It’s no surprise that one of the biggest trends in event marketing this year is tipped to be the rise of multi-sensory experiences. The retail industry has been dabbling in sensory experiences for the past decade, from supermarkets pumping out the smell of baking bread to high-end fashion stores emitting an elusive waft of expensive fragrance; the end goal is the same: to encourage an emotional response that drives sales.
Chefs have long understood the power of harnessing all of the senses. One such example is Chef Heston Blumenthal renowned for creating experiences around food that includes iPods inside shells playing the sounds of the seashore to accompany seafood, and clouds of bonfire smoke to evoke nostalgic childhood memories and increase the appeal of his dishes.
If people spend too much time in an environment that only stimulates few of our senses, we can come away feeling it was a little empty, and so appealing to multiple senses helps us create events that generate more powerful connections between audiences and brands, and result in greater recall.
Marketing traditionally focuses on sight and sound, perhaps because these are the easiest senses for us to harness. Sight is the most powerful sense, as people are often unlikely to want to engage in an activity or purchase a product until they have seen it. Sound is arguably the most emotive of the senses with music or noises having the ability to instantly produce feelings of wellbeing, exhilaration or even fear (remember that iconic Jaws soundtrack?)
However the sense of smell is often overlooked in live events, and this is a real missed engagement opportunity as smell can trigger 75 percent of our emotions. It may take us a little longer to react to smell than sight but the emotion generated has also been proven to last longer, resulting in greater recall of the associated product or experience.
Taste requires lots of support from the other senses in order to take full effect. Food needs to look and feel great to be appealing and the sense of smell also goes a long way to support the taste of food. Positive taste associations can generate desire which is long lasting and can result in strong cravings that can almost rival an addiction. This is why events like Taste of Dubai are so successful; people sample a small piece of perfectly cooked steak for example and will remember that taste and want to experience it again, and so they book a table at the associated restaurant, perhaps months later. Imagine trying to recreate that desire through a photo of the steak or by playing the sound of it cooking. This kind of live experience only works well when every single sense is stimulated.
And now coming to the sense of touch; skin is the largest human organ and home to the nerve endings that create the sense of touch, which is often used when we want to assess the quality of something – whether that’s the weight of a pen or the softness of a cashmere jumper.
So how do we apply all of these sensory principles to creating a multi-sensory experience? The key is to choose the most appropriate senses for the product or brand and also for the creative idea that sits behind the experience.
For example, if we are creating an experience to promote an airline, then we might choose to focus on sight, sound and touch, as these would be the most relevant senses. However, if we develop an experience for that same airline with a more creative central idea, such as, to recreate key cities that the airline flies to, then it would be valuable to bring all of the senses into play and start to think in a creative way about what Paris smells and tastes of or what Los Angeles sounds and feels like. The experience becomes more multi-dimensional and evocative, with the aim of making it more memorable and increasing engagement and recall.
The best way to start is to walk through the whole experience in your mind and try to imagine at which point there could be an opportunity to trigger one of the senses. Consider the location, the climate, the time of day and the demographic of the audience you are creating the experience for. Creating a cold, clear, refreshing experience in the middle of a Dubai summer afternoon for example is going to be much more inviting and appealing than creating a warm, cozy, comforting experience. The latter is something that might work better on a winter evening in Europe.
There is so much room for creativity with multi-sensory events. Depriving or mixing up sensory elements can create confusion and lots of fun. For example eating a meal at a blacked out restaurant like Dining in the Dark without your sense of sight really illustrates how powerful the sense is not only for figuring out what you’re eating but also for social interaction. I recently tasted BLK water, the alkaline water that happens to be a dense shade of black. It doesn’t have a particular taste – just like water – but it looks like cola, and that concept was really difficult for my mind to grasp. Would I buy it again? I’m not sure, but has the experience stayed with me? Absolutely. Turning sensory experiences on their heads and confusing an audience can create a fun and interactive experience, which is memorable and creates a dialogue dialogue.
My favorite multi-sensory experience until now is Vodafone’s multi sensory firework display for New Year 2014. Guests got to see and hear dazzling fireworks as well as taste and smell clouds of apple, cherry mist, peach snow and orange bubbles, as well as, edible banana confetti. 100,000 people lining the banks of the Thames also got to sample fruit flavored sweets and interact with LED wristbands, and even viewers at home got in on the action with an augmented reality experience via an app that synchronized with the live display.
EMS is a team of roadshow experts dedicated to creating immersive brand experiences using its fleet of specialist trucks.
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