The Neuroscientific Hack To Sense Marketing

The Neuroscientific Hack To Sense Marketing

As humans evolved over time, so did marketing. Marketing today is not only communicating a product or service’s features benefits and living up to a brand’s measurable promise, but also taking the extra step of connecting your brand with unique, novel, and compelling customer experiences at every touchpoint. Think about Virgin Airlines relaxing music and ambience when you enter the plane for a second . It seems expected from a brand oozing in personality, edginess, and outright fun, but it’s designed with and for its customers in mind. Apart from providing the best possible service at the best possible value, Virgin Airline has taken great advantage of appealing to its customers senses and feeling. Its brilliant use of chill, relaxing music touches its passengers’ mind, body, and soul just as when they come aboard, setting the tone of their in-flight experience—an experience they won’t find anywhere else.  

Source: Business Insider

Source: Business Insider

Before creating emotional connections with your customer the same way Virgin does, here’s a word of advice that 15 Center simply cannot stress enough:


Now that you have that simple yet profound foundation down, let’s get to some of the science along with examples to better equip you at forming novel and memorable experiences for your customers and brand.

Upon knowing your customers and creating multi-sensory experiences, let’s get one thing right: It’s not an great experience until you…


Let’s talk senses and marketing. Sense Marketing.

The olfaction, technical term for your sense of smell, is heavily linked with gustation or taste. Your taste buds have 5 distinct receptors on the tongue: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami (a word borrowed from the Japanese that translates to “deliciousness,” which isn’t a coincidence because it’s used to describe food drowning in either natural or artificial MSG - aka Chinese food). Taste can also altered. Drinking orange juice after brushing your teeth in the morning is not a fun combination as the sodium laurel sulfate chemical compound in toothpastes alters your sweet receptors, which therefore hinders your ability to find anything sweet.

Marketers have used the senses of taste and smell to figure out if there is an overall gender preference to the intensity of a generally positive odor (e.g. flower). Results showed that women are more sensitive to smell than men. The sense of smell has also shown a significant effect on product preference. Professor at Copenhagen Business School and author of Introduction to Neuromarketing & Consumer Neuroscience Thomas Ramsøy wrote that at a reasonable intensity, smell has a positive effect on the sales of jacket at one store, however, when the smell has passed its limit and is too pungent for its customers, it had an overall negative effect on sales. Morrin & Ratneshwar (2003) have found that pleasant scents enhance consumer’s brand memory and recall due do its close ties to the hippocampus, a small region of the brain primarily associated with memory, learning, and emotion.

The sense of touch, or somatosensation, occurs when receptors (temperature, pressure, or pain) in the skin relays signals via the spinal cord up into the brain. Somatosensory features have shown to affect product preferences. Thomas Ramsøy conducted a study on whether a drill’s weight would have an overall effect on consumers’ perception of its quality. There were two drills used for the experiment: regular and one that was 20% heavier. Results showed that people rated and perceived the heavier drill as more durable, indicating higher performance and overall quality. The same study has been replicated on clothes to see if this was a product-specific case, but there was no association with weight and other physical attributes. But think furnitures, towels in high-end hotels, iPhone vs. iPhone 5C, watches?

The sense of sound, or auditory processing, is purely a mechanical process whereby sound waves are funneled deeper into the brain, then converted into neural impulses in the cochlea as amplitude (volume) or frequency (pitch). Generally, humans can only process a small percentage of the total range of frequency from 20-20,000 hertz.

But when people hear music, it goes beyond sound waves. The brain is also primed by pieces of information that reach the cortex. Music, in general, lead to higher purchasing behavior. North, Hargreaves & McKendrick (1999) investigated whether the effect of in-store stereotypical French and German music had any purchasing power on customers’ selection of French and German wines. When French music was played, customers bought French wines and the same pattern was found with German music. Customers also associated classical music with expensive wines and pop music with less expensive wines. Marketers can use sound as a way to pair a business to a specific message. Never underestimate the power of association and repetition with sound (take for example the connection between McDonald’s audio brand and its “I’m Lovin’ It” tagline). As Joel Beckerman, author of  The Sonic Boom: How Sound Transforms the Way We Think, Feel, and Buy expressed “Sound is really the emotional engine for any story,” which he coined as the “boom moment,” the split second when the right sound is played at the right time to create an emotional connection.

Know your customer, find the sweet spot, and tell your story.

Feed Your Brain

15Center founders Matt Johnson, PhD and Prince Ghuman are co-authors of Allure: The Neuroscience of Consumerism. To get early access, sign up here.

Together, they teach individuals and businesses how to ethically apply neuroscience to marketing via neuromarketing bootcamps to uncover consumer blind spots and help brands better engage with their customers. Get your ticket here.