SENSORY MERCHANDISING

May 01, 2006 9:30 PM  By

I was reading the latest J. Peterman catalog and came across this copy: “Have you been feeling pokey recently? Not getting your Minimum Daily Requirement of exuberance lately?” While this was cleverly written to sell the brand’s new adorable polka-dot dishes, I thought it described exactly how I feel when I look at various catalogs’ merchandising assortments. They feel a little pokey and in need of a bit of exuberance.

Kevin Roberts, CEO of ad firm Saatchi & Saatchi and author of my favorite branding book, Lovemarks, reminds us that “product impressions are made in three seconds.” Three seconds is not a great deal of time to make your product stand out from the thousands of choices customers are bombarded by each day.

So how do you not only sell your product in three seconds but sell it exuberantly as well? The answer lies in sensory merchandising techniques. By engaging all five senses in the merchandising experience, you create a memory that hooks positively into your customer’s emotional bank.

Marketers have been doing it for years — using touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound to capture the attention and the emotions of their customers. That new-car smell or that highly perfumed page in your latest magazine is not an accident. The chocolate scents wafting through an Ethel M. chocolate lounge, the fluffy Heavenly Bed at Westin Hotels, the way a Levenger pen caresses your hand, the warmth of an L.L. Bean Rugged Ridge Parka, and the smell of a Sunwashed Linen Yankee Candle are just a few examples of sensory envelopment.

Roberts dedicates much of Lovemarks to the power of the senses: “All of our knowledge comes to us through the senses, but they are far more than sophisticated gatherers of information. The senses interpret and prioritize. When we feel emotionally connected, we say, ‘That makes sense.’”

And in his latest book, Brand Sense, marketing pro Martin Lindstrom encourages companies to get past using just two senses (sight and hearing) in their marketing plans: “How come almost all marketing and brand building concentrate on two senses when we know appealing to all five is likely to double brand awareness and strengthen the impression a brand leaves on its audience?”

Brands are listening. They want to stay memorable. They want to surround their customer with sensory experiences. Some forward-thinking companies actually make this part of their brand culture. The credo of upscale hotel chain Ritz-Carlton states: “The Ritz-Carlton experience enlivens the senses, instills well-being, and fulfills even the unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.”

How can you help enliven your customers’ senses with your product lines? Here’s some practical, sensory merchandising advice:

  1. TAKE FIVE

    It is hard to “think sensory” while living in a cubicle. As a baseball cap I saw recently on the ski slopes declared, “Get out!” Get out of your office, your comfort zone, your day-in-and-day-out routine. Look up. Look around. Take note. Think about your product line from these new vantage points.

  2. STROLL DOWN MEMORY LANE

    Go back to your brand’s roots. What inspired the founder of your organization? What is authentic to your brand? Whether it is J. Peterman’s sense of adventure (his motto: “People want things that have a factual romance about them”) or knitwear merchant Peruvian Connection’s sense of Andean anthropology, convey this in your product selection and descriptions. Tell your story via the senses.

  3. PLAY THE NAME GAME

    Product names can engage your customers by conveying an essence of a place. L.L. Bean capitalizes strategically on its New England location with product names such as Casco Bay Boat Mocs and Maine Isle Flip Flops. Food and fragrance companies have a field day with this aspect of sensory merchandising. When you close your eyes you can all but taste Godiva’s Tahitian Vanilla or Tasmanian Honey or Key Lime chocolates simply by thinking of the product name.

  4. ADD YOUR TWO SCENTS

    Many food marketers are already taking advantage of the evocative fragrances of their products. Walk through any mall these days and the scent of Cinnabon’s homespun cinnamon swirls or Mrs. Field’s just-baked cookies fills the air. But why not take a cue from the perfume industry and consider scenting catalog pages where appropriate? (You can apply the same thinking to sound by using brand-enhancing music chips in key venues.)

  5. PACK IT UP

    Not only does individual product packaging need to be reviewed through a sensory lens, but so does the entire boring brown-box experience of most merchants. “Reading tools” merchant Levenger is one company that gets it right. A briefcase I ordered came wrapped in tissue within a lovely, well-crafted sage-green gift box. Later, when I ordered a less-expensive item, it came packaged the same way. Levenger pays attention to sensory packaging. How can your company create an arrival experience that’s memorable?

Sensory merchandising gives your customers the necessary emotional cues to help make product decisions in those crucial three seconds or less. So go ahead, be exuberant! Captivate your customers by using sight and sound and taste and touch and smell. It just makes sense.


Andrea Syverson is president of catalog consultancy IER Partners. She can be reached at asyverson@ierpartners.com.