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Stand Out from the Crowd: Embodied Cognition for Marketers (Part 1)

“As consumers clamor for experiences, brands can connect with their customers’ physical senses to establish long term loyalty and value.”

In part 1 of our 2 part blog post, we explore the increasing importance that consumers place on purchasing ‘experiences’ and shine a light on ‘embodied cognition’, diving into  academic research that explains how brands can leverage this behavioral process to engage with their customers on a deeper level. We also provide examples that illustrate how some brands have traditionally applied the principles of embodied cognition to connect with their customers through sensory marketing strategies. In part 2, we’ll cover some tips and ideas that all brands can utilize to create memorable, compelling experiences that will keep customers coming back for more. 

The “Experience Economy”

It’s safe to say that differentiating one’s brand is more important today than ever before. An increasingly digital world has leveled the marketing playing field in many ways. Where brands once relied on traditional media and brick-and-mortar strategies to reach their customers, they now use an assortment of managed, measurable digital channels to hit aggressive growth goals and expand their audience reach. However, with new opportunities come new challenges. How can brands today differentiate their marketing efforts to stand out among a set of peers all using similar strategies? Marketers should begin thinking about how they can benefit from a clear trend: consumers today are seeking experiences, not just goods and merchandise. 

A McKinsey & Co. report revealed that consumers over the past few years have spent four times as much on ‘experience-related services’, such as wine tasting or international travel, than on personal goods. And it’s not all due to Millennials’ unceasing quest for Instagram and Facebook ‘likes’. Baby Boomers and GenXers have also begun to show a strong tendency to spend on experiences. Helping explain this trend, a Cornell University study revealed that consumers attribute more and more value to a paid experience over time and that experiences are proven to ‘foster social relationships’. As consumers continue to prioritize experiences, marketers can utilize this as an opportunity to make their brand stand out. And it all starts by appealing to your customers’ physical senses, with brands relying on platforms like AnyRoad to help manage and measure the results of their ‘sensory marketing’ efforts.  

Traditional Sensory Marketing

‘Sensory marketing’ leverages all five senses – sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing – to impact the perceptions, memories, and learning processes of a customer. The goal? To influence their buying behavior. Although the term ‘sensory marketing’ is relatively new to marketing vernacular, brands have been toying with this strategy for some time without knowing it. Jingles, aromas, and colors schemes can be considered traditional sensory strategies that reinforce a brand’s identity and connection with consumers. We all instinctively know what a new car should smell like, can recite the jingled slogans of our favorite fast food restaurants, from ‘Five Dollar Footlong’ to ‘I’m Lovin’ It’, and identify Facebook’s iconic blue pastel. But why? Research in the domains of psychology, neuroscience, and linguistics has revealed that ‘sensory’ based experiences deeply influence consumer behavior through a process known as ‘embodied cognition’.

What the research says…

Have you ever wondered why wine tastes better in a wine glass than in a water glass? This type of psychological interaction between an object and our senses is due to what academic research calls ‘embodied cognition’. Embodied cognition explains how we can ‘smell’ rain or why we associate Big Ben and tea with an English accent. It’s the process that causes the human mind to create an association between an object and a sensory experience. These associations are stored and over time a pattern or behavior is ‘learned’. And it doesn’t take much. As few as six sensory ‘experiences’ can lead to a new, subconsciously learned behavior or association. This means it takes as few as six ‘scritch-scratch’ experiences for a new customer to always remember and identify a Sharpie’s signature feel

Brands like Dunkin’ Donuts and BMW have been exploring ways to connect with their customers’ senses. The donut giant tested the effects of releasing coffee aromas on buses after playing a short jingle and found that the campaign increased visits to Dunkin’ Donuts locations near bus stops by 16%. BMW’s 2014 M4 amplifies the sound of its engine through the audio system – even when the sound system is turned off – to emphasize its sporty identity. A study at IE Business School has demonstrated that engaging with more senses at the same time leads to stronger levels of brand loyalty and recall. By targeting multiple senses, brands can create a holistic embodied experience that the customer unconsciously participates in, reinforcing the consumer’s relationship with the brand and ultimately influencing their decision making and buying behavior. 

In this part of our post, we’ve covered how and why ‘embodied cognition’ influences consumer decision making, underscores the experience economy, and explored how some brands have employed sensory marketing to connect with their customers on a deeper level.

In part 2, to be published on September 22nd, we’ll give you some ideas and tips to apply embodied cognition to your own experiential marketing efforts, as well as offer some resources to help you get started.

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