What is Sensory Research and How Does it Impact MRX?

By the Editors

In a world that’s dominated by technology, today’s brands work hard to find ways to stand out from the crowd. Many have begun to focus on stimulating their customers’ senses through scent, sound, taste, and touch. Whether it’s the luxurious feel of high-end packaging or a specific sensory response built into a product, brands are leveraging palpable details to create for themselves a unique level of distinction from the competition. Now, more than ever, sensory research plays a crucial role in helping brands discern what details their customers focus on and respond to.

Understanding Sensory Marketing

The Harvard Business Review points out that sensory marketing has been an important part of the landscape for decades. As the authors note, from the sting of mouthwash to the swishing sound of a marker as it writes, products have a sensory component which users associate with a good or effective experience. In other cases, the sensory elements are actually part of marketing initiatives.

For example, MarketingWeek reported that McCain Foods was experimenting with strategies like accompanying ads for potatoes with blasting the scent of potatoes at the same time. Other brands are exploring how digital experiences and virtual experiences can come alive when sensory details are included.

Examples of Sensory Research

What does sensory research look like in practice? In many cases, brands are leveraging a variety of different tests to better understand how specific decisions resonate with their audiences. For example, a packaged goods company begins testing for new products early on. As product developers and food scientists try out new flavors, products are tested extensively with target consumers and feedback is collected. Based on each round of feedback, the formulation is refined until the product finally hits the market.

Brands may also focus on other elements of the buying experience, such as what factors drive conversion. Would a specific experience such as including high-end tactile packaging or featuring a scent in the store prompt users to buy? Studies can focus on the following elements:

  • Partnering with panelists who have been screened for factors such as sensory acuity and articulacy. For example, a survey pre-screener might focus on asking prospective participants to describe a recent meal they ate and evaluate their ability to share specific insights, recall sensory details, and describe factors that align with the researchers’ interests.
  • Utilizing sensory profiling, which uses factors such as taste tests, kitchen tests, interviews, and surveys to develop a better sense of what appeals to consumers.
  • Understanding how different sensory inputs create an emotional or intellectual association to a product or brand.
  • Exploring the impact of tactile, scent driven, or auditory elements such as music on the purchase process or the brand experience.
  • Uncovering which sensory elements of the brand experience—such as the sting of mouthwash—may be perceived as a hidden advantage.

How Sensory Research Fits Into the Market Research Mix

For every company, there is a mix of market research studies which need to be considered when developing a databank of information that relates to their products and services. Sensory research provides another lens into understanding the customer experience and can play a role in everything from product development to the marketing process. Incorporating sensory research helps move beyond understanding basic behaviors, or even attitudes, associated with brands and usage. It’s possible to potentially uncover some of the hidden motivations and influences that are behind those ideas and actions.

Researchers often incorporate sensory research when they’re developing new and expanded marketing plans that seek to be more innovative and engage a broader level of consumers. The increasing focus on digital communication has made it easier for brands to scale their marketing and connect with customers. However, it can prove quite difficult to stand out among a sea of brands leveraging similar technologies.

Brands that take the time to understand how consumers associate specific sensory elements with their brand and how those sensory details impact the purchasing process will have a significant advantage in the years ahead. Be sure to integrate these insights with other sources of market research and customer intelligence for a more comprehensive understanding of the customer experience.