What we’ve learnt about sensorial storytelling


Last week we did an experiment to learn more about sensorial storytelling. Here’s what we uncovered…

Last week, at the AQR Being Human conference, we set out on an experiment. We wanted to know whether a bag full of seemingly unrelated objects (which appealed to the sight, sound, touch, taste and smell senses) could come together to tell a multi-sensorial brand story.

To cut to the chase, our experiment worked. Here are the three most valuable things we learnt in the process:

1. Smell works fastest to transport us into a ‘branded’ world

Our experiment confirmed how powerful scent is for brands.

Scent is widely regarded as the most stimulating sense. The olfactory system has unique connections with the brain’s hippocampus – responsible for long-term memory – and amygdala – our emotional centre.

Scent forges instinctive links, and so, stimulates a picture or context within which a brand lives. And, as it’s the most emotional, all our participants named this sense the most fun to play with.

2. It’s easy to conjure up a category, but trickier for brands to define themselves within it

The smell of rubber + touch of cool metal and soft leather + sound of a door = cars.

As this combination is indicative of nearly all car brands, it’s easy to falter here and get lost in the generic. But play up metal and you become slick, understated Audi. Play up the leather and you’re in opulent, indulgent Jaguar territory.

Sometimes it requires more lateral connections to represent brand values. Bubble wrap; that’s how we made this generic set of senses stretch to epitomise safety-conscious Volvo.

3. Layering the senses together enriches and deepens a brand experience

It’s hard to tell a story with one character; interaction and dialogue are the elements that bring narrative to life. As such, smell may be the base of the cocktail, but the experience becomes so much more intoxicating once you layer it with touch, sound, sight and taste. Speaking of intoxicating, Johnnie Walker played in this this arena in 2014 when it paired with the Harris Tweed Hebrides mill to create a whisky-infused fabric.

And so, it’s worth brands thinking beyond one sense. Instead they should look at ways to encompass them all, to generate a truly engaging ‘experience’ for consumers.

Take Pimms for instance, as a brand it owns its own ‘sense set’: the sounds of a garden party, the feeling of a picnic blanket slightly itching against bare legs and, crucially, the smell of cucumber.

The brand leverages all the senses, and as such has a truly unique and engaging story to tell.