Kalmar University, Kalmar, Sweden
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to present the multi-sensory brand-experience concept in
relation to the human mind and senses. It also seeks to propose a sensory marketing (SM) model of the
multi-sensory brand-experience hypothesis.
Design/methodology/approach – This paper applies exploratory and explanatory approaches to
investigating the multi-sensory brand-experience concept within the context of discovery. The
qualitative study is built on primary and secondary data sources, including personal interviews with
experts and managers.
Findings – The multi-sensory brand-experience hypothesis suggests that ﬁrms should apply sensorial
strategies and three explanatory levels within an SM model. It allows ﬁrms through means as sensors,
sensations, and sensory expressions to differentiate and position a brand in the human mind as image.
Research limitations/implications – A theoretical implication is that the multi-sensory
brand-experience hypothesis emphasizes the signiﬁcance of the human mind and senses in
value-generating processes. Another theoretical implication is that the hypothesis illustrates the
shortcomings of the transaction and relationship marketing models in considering the multi-sensory
brand-experience concept. It is worth conducting additional research on the multi-sensory interplay
between the human senses in value-generating processes.
Practical implications – The ﬁndings offer additional insights to managers on the multi-sensory
brand-experience concept. This research opens up opportunities for managers to identify
emotional/psychological linkages in differentiating, distinguishing and positioning a brand as an image
in the human mind.
Originality/value – The main contribution of this research lies in developing the multi-sensory
brand-experience hypothesis within a SM model. It ﬁlls a major gap in the marketing literature and
research in stressing the need to rethink conventional marketing models.
Keywords Sensory perception, Brands, Marketing models
Paper type Research paper
In the current marketing and management literature, a service logic emphasizes
customers as co-producers of service processes (Eiglier and Langeard, 1976; Gro
1982) and creators of value for themselves, according to the value-in-use notion
(Woodruff and Gardial, 1996; Normann, 2001; Vargo and Lusch, 2004). Among
researchers, services are also seen as a form of value creation and not merely as an
activity (Edvardsson et al., 2005). Moreover, a service logic is based on the notion that
customers use all types of resources, including goods and services, as services give them
value and service processes are of an interactive character in supporting
value-generating processes (Gro
¨nroos and Ravald, 2009).
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
Received October 2009
Revised December 2009
Accepted March 2010
European Business Review
Vol. 23 No. 3, 2011
qEmerald Group Publishing Limited
In pursuing a service perspective, ﬁrms should be seen as value facilitators, providing
different kinds of resources to customer consumption, and value-generating processes.
It has been suggested that a ﬁrm should use its interactions with customers in
inﬂuencing the value creation processes (Gro
¨nroos, 2006). In these processes, different
interactions impact on the nature and types of value that customers perceive in terms
of interactive, relativistic, preferential, or experience values, as well as self-oriented or
other-oriented values (Holbrook, 1999). Furthermore, in terms of service logic, a ﬁrm
should support customers in their daily activities and processes by providing goods,
services, hidden services, information, and so on, as long as this generates value to
In this study, it is assumed that the value of service, as a brand image, emerges when
interactions occur through the customer’s sensory experiences in the value-generating
processes. This image is based on how customers perceive and experience service and
the process in reality. The customer’s feelings and thoughts about the service, including
both goods- and service components, as well as other elements, contribute to an image in
the customer’s mind that is synonymous with the brand (Gro
¨nroos, 2008). This is in
accordance with the notion of experiential marketing from Holbrook and Hirschmann
(1982) and Schmitt (1999), in which contexts, aesthetics, emotions, and symbolic aspects
of customer experiences are signiﬁcant.
The aim of this paper is to present and discuss the multi-sensory brand-experience
concept in relation to the human mind and senses – smell, sound, sight, taste, and
touch – in generating customer value, experiences, and image. Drawing on both theories
relating to branding and experiences, as well as value creation and the human senses, the
paper presents the multi-sensory brand-experience concept. I, then discuss and illustrate
empirically the multi-sensory brand-experience hypothesis within a sensory marketing
I have structured the article in the following way: ﬁrst, I present the theoretical basis
and conceptualizations of branding, experiences, and value creation in relation to the
ﬁve human senses. Second, I discuss the chosen methodology in applying exploratory
and explanatory approaches in a qualitative study. Third, I present the multi-sensory
brand-experience hypothesis within a SM model and context. Finally, I discuss the
contribution of the article together with the theoretical and managerial implications, the
limitations of the study and future research opportunities.
Branding and experiences
In the branding literature, the concept of brand identity is deﬁned as a unique set of
brand associations that a ﬁrm can create or maintain. It may involve a value-proposition
with functional, emotional or self-expressive beneﬁts. It does not matter whether the
associations are tangible or emotional/symbolic or both (Anselm and Kostelijk, 2008).
The emotional linkage between brand and consumer has been proposed as important in
building strong brands. It has also been conﬁrmed in research that consumers look for
and buy emotional experiences around what has been bought and no longer buy
products and services alone (Brembeck and Ekstro
¨m, 2004; Ratneshwar and Mick, 2005).
In the academic debate on emotional branding, there seems to be a tendency to focus
more on tangibles (product brands) than intangibles (services brands). However,
emotional branding seems more obvious in the context of services or intangibles, with
their intimate nature and where the customer is often more personally involved
(Pullman and Gross, 2004). Most services marketers have ignored this issue (Morrison
and Crane, 2007), despite the fact that the emotional experience associated with a
services brand seems to be as important as the service itself (Crane et al., 2007). In the
services marketing literature, a number of theorists propose that, in order to maintain
customer loyalty to a services brand, it should be transformed from a services product
into an experience product (Pullman and Gross, 2004).
Furthermore, the environmental context in which the service encounter takes place is
signiﬁcant in creating emotional connections. This includes the physical and relational
characteristics of the setting in which the service is consumed, as well as the elements
with which the customer interacts in the setting (Gupta and Vajic, 1999). In the physical
context, stimuli appear to be generated by the sights, sounds, textures, and smells of the
environment and, in the relational context, stimuli emanate from people and their
behavior (Carbone and Haeckel, 1994).
In the marketing literature, the concepts of customer experience and customer
experience management are increasingly gaining attention. Pine and Gilmore (1999)
point out the signiﬁcance of the customer in understanding what an experience is all
about. An experience is said to occur when a ﬁrm intentionally constructs one, in order to
engage customers. However, Klaus and Maklan (2007) claim that a ﬁrm has no choice
as to whether or not to be connected to customer experiences. All communication,
consumption experiences, and customer contacts inevitably create an experience in the
customer’s mind (Homburg et al., 2005).
The experiential perspective of consumption experiences originates from Holbrook
and Hirschmann (1982) and Hirschmann and Holbrook (1982). Below is a deﬁnition of
experience from Holbrook (1999, pp. 8-9):
Finally, by experience, I mean that consumer value resides not in the product purchased, not
in the brand chosen, not in the object possessed, but rather in the consumption experience(s)
derived therefrom [...] In essence, the argument in this direction boils down to the proposition
that all products provide services in their capacity to create need- or want-satisfying
experiences [...] In this sense, all marketing is “services marketing.” This places the role of
experience at a central position in the creation of consumer value.
Especially, in experiential consumption research, emotions and contextual, symbolic and
non-utilitarian aspects of consumption (Arnould and Thompson, 2005) are emphasized.
In this study, a sensory experience is deﬁned as an individual’s perception of goods or
services or other elements in a service process as an image that challenges the human
mind and senses. Brakus et al. (2009) distinguish between product experiences,
shopping, and service experiences, as well as consumption experiences, concluding that
all such experiences impact directly or indirectly on consumers. Schmitt (1999) suggests
acting, feeling, relating, sensing, and thinking as customer experiences.
In the brand-management domain, little attention has been paid to concepts such as
customer value and experiences, in terms of understanding the creation of a brand as an
image (Payne et al., 2009). Yet, de Chernatony et al. (2006) discuss the customer
experience as central, not only for services, but also for brands. Brand relationships and
customer experiences are also essential research areas for further development of the
domain (Keller and Lehmann, 2006), and both branding and brand equity “ seem ripe for
revision” (Arnould et al., 2006). In this research, the signiﬁcance of the ﬁve human senses
in creating the multi-sensory brand-experience is related to customer value, experiences,
and brand as image.
Value creation and human senses
The service logic proposes that a supplier should start with the customer’s value
creation processes and try to analyze what process the supplier has the capability to
support. The value-in-use notion (Woodruff and Gardial, 1996; Normann, 2001;
¨nroos, 2006) suggests that value for customers is created when they use products,
goods or services. Gummesson (1998, p. 247) argues that “value creation is only possible
when a good or a service is consumed”.
It seems that this notion of value creation is dominant, stating that value is created for
customers “in their value-creating processes” on a daily basis (Gro
¨nroos (2008) makes a further distinction, stating that customers are value-creators,
and suppliers are value facilitators developing value propositions. In this regard,
customers are seen as “ sole-creators” of value, and suppliers create the resources, in
order to let the customer’s create value on their own, in their value-generating processes
In this study, the multi-sensory brand-experience is related to the ﬁve human senses,
so often neglected in the marketing literature, despite their importance in generating
customer value, sensory experiences, and the brand as an image. Academic research has
shown that different sensory impressions impact consumer behavior and perceptions of
goods and services. Empirical studies relating to sight impressions have been discussed
by, for instance, Orth and Malkewitz (2008) and Smith and Burns (1996). The sense of
sight is the most powerful one for discovering changes and differences in the
environment and is the most common sense in perceiving goods or services.
Impressions of sound have been analyzed empirically by Garlin and Owen (2006),
Sweeney and Wyber (2002). The sense of sound is linked to emotions and feelings and
the sense impacts brand experiences and interpretations. Impressions of smell have been
discussed by Goldkuhl and Styfve
´n (2007) and Fiore et al. (2000). The sense of smell is
related to pleasure and well-being and is closely connected to emotions and memories.
Taste impressions have been analyzed empirically by Biedekarken and Henneberg
(2006) and Klosse et al. (2004). The sense of taste is the most distinct emotional sense and
often interacts with other senses. Finally, touch impressions have been discussed by
Peck and Wiggins (2006) and Citrin et al. (2003), among others. The sense of touch is the
tactile one, related to information and feelings about a product through physical and
A multi-sensory brand-experience takes place when more than one of the ﬁve senses
contributes to the perception of sensory experiences (Hulte
´net al., 2009). The following is a
deﬁnition of a multi-sensory brand experience: a multi-sensory brand-experiencesupports
individual value creation and refers to how individuals react when a ﬁrm interacts, and
supports their purchase and consumption processes through the involvement of the ﬁve
human senses in generating customer value, experiences, and brand as image.
In studying sensory, emotional, and cognitive processes of the human brain, two
empirical studies show that vision, for example, can interact with such senses as
hearing, touch, and olfaction (Thesen et al., 2004). Another study has demonstrated
that various techniques identify multisensory convergence zones in the human brain,
indicating that “[...] one sense can be affected by relations with other senses”
(Driver and Noesselt, 2008).
The sensory, emotional, and cognitive processes of the human brain are also related
to neuromarketing, an emerging research ﬁeld explaining and enhancing our
understanding of consumer behavior, for instance, how different brain areas are
involved in advertising (Fugate, 2007; Plassman et al., 2007).
In the presented research, the context of discovery is appropriate, in that the hypothesis
concerning the multi-sensory brand experience and subsequent SM model lays the
ground for deductive generalizations (Hunt, 2002). For this reason, the paper applies an
explorative, as well as an explanatory approach in investigating the multi-sensory
brand-experience concept. The combination of two approaches has proven a fruitful way
to explore and explain this research domain.
Adopting an explorative approach in the ﬁrst stage of the research facilitated an
investigation of a research domain that had been relatively unexplored. The important
factors were essentially unknown and could not be deﬁned precisely, resulting in the
research question: at the beginning of the twenty-ﬁrst century, why are ﬁrms once again
focusing on the human senses in marketing? In the second stage of the research, an
explanatory approach was adopted in relation to the research question. As a scientiﬁc
answer explanations, should often be connected to “ why” questions. It is clear that an
explanatory approach offers opportunities to develop a model that can explain a current
phenomenon in a scientiﬁc way (Hunt, 2002, p. 86).
In both the exploratory and explanatory stages of the present work, the research
process was of an iterative character, allowing the researcher to work back and forth
between data and theory. In the exploratory stage, it was not possible to deﬁne exactly
what concepts to look for in advance. No evidence or support was provided by
transaction marketing (TM), relationship marketing (RM) or indeed any other marketing
theories, to explain the concept of multi-sensory brand-experience. The alternative was
to search for psychological and sociological theories that enabled an investigation of
unconventional aspects of marketing. In this research, the combination of ﬁeld data
collection and analysis, together with theoretical conceptualizations, was appropriate
for developing a model that could explain the multi-sensory brand-experience concept.
The qualitative study is built on a number of primary and secondary information
sources. In the explorative stage, secondary data was collected from sources such as
articles, books, business magazines, reports and other sources fromlibraries, databases or
web sites. A great deal of information was found, but the signiﬁcance of the ﬁve human
senses for the multi-sensory brand-experience concept was conspicuously absent. Thisled
to the formulation of the research question. In the explanatory stage, primary data was
collected, includingin-depth, open-ended, and semi-structuredinterviews with expertsand
managers, in such American and European companies and organizations as Abercrombie
& Fitch, Apollo, Gina Tricot, ICA Ahold, Ice Hotel, Lindex, Saab Automobile,
Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), Starbucks, Volvo Car, Whole Foods, and Culinary Arts and
Meal Science at Orebro University, among others. A judgment sampling was chosen,
based on the respondent’s practical experiences of the multi-sensory brand-experience
concept. A questionnaire was prepared before each interview, with unstructured
responses, and this questionnaire was reworked and augmented as the study progressed.
The overall aim of the study structure was to explain the multi-sensory
brand-experience concept in a SM model and context. An additional objective was
to clarify and illustrate the key explanatory levels of how a ﬁrm might facilitate
the multi-sensory brand-experience. These levels govern the empirical illustrations
of the study. The multi-sensory brand-experience hypothesis, as well as the
interpretation and concluding discussions, have been organized accordingly.
When it comes to the theoretical framework, it is essential to recognize the impact on
customer value of changing value systems in contemporary society, experiences, and the
brand as an image. The culture and zeitgeist of society is often seen as contradictory and
paradoxical in its content and meaning (Powell, 1998). It consists of both rational and
emotional elements, as well as attributes like creativity, intuition, speculation,
spontaneity, and feelings (Brown, 1993).
The ongoing value shift from a collectivist view to a more individualist view of
everyday life emphasizes self-expression and quality of life (Firat and Schultz, 1997).
Research has shown that generations born in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s have
questioned modern values and replaced them with post-modern values in everyday
and working life (Inglehart, 1997; Howard and Mason, 2001).
The assumption made in this paper is that, as a lifestyle, individualization expresses
the culture and zeitgeist of contemporary society through three personal driving forces.
The ﬁrst one, image building, is linked to the consumption of brands and experiences,
which give individuals an opportunity to create their own unique identity and image.
As long as consumption is oriented towards symbolic content and meaning,
it corresponds to the production of images of the self (Firat and Venkatesh, 1995).
The second one, self-fulﬁllment, is linked to quality of life and welfare, in terms of
changing consumption patterns. The ongoing shift to more qualiﬁed consumption is
evident in services associated with culture, entertainment, health, medical care,
education, or recreation. The transition from low-value to high-value service activities
emphasizes the importance of the personal value of the experience, and service-related
time use emphasizes the self and self-fulﬁllment (Gershuny, 2000).
The third one, sensory experience, is linked to an individual’s striving for identity and
image, as well as for self-fulﬁllment. In this regard, individualization is dependent on
cognitive, emotional and value-based elements, which explain why most individuals should
be seen as active, participative, and creative actors. This means that goods or services, not
only in a physical or functional sense, but also in an emotional sense, should conform to an
individual’s personal and social-life context (Prahalad and Ramaswamy, 2000).
In presenting the multi-sensory brand-experience concept, the identiﬁcation of
individualization as lifestyle is crucial. This focuses on the signiﬁcance of the human
mind and senses, and how they are applied in marketing-management practice. The
process also rises following question: how is it possible for a company to delve deeper
into the customer’s mind and treat the customer in a more personal way through
differentiating and expressing a brand? This question is closely related to theories on
TM and RM and some of the key characteristics are summarized in Table I.
Since the 1950s, marketing models covering the marketing process for consumers,
business, non-proﬁt, goods, or services have been developed (Christopher et al., 1991).
In terms of TM and the marketing mix, the TM-model is based on microeconomic
theory and behavioral theory of the ﬁrm, from an exchange perspective. The model is
based on goods logic, where the individual is seen as a consumer with average needs
in a mass-market context, in which advertising is a major tool in appealing
to the market (Gro
¨nroos, 2000). The model is built around acquiring customers,
short-term exchanges, and single transactions between an active seller and a passive
buyer (Brodie et al., 1997).
The RM-model is more sophisticated, in terms of RM based on interaction and
network theories and social exchange theories. The model modiﬁes the shortcomings
and simplicity of the TM-model, by focusing on interactions, networks, and
relationships between an active and adaptive seller and buyer (Gummesson, 1999).
Moreover, the model is based on a service logic in which the individual is a customer
within a relationship perspective. The model is built around customer retention,
long-term relationships, two-way communication and personal interactions (Gro
2006), emphasizing a customer-centric view with relationship handling in the focus of
a ﬁrm’s marketing strategy and tactics (El-Ansary, 2005).
Moreover, it is assumed here that the RM-model, through the use of customer
relationship management and customer-speciﬁc marketing, has de-personalized
marketing further, instead of getting closer to the customer’s mind and senses.
In applying these technologies, ﬁrms have attempted to build long-term customer
relationships, based on a technically more advanced approach tha na personal approach,
one that has aroused criticism (O’Malley and Tynan, 2000).
Furthermore, the two models offer limited opportunities to depict the marketing
process of the multi-sensory brand-experience and follow certain logics. In other words, in
the TM-model, the good is dominant, and in the RM-model, the service dominates as a
support for customer processes. Neither model considers the marketing process of either
brand as image, or sensory experiences and what this entails. One weakness is that no
discussion or insights are offered with regard to which means or tools managers can use in
facilitating the multi-sensory brand-experience. Inspired by Gro
¨nroos (2009) and his
discussion about the importance of service, where service is seen as a mediating variable
for value creation, the presented model attempts to remedy these shortcomings.
The nature of sensory marketing
A SM model (SM) takes its point of departure in the human mind and senses, where
mental ﬂows, processes and psychological reactions take place and result in a
multi-sensory brand-experience. An individual’s personal and subjective interpretation
and understanding of a multi-sensory brand-experience is referred to here as
TM RM SM
Marketing Goods logic Service logic Experiential logic
Exchange perspective Relationship perspective Brand perspective
TM RM SM
Strategic marketing Product focus Customer focus Mind and sense focus
Customer acquisition Customer retention Customer treatment
Transactional strategies Relational strategies Sensorial strategies
Tactical marketing Persuasion and
Interaction and interplay Dialogue and on-line
One-way communication Two-way
Production technology Information technology Digital technology
Source: Developed from Hulte
´net al. (2009)
From transaction and
relationship to SM
experiential logic. This means that, for each individual, the logic contributes to
forming behavioral, emotional, cognitive, sensory, or symbolic values (Holbrook, 1999;
The experience becomes an image, forming the mental conceptions and perceptions
of interactions and inputs in the service process, which constitutes the ﬁnal outcome of
the multi-sensory experience within a brand perspective. This perspective is deﬁned
here as an individual’s beliefs, feelings, thoughts, and opinions about a brand, based on
the overall experience (Kotler, 2000; Brakus et al., 2009).
In this paper, it is suggested that the SM-model differs from the TM and RM-models,
through its emphasis on the multi-sensory brand-experience. In the latter two models,
the good or service is emphasized, but not the multi-sensory brand-experience of goods
or services or other elements within a brand perspective. The SM-model offers a ﬁrm the
opportunity to differentiate and express a brand as image through sensorial strategies,
including sensors, sensations, and sensory expressions, based on cognitive, emotional,
or value-based elements in relation to the human mind and senses. This relates to how
to position a product in the sense of “positioning is what you do to the mind of the
prospect” (Ries and Trout, 1982). The imprints a ﬁrm leaves, in order to distinguish and
express itself, can then be related to a deeper, individual emotional level.
Against this background, the multi-sensory brand-experience hypothesis implies
the need for a SM model highlighting the signiﬁcance of the human senses in reaching
the customer’s mind at a deeper level than the TM- and RM-models. In explaining why
ﬁrms focus on the human senses, this present study identiﬁes three explanatory levels
within a SM model, i.e. sensorial strategies expressed through sensors, sensations, and
sensory expressions. There is no doubt that the number of potential means is inﬁnite at
each level, indicating that the model allows ample choice in the marketing process. The
number of explanatory levels has been limited to only three, in order to make a
classiﬁcation that facilitates the construction of the model. Furthermore, each level
contains a number of choices with respect to offering multi-sensory brand-experiences
in a SM model and context (Figure 1).
The aim is to simplify the process, by grouping possible choices together into the three
key explanatory levels of means. Moreover, the aim of the classiﬁcation was to offer an
exhaustive classiﬁcation, when no other could be found in the marketing literature.
A general assumption made here is that the three levels are, paradoxically, both related to
and independent of each other. They can simultaneously occur jointly or independently of
each other, but also be identiﬁed separately. Furthermore, at each level, different elements
or factors as tools can be applied in the marketing process, allowing differentiation and
variety. Finally, there is a mutual interdependence between different kinds of means,
creating regularity in one or more patterns of SM performance in the marketing process.
Sensorial strategies aim at differentiating and expressing a product, service or ﬁrm’s
identity in relation to the human mind and senses. A strategy is deﬁned as sensorial,
when it appeals to a certain sense or senses in the customer’s mind. The reason for a ﬁrm
to develop sensorial strategies is to distinguish a brand from competing ones, especially
when such functional/rational attributes as price or quality are often the same.
Hence, sensorial strategies are based more on emotional/psychological elements than
functional attributes in clarifying a brand’s identity and values. The main purpose of
sensorial strategies is to facilitate the multi-sensory brand-experience expressed
through means as sensors, sensations, and sensory expressions in relation to the ﬁve
human senses (Table II).
As an explanatory level, sensors aim at communicating sensations and sensory
expressions that reinforce the multi-sensory brand experience for the customer. A sensor
is deﬁned as a communicative means, when it transmits sensations or sensory expressions
(stimuli) or receives information (signals) via devices, equipment, material, or employees
in relation to the customer. The reason for a ﬁrm to use sensors is to obtain a multi-sensory
communication platform, including promotion, such as traditional advertising, in
differentiating a brand. This reinforces the multi-sensory brand-experience on a daily
basis in servicescapes, as well as in virtual settings.
As an explanatory level, sensations aim at expressing a brand’s identity and values as
something distinctive and sensorial, in facilitating the multi-sensory brand experience.
A sensation is deﬁned as an emotion or feeling that deliberately links the human mind
and the senses. The reason for a ﬁrm to distinguish and express a good or service as a
sensation, is to be observed by customers. This is especially relevant, since the human
senses continually notice every small change in the environment, either as a threat
A SM model
in relation to the five human senses
tory Visual Gastro-
in relation to smell, sound, sight, taste and touch
The multi-sensory brand-experience
Source: Developed from Hulten et al. (2009)
or an opportunity. Another reason is the difﬁculty many brands have in attracting
attention in the crowded, global marketplace.As an explanatory level, sensory
expressions aim at characterizing a brand’s identity and uniqueness in relation to each of
the ﬁve senses. A sensory expression is deﬁned as an experience trigger that clariﬁes a
brand’s identity and values and leaves an imprint in the customer’s mind. The main
reason for a ﬁrm to apply sensory expressions is to be closer and more deeply imprinted
in the customer’s mind in terms of an image.
Discussion: the ﬁndings and the multi-sensory brand-experience
The presented SM model for governing the multi-sensory brand-experience derives
some of its theoretical origin from the experiential consumption concept of Holbrook and
Hirschmann (1982), consumer value from Holbrook (1999) and experiential marketing
from Schmitt (1999). The multi-sensory brand-experience hypothesis suggests that
ﬁrms should apply sensorial strategies expressed through sensors, sensations, and
sensory expressions in relation to the human mind and senses.
The ﬁndings show that, in order to differentiate and distinguish a brand and express
its identity, these sensorial strategies, sensors, sensations and sensory expressions are
used more as a long-term strategy, rather than as a short-term business tactic. As a
marketing manager expressed it in an interview:
Yes, we deﬁnitely believe in the senses [...] We tried a business with selling online, but that
really destroyed everything we were trying to do – you can’t touch it, or smell it, or see it. You
are just relying on pictures. It didn’t really work for us, so we are not going down that road again.
Sensorial strategies for smell, sound, sight, taste, and touch have been recognized by the
studied companies. Especially, a sight strategy is considered as one of the most
signiﬁcant ones in expressing a brand’s identity and value. A CEO of a fashion chain
expressed it as follows:
What the eyes see is extremely important. I would say that the eyes do 70 or 80 percent of the
buying. This is enormously important to bear in mind.
Sensors Sensations Sensory expressions
Smell sensors Atmospheric Product congruence, intensity and sex Atmosphere,
advertency and theme Scent brand and signature
Sound sensors Auditory Jingle, voice and music Atmosphere, attentiveness
and theme Signature sound and sound brand
Sight sensors Visual Design, packaging and style
Color, light and theme Graphic, exterior and interior
Taste sensors Gastronomic Interplay, symbiosis and synergies Name,
presentation and environment Knowledge, lifestyle
Touch sensors Tactile Material and surface Temperature and weight Form
Source: Developed from Hulte
´net al. (2009)
Sensors, sensations and
This philosophy has permeated all the elements that might be included in a sensory
experience of the brand. The colors black and white are used in all stores, as well as other
marketing channels and the lighting has to be strong in order to make the stores visible
Design, packaging and style can be seen as the ultimate sensory expression of
individualization in differentiating a brand’s soft values. A challenge for many
industries is to let high-tech products become more “human”, and the Finnish producer
of mobile phones, Nokia, illustrates just this:
Nokia haschosen to design itsphones with softvalues in mind in order to appealto human senses.
The main rationale has been to move away from the hard values that technology conventionally
stands for. This has been a way to make the mobile phones more user-friendly by giving each
product an identity and soul. Nokia’s big screen and soft buttons have been designed for this
purpose and the ability to change the colour of a phone suggests increased individualization.
A sight strategy also emphasizes the signiﬁcance of such sensory expressions as color,
light, and theme, as well as graphics, exterior, and interior. All are emphasized in
visualizing a brand’s identity and values.
A sensorial smell strategy is applied to allow a scent to become an element of a
brand’s identity and image. Scents contribute to creating memory pictures, a positive
atmosphere and wellbeing among both customers and empl oyees. Removing unpleasant
smells from the interior of a car to make it more pleasant to get into and use was
described in an interview with the Volvo marketing department in Gothenburg, Sweden:
We put a lot of effort into making the car smell good when one enters it. The new S80 and all
of our other cars are adapted for allergenic environments. The S80 is recommended by the
Swedish Asthma and Allergy Association. When the car is opened with the hand control, the
air is sucked out, as there is otherwise always an accumulation of the smell of plastic. This
indicates the development work in this area, which is quite enormous.
Other motives for a smell strategy are to accomplish a positive smell experience and
impact on customers’ emotional state and mood. A scent experience can also lend a
natural connection to a brand through sensory expressions like product congruency and
the intensity of a scent. Scents can also improve the recognition and recall of a brand
through such sensory expressions as signature scents or a scent brand.
A sensorial sound strategy is used to reinforce the identity and image of a brand.
Sound, and especially music, as sensory expressions, attach meaning to people and is a
source of inspiration. Music from a man’s or a woman’s youth are often used to create
memories. The American retailer Abercrombie & Fitch illustrates a sound strategy:
The signature sound at Abercrombie & Fitch is expressed through famous songs which have
been mixed to create the right atmosphere in the service landscape. A heavy bass is represented
in every song characterizes the ﬁrm’s music. The music played is very loud and gives the
impression of a night club. The songs are mixed to build up expectation that something more is
under way. There are no gaps between the tracks and therefore the tempo level and sound
pressure are constant in the store. Customers like the music and many dance in time to it.
Employees also dance, which gives the relaxed feeling of party and of “living it up”.
As sensory experiences, jingles and voices also contribute to the sound experience of a
brand. How the Swedish retail fashion Lindex uses jingles and TV commercials to
reinforce the image of the brand was expressed in an interview:
We adjust it depending on the season and the jingle was adapted to the current theme and
season. When the seasonal theme “Fashion Report Paris” was relevant at a certain time,
an accordion sound was added to the jingle to create the feeling of Paris. The accordion sound
was so subtle that customers had to focus carefully to notice it. Other than these seasonal
variations, the jingle was consistent.
A sensorial sound strategy also emphasizes the signiﬁcance of such sensory expressions
as atmosphere, theme, and attentiveness, often used in creating a sound experience.
Sound can also be protected legally as a sound brand and used as a signature sound with
a distinct character.
As a sensorial strategy, taste includes much more than the actual ﬂavor and relates
to such sensory expressions as interplay, symbiosis and synergy, emphasizing the
signiﬁcance of other senses. An expert in the area expressed this in an interview:
Customers call it taste, but it is everything: how it looks, smells, feels, and sounds. All this, the
customer more or less merges into the concept of “taste”.
For this reason, a taste strategy might be more related to the customer’s multi-sensory
brand-experience, and a taste experience can include such other sensory expressions as
scent, sound, design or texture, that build on the interplay and synergies between
Moreover, former experiences in terms of brand image are essential for a taste
strategy, so that it is not only the actual quality of a product that matters. This concept
was illustrated by the following comment in an interview:
You have other expectations of, for instance, Coca-Cola or Virgin. There are classic studies
that directly show the importance of the experience. Simply because a brand is strong, a Coca
Cola drinker, for example, perceives it as different from other colas. This is a perception that
is, of course, used in marketing.
Also, sensory expressions such as name, presentation, and setting, as well as
knowledge, delight, and lifestyle contribute to the taste experience of a brand’s image.
A sensorial touch strategy aims at strengthening the identity and image of a brand
through a physical and psychological interaction with customers. Touching products
makes it easier to remember them simply by looking at them. IKEA in Norway illustrates a
During the summer of 2007, the company let its customers stay the night. The aim was to
create a touch experience of IKEA’S beds, at the same time as the actual features of the bed
were experienced during a night’s sleep. The night stay was free, and the customers could
choose between a basic dormitory, a family room, or a marriage chamber.
A touch experience is facilitated through such sensory expressions as material and
surface, which the beds illustrate, but also through temperature and weight, form and
stability. The importance of a brand being more accessible and enabling physical
interactions with the customers in today’s digitized world was expressed in an
interview with a retail concept manager:
To be able to touch the garment is very important for individuals in stores in the fashion
business. In this respect, I believe the physical stores have their main competitive weapon – if
you compare them with e-commerce. “See it, feel it, try it, buy it”. Touch is very important.
Tactile technology applied in servicescapes and virtual settings also result in
user-friendliness for the customers.
These ﬁndings support the notion that the multi-sensory brand-experience is built on
the notion of providing a personal touch, involvin g all ﬁve senses in the customer’s mind.
The American retailer Whole Foods illustrates a multi-sensory brand-experience:
In a sensorial smell strategy, the atmospheric sensations and their sensory expressions welcome
customers tothe servicescapes with a soft intensity andat the entrance,there is a bakery with an
oven spreading product-congruence scents of newly-baked bread as smell sensors. No artiﬁcial
scents are used and the natural scents from fruit and cheese offer smell experiences as sensors.
In a sensorial sound strategy, auditory sensations and their sensory expressions appear as
pop music with soft voices, through such sound sensors as stereos and loudspeakers and the
choice of music, which make it possible to say that the company has a signature sound.
In a sensorial sight strategy, visual sensations and their sensory expressions belong to the
interior with light colors like olive-green and yellow on the walls. The lighting is comfortable,
with spotlights as sights sensors aimed at special products, and style through colors and
lighting expresses proximity to nature. Handwritten information as sensors, give the graphic
feeling of a more personal sight experience.
In a sensorial taste strategy, gastronomic sensations and their sensory expressions reinforce
the taste experience through the interplay of other senses that allow synergies through staff
who wear aprons as taste sensors, which emphasize a homely feeling and superb food. The
company offers the presentation of real samples of tastes that are related to season and theme.
This creates a setting where “food thinking” is part of the interior and invites customers to
gain more knowledge, delight in and experience new tastes.
Finally, in a sensorial touch strategy, tactile sensations and their sensory expressions invite
customers to touch the products, because they are accessible in dishes or straw baskets that
emphasize personal contact as touch sensors. No plastic material is used, and cold and hot
foods are chosen by the customers themselves. There is a cheese room as a touch sensor with
stable doors to keep the temperature at the right level for the taste experience.
The above illustration effectively summarizes the discussion and supports
the multi-sensory brand-experience hypothesis. It is probably true, however, that the
hypothesis should not, in all cases, include all ﬁve senses. This means that
the hypothesis is also valid when only one or more of the senses are applied in a
To sum up the ﬁndings, the studied companies emphasize the signiﬁcance of the ﬁve
human senses in being closer and more deeply imprinted in the customer’s mind, as an
image within a brand perspective. The use of sensorial strategies can leave such
imprints of a multi-sensory brand-experience, so that a brand becomes more individual
and personal to the customer.
Conclusions, theoretical and managerial implications, and future research
This paper examines the multi-sensory brand-experience concept, proposing both a
hypothesis and a model. The article provides a theoretical and practical contribution on
the multi-sensory brand-experience concept, and a SM model was developed through a
methodology that yields new concepts and models.
The main conclusion is that the SM-model highlights the signiﬁcance of the
multi-sensory brand-experience in differentiating, distinguishing and positioning a brand
in the human mind as an image. A ﬁrm can use sensorial strategies expressed through
sensors, sensations and sensory expressions in relation to the ﬁve human senses in leaving
imprints of a good or service. Through a value-generating process, the multi-sensory
brand-experience offers behavioral, emotional, cognitive, sensorial, or symbolic value at a
deeper, more internal level than the TM and RM models. In this regard, a smell, sound,
vision, taste or touch can reinforce a positive feeling, following the experiential logic, that
generates a certain value to the individual and, in particular, creates a brand image.
An important theoretical implication is that the multi-sensory brand-experience is the
ultimate outcome of a value-generating process between a supplier and a customer. The
value to the customer is embedded in the multi-sensory brand-experience and the customer
generates the value individually as a sole-creator in the human mind (Grro
¨nroos, 2006, 2008).
Through this process, with its sensory imprints, a good or a service becomes the experience
which is based on individual and personalized perceptions. It relates to deﬁning the
process in itself as a service to the customer (Gro
¨nroos, 2006), in which sensorial strategies
play an important role for a ﬁrm in facilitating the multi-sensory brand-experience.
Another theoretical implication is that the multi-sensory brand-experience is central to
branding, as a result of value creation and value-generating processes (de Chernatony and
Segal-Horn, 2003; de Chernatony et al., 2006). So far, the branding literature has not taken
into consideration the multi-sensory brand-experience and its impact on what constitutes
a brand through the ﬁve senses, as an image in the human mind. It is possible to argue that
the multi-sensory brand-experience should be the basis for brand building and brand
identity in creating brand as image and loyalty.
In managerial terms, the ﬁndings yield new insights into applying the multi-sensory
brand-experience concept in practice. Its focus on the human mind and senses enables
managers to identify emotional/psychological connections in differentiating and
distinguishing a brand’s identity and values to customers. To date, these connections
have been more or less limited to advertising and the sense of sight, but in a multi-sensory
brand-experience, the senses of smell, sound, taste, and touch are also signiﬁcant.
A sensory manual covering the ﬁve human senses should be developed, in which
sensorial strategies expressed through sensors, sensations, and sensory expressions as
means, could be identiﬁed in providing a brand’s personal imprint to the customers. This
can guide managers in building and establishing successful multi-sensory brand-experience
relationships, in contrast to more conventional and limited brand relationships.
Future research needs to be conducted on these issues, and the validity of the
framework must be investigated further. Research is also required on developing
appropriate measures for managing the multi-sensory brand-experience, concerning
outcome and performance. Finally, it would be useful to conduct research on the
multi-sensory interplay between the human senses in value-generating processes.
It should be noted that research on the multi-sensory brand-experience concept is
still in its infancy. This paper provides an exploratory overview of the multi-sensory
brand-experience concept within a SM model, which questions conventional marketing
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