MULTINATIONAL brands find it increasingly difficult to differentiate and connect with their target market because they have forgotten that human beings make decisions based on all five senses, not just one.
For example, 83 per cent of marketing budgets today are spent on advertising communications, which basically appeal to a single sense - that of sight.
But scientific research has found that a whopping 75 per cent of our decisions are based on what we smell. And there is a 65 per cent chance of a complete mood change when we are exposed to "positive" music.
Because brands and retailers have forgotten - or perhaps never knew - about these findings from the world of behavioural science, they are falling short in crucial sales and business objectives in this competitive globalised world.
Bland service centres, uninspiring bank branches, plain-vanilla retailer outlets, traditional passive merchandising displays, bright lights and one-off price promotions are just not setting cash registers ringing like they used to.
For more than a decade now, I have been in a relatively new industry which employs techniques that make our consumer, retail and hospitality environments more attractive to spend time in. I call this sector the "sensory branding" industry, the aggressive new kid on the block in the advertising and branding world.
What "sensory branding" does is show local and regional businesses such as hotels, banks and retailers how to increase customer interaction and brand loyalty through a multi-sensory, experiential approach to marketing, thereby differentiating themselves from the pack in game-changing ways. For now, these techniques work best in the arena of applied sound and fragrance.
In the industry, for instance, there is a direct correlation between customers' time spent in a store and a store's sales, so what stores need to do is increase the time customers are in the store by creating the right environment which resonates with the kinds of products on sale.
Different genres of music can create different kinds of experiences for customers. Fast-tempo ambient music, which we call "high arousal" music, will excite and energise a customer; this might be appropriate for electrical retail outlets like Courts or Harvey Norman. On the other extreme, more soothing and relaxed low-tempo music is used when a brand wants customers to slow down and relax in the environment. Such a strategy would get customers more in the mood for trying out sofas in a furniture store, for instance.
You are choosing the right kind of ambience for the particular kind of customer and the type of products or services being offered, but getting the balance right is not only an art form, it is also a real science.
As humans, we are affected by the appeal of our surroundings, which tend to affect our behaviour. A wine retailer who compared the effect of playing Top 40s music against classical and jazz found that the volume of sales was not appreciably different for either genre. However, it was found that when classical music was piped in, people tended to pick more pricey wines.
Music releases a chemical in the brain called dopamine, which has a role in sending one into a good mood and affects how people feel as individuals. Dopamine is also associated with less tangible stimuli, such as being in love.
The science we are talking about is all about making customers fall in love with your brand, and doing so in a benign - yet scientific - way through behavioural and sensory psychology.
If we turn from music and look at the application of fragrance, Nike once found from a study it did that a lightly fragranced room displaying a pair of trainers prompted consumer test subjects to want to spend $10 to $20 more than they would when shown the trainers in a non-fragranced room.
Banks - usually thought of as restrained and conservative - have been notable early adopters of these sense-based techniques. Last year, Standard Chartered Lan Kwai Fong in Hong Kong created a sound field designed to harmonise and complement three distinct public areas while reflecting the tone and feel of its brand.
The bank opted for a specially created fragrance, one with oriental, citrus, woody and spicy notes, with softly blended white musk. The choice was based on the bank brand's heritage originating in Africa and India, with branches having an upmarket, warm, customer-focused and comfortable feel.
In Singapore, UOB Privilege Reserve in Marina Bay Sands retail mall, The Shoppes, recently embarked on a bold foray to impart a distinctively "Asian" appeal to its brand and support its dynamic, upmarket look and feel. The place is designed like a First-Class Lounge on the upper deck of a Boeing Dream Liner in the year 2030, and offers soundscapes and fragrances - East-West fusion music and a bergamot-based scent - in an integrated way, creating a stylish but understated air of elegance and quiet finesse.
Environmental styling, as is used in the banking industry, transcends customers' financial needs and extends into various facets of their "privileged banking lifestyle".
Entire retail malls such as Marina Bay Sands have taken this lead and adopted a more systematic and integrated approach to music programming on their premises. We call this soundscaping by its technical name, "music styling". This takes into account factors such as visitor and tenant profiles, the varieties of usage of the space, the way in which the space is "branded" and different levels of music "arousal" for different times of the day, depending on natural biorhythms of shoppers.
This global trend started in the hospitality industry and is rapidly spreading to other sectors. Some years ago, Westin, part of the Starwood Group, started diffusing a signature fragrance and standardising the music in all its hotel lobbies. This meant Westin properties anywhere delivered a consistent brand from a sensory perspective.
Unsurprisingly, with such powerful sensory sorcery at work, companies are lining up to deploy these stealth methods of creating brand loyalty and the repeat business it brings. Client lists include iconic brands such as the Marina Bay Sands hotel, Straits Bullion, Banyan Tree Fitness Club, CUT steak restaurant and Courts.