, and e-commerce sales.” (Fortune 500, 2016). “The women’s business has proved lucrative for Nike, growing 20% in the fiscal year ended May 31. That’s twice the rate of its men’s business…”   (Malcolm, 2015).

With a history in representing women who play sports, Nike has decades of background in advertising and marketing to this specific target segment. Making sure it stays current with the on-going cultural conversations, Nike has come up with an advertisement this year that vouches for their stand on embracing women of all shapes and sizes.

This Nike advertisement was first published on December 10th, 2014 on Bani J’s YouTube channel.

Although Bani J herself is paradigmatic to the idea of women bodybuilders, the complete video is a syntagmatic representation of how this independent woman lives her daily life and fearlessly follows her passion. The surface level reading of the advertisement is that of an independent woman choosing a healthy lifestyle, but a deeper reading reveals the acceptance of all kinds of body types and a sense of approval which is required by all humans and is regarded as a primitive need.

After a run, she posts her achievements on social media and makes yoga dates with her friends. She is one of the 83% of the millennials for whom “wellness is a daily, active pursuit.” (Goldman Sachs, n.d.). When compared to their predecessors, millennials are smarter eaters, regard smoking as more of a taboo and exercise more. This is the generation that uses applications on their phones, tablets or laptops to search for information to make informed diet-related decisions as well as to track their training data or diet history. This is also an area that they are willing to spend money in to get the best quality services. Understanding what millennials want, large corporation like Nike have “build their (marketing) strategy around digital-physical fusion.” (Rigby, 2014). In addition to this healthy side of her life as seen in the video, Bani J does not forget to have fun with her girlfriends every once in a while.

The video continues to show glimpses of her life while the background music is consistently peppy and upbeat with lyrics mostly repeating “don’t stop”. This makes the underlying theme of the video motivational as it showcases the life of Bani J. Words like “train”, “run”, “live” and “style” flash the screen representing the ‘signifier’, that is, the words that symbolize positivity, health, exercise and staying in fashion. Bani J’s lifestyle choices, body type, eating habits, work out regime, her choice of clothes and tattoos, all act as the signified while Nike’s campaign acts as the signifier that puts her muscular body type in high regard. Here, Nike positions itself as a brand of the current generation that embraces all women body types.

Despite what the message of the video is trying to send across to the masses, Bani J has faced significant backlash for her ‘muscular body’ from the viewers. People on social media have been quite vocal about their disapproval for a woman to have a ‘muscular body’, saying things like –

‘Lifting weights will make you look manly’, ‘You’re not a girly girl if you lift weights’, ‘I don’t lift weights because I just want to ‘tone up’, ‘Girls should only do cardio, lifting is for guys’, ‘So what steroids are you on’, ‘That’s way too much muscle.. For a woman’.

-(FirstPost, 2016; Hatch, 2016; The Hindustan Times, 2016; Baruah, 2016).

The irony of this Nike advertisement is that although it conveys freedom of choice to a woman to live her life the way she wants, even if she wants to be a bodybuilder (as in this case), the protagonist of the video received backlash for the very same reason.

Another Nike advertisement (as seen in figure 2) called ‘Da da ding’ presents itself as a perfect example of a video that is created to help develop a sense of acceptance for all body types in women. (Natividad, 2016).

The advertisement is able to speak to women who may be short, tall, muscular, slim, bulky or curvy and convince them that they are capable of achieving anything regardless of their body type. With the idea of showcasing a woman choosing to keep healthy by going to the gym, maintaining a fit body and proud of her muscles, the Nike advertisement was able to build on its brand with the reputation that it understands the issues of women just as it does the other sex. The advertisement speaks to women of all shapes and sizes, women who are self-conscious, women who would rather not choose a certain career in life because their body type did not conform to society’s idea of ‘normal’. With a majority of women facing body image issues, the audience the commercial caters to is a staggering number. I conclude this article with an epiphany that if huge corporations like Nike focus on developing marketing campaigns directing at creating positive body image and diminishing body image issues in women, the self-acceptance and happiness quotient in women will rise, giving way to a happier consumer population.

 

This was first put together as a semiotics textual analysis paper as a part of my coursework for master of marketing communications at the University of Melbourne.