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Book Review: Sensory Marketing
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Book Review: Sensory Marketing by Bertil Hulten, Niklas Broweus, and Marcus Van Dijk

Sensory Marketing

Written by: Bertil Hulten, Niklas Broweus, and Marcus Van Dijk. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. xiii+183 pages.
Reviewed by: Carla Kuesten

Sensory Marketing

The authors—business academicians and/or marketing consultants—wrote this book based on their curiosity about applying the five human senses to explore sensory marketing in practice. Sensory marketing is defined through global marketing strategy and tactics; chapters are dedicated to each sense and sense experience and include examples of how companies have delivered sensory experiences, sense expressions, and sensorial strategies. “Brand soul” is described as brand with emotional, sensual, and value-based features (Ackerman, 1995). Delivery of the “supreme sensory experience”—applying all senses at the same time (p. 173) via sensory marketing and creating a personal touch to express the brand soul through all the senses—is illustrated in the closing chapter. The human senses are at the center of sensory marketing.

The authors set the stage by providing context with discussion of marketing dynamics and society. Wave 1 is the development of agricultural society, Wave 2 the creation of the modern industrial society, and Wave 3 the development of contemporary society (called the binary society), defined by shifts in cultural values and digital technology and characterized by globalization, diversity, and pluralism of ideas, knowledge, and brands. Two opposite societal phenomena (homogenization or standardization) and (heterogenization or diversification) combine into “glocalization,” indicating that both globalization and localization are taking place. These changes demand different requirements for developing and strengthening strategic marketing. The authors cite Zaltman (2003, p. 158), contending that the human senses tend to be overlooked in traditional mass- and relationship-marketing theories, and encourage marketers to understand how brands are interpreted in the human brain. Sense strategies are introduced and exemplified as a way forward for our binary society of consumers who are emotional, rational, and sovereign.

As a basis for experience marketing to overcome the challenge that has emerged of differentiating brands with glocalization (Lindstrom, 2005), the authors suggest: (1) consideration of individualization as lifestyle, (2) three driving forces (identity creation, self-fulfillment, and sensory experience), and (3) five different types of experience—sense, feel, think, act, and relate, recommended for use by Schmitt (1999, p. 35).

The authors delve into each of the five senses, including aspects of brand by sense. Highlights of real-world examples that serve to “whet your appetite” follow in five sense chapters. Scents that form and strengthen brands for perfumes and foods/beverages and enhance car, airplane, and work environments, as well as Internet, hotel, and signature scents that impact consumer sensory experiences are discussed. Sounds that form associations and trigger experience through jingles, voice, and music that contribute to sound brand and reduce “noise” are reviewed, as well as signature sounds. The aesthetics of sight and image, the importance of color and contrasts, light and lighting, and symbols in displays/storefronts and packaging are appraised. Taste (considered the individual's supreme sensory experience [p. 112] and “the intimate sense” [p. 115]) is described as a social sense that can be influenced by names, dependent on setting, and acquired (learning can improve taste experiences). The touch sense (called the three-dimensional sense) involves physical and psychological reactions, impacting well-being with touch, temperature, weight, form, and haptic technology, and can applied to increase comfort. Our senses are connected; multiple or all senses should coalesce to form a product congruency—natural and harmonious compatibility for the brand/product.

The authors provide the rudiments of the classic definition of sensory analysis as “a scientific discipline that measures, interprets, and analyzes the product quality, for example, of packaging, cosmetics, and food” (p. 158). Other definitions within the field often include application of principles of experimental design and statistical analysis to the use of human senses (sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing), without limiting the definition to exclusive attention on product quality. While still an important aspect of sensory work throughout industry, this discipline has advanced beyond the quality genre. The authors, not directly associated with the sensory scientific community, do miss a few current viewpoints. For example, the taste map has been “debunked” by the scientific community for years; the reality is that all qualities can be tasted anywhere on the tongue, though differences in sensitivity may be present across regions of the tongue.

As a practicing sensory scientist for the past 25+ years, I was intrigued by the book's title—a must read to see what it was about. Having conducted many research studies supporting a variety of sensory claims for brands (“tastes great,”“cleaner longer,”“longer lasting,”“new, improved flavor,”“preferred 2:1,” etc.), the content of this book was a fun, interesting way for me to learn more about how companies apply sensory research to create and support their brands. At the same time, this book might seem rather non-novel and obvious to some sensory marketing practitioners. Of course, you need to create great-tasting products and pleasant aromas, congruent visual appeal, and nice touch and (where appropriate) optimize (or minimize) sound effects. We've been practicing our sensory discipline in industry on a wide variety of products and services now for many years. However, this book speaks to more—it's about leveraging the “sense experiences” holistically and synergistically to create the “brand soul.” And this book speaks to marketers—about the senses. At last, we (the sensory research community) have arrived; now there is a book for marketers about the senses written by business professionals outside our domain. We participate in many diversified professional organizations or conferences—American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM International), Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), Sensometrics, Society of Sensory Professionals (SSP), Association for Chemoreception Sciences (ACHEMS), The Pangborn Sensory Science Symposium, to name a few—and you will even find us on occasion at marketing (AMA) and innovation (PDMA) conferences. We (sensory professionals) are an eclectic crowd of 1000+ specialized global researchers with diverse interests and formal training in a wide variety of fields such as food science, psychology, statistics, and yes even business and marketing research. Our toolbox of qualitative and quantitative methods is applied across most every product and service on the market. I invite my sensory research colleagues to read then share this book with their marketers. Marketers call upon the sensory scientific community to help deliver the crucial “ultimate/supreme sensory experience” for their brands.

This book codifies for companies the evolution from thinking of brands in terms of just attributes and features to regarding them as sensory experiences, thereby creating the symbiosis between brand and individual via synthesis of the human senses to express the “brand soul.” Practicing and mastering the forward-reaching concepts in this book will surely lead to better understanding of humans and human nature and more integrated, efficient, and effective research and brand management practices. Companies that plan for and adopt comprehensive sensory marketing strategies involving the five human senses challenge both their marketing and research and development divisions to think and work at a higher level, and are poised to create a competitive advantage in their markets.

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