The Psychology of Experiences: Mastering All The Senses – Event Marketer

The Psychology of Experiences: Mastering All The Senses – Event Marketer

The Psychology of Experiences: Mastering All The Senses

A neuroscientist a color expert and a feng shui master walk into an event…

When you’re trying to strike a chord with audiences there’s a lot more to consider than just sight and sound. Marketers today need to think about all six senses. That’s right we said six. (Keep reading.)

EM polled an all-star panel of scientists and experts to find out what you need to know to ignite customers’ passions on all systems at once. They revealed some surprising facts. Take smell for instance. “The part of the brain that [is thought to process smell] the olfactory lobe is actually part of the limbic system or the emotional brain,” says neurologist Alan Hirsch. “So the quickest way to change somebody’s mood state or behavior—quicker than with any other sensory modality—is with smell.”

Are you taking all of the senses into account when you’re on the road or the show floor? One thing the experts all agree on tapping into the senses is an area that has been largely untapped. Your guide to sensory marketing begins now.



Taste Bud Trickery. Nothing against taste buds but about 90 percent of what we call taste is really smell. The scientific term for it is synethesia. Marketers can capitalize on this phenomenon by using scent to inspire food-based buying decisions. Hirsch suggests putting scratch-and-sniff stickers on marketing elements. “When they smell the scent the customer will perceive the flavor and will be more inclined to buy the product,” he says.

To go for a pure taste bud assault Hirsch suggests appealing to fat receptors in the mouth by serving sugary drinks and spicy foods. “If you want to make people more placid and compliant go for a sugar and fat taste,” he says. You can get the opposite effect by stimulating the system with tastes like horseradish and bitter herbs. The powerful spiciness registers as pain in the mouth and nose creating a state of alertness.

Do: Want to make a tiny footprint seem larger? Leverage the synesthesia. Hirsch says hints of green apple and cucumber scents can do the trick. Want to make a huge space feel more intimate? Think ribs. “Barbecue roasted meat makes people perceive a room as smaller,” says Hirsch.
Don’t: Exhibit near highly polluted areas. The air makes people aggressive. “Studies show that the more air pollution in an area the more auto accidents there are because drivers drive more aggressively,” says Hirsch.



Subliminal Scent. In his research Hirsch found that introducing certain scents got people to buy more in a retail setting and gamble more in a casino. Scent also increases learning potential and attentiveness. A mixed floral smell for example increases the speed of learning by 17 percent. But pumping scent bombs into crowded convention centers or at outdoor venues is about as effective as tossing money into the wind. If you’re going to pump in fragrance try pumping in a scent at a barely-there level just above what the fragrance industry calls detection threshold.

“It doesn’t knock your socks off,” says Craig Warren of the Sense and Smell Institute. “But if someone cued you you’d say ‘Oh I do smell something.’” Companies like ScentAir Technologies and Aromasys formulate and sell scents for branded environments.

Do: Pick stimulating notes like citrus and mint. “Peppermint is a good performance booster ” says Warren. Most floral scents make people happy. Vanilla takes the cake for most universally liked scent.
Don’t: Go for a rose scent Warren says. “It reminds people of funerals.”



Color Currents. Every color has inherent psychological and emotional meanings says color specialist Leatrice Eiseman. Her “rich” palette for example combines brown claret red and olive green to convey quality and taste. Old school rich tones like purple and black have given way to hues of espresso red wine and martini olives. One way marketers can make the see-then-feel connection is to let go of old connotations and embrace new color trends. When a new color combination comes on the scene about 10 percent of people will immediately adopt it says Eiseman. For the other 90 percent “what happens is over time the eye becomes more accustomed to seeing that color and even the person who is resistant to it when it first comes out ultimately starts to absorb it out of peripheral vision.” Being first on the scene to effectively combine current colors is an opportunity for marketers to make a brand statement. “A lot of attendees are people who will say this is interesting,” says Eiseman. “They will look at what you have to offer as something intriguing because they think you are very aware.”

Remember that no one uses each of the senses without the others. You can get the benefits of a scent-induced environment without the odor by using color. Want the hypnotic happy-making effects of a punchy lemon or lime scent? Try creating a vibrant yellow or green environment. “People can match colors and odors and match both with moods almost spontaneously,” says Warren.

Do: Get three for the price of one. Bright tones like this season’s greens and yellows not only “smell” fresh they get you greater visibility plus tap you into one of the hottest color trends. “You would be perceived as having the latest approach ” says Eiseman.
Don’t: Use your logo as the sole inspiration for your exhibit design. “You don’t have to remove the equity you have in that color ” says Eiseman. “But surround it with other [current] colors to give it a fresh new perspective.”



Sounds Personal. Sights and smells can remind us of happy childhood memories but sounds can be stimulating too.

Matthew Suttor a composer and lecturer in sound design says “Visual memory can be faulty so sound is a very potent way to localize someone physically in a space but also [a good way to create] a certain kind of environment.” Delivering sound to one person at a time can be especially helpful for making an emotional connection in an otherwise overcrowded overstimulated environment. “We live in this iPod culture now where everyone can control not only the volume at which they listen but what they’re listening to as well,” says Suttor.

Museums and galleries for example use interactivity to personalize the experience. (See the bird in the diorama and push the button to hear it chirp.)

“It’s the difference between an individualized auditory tour and a one-size-fits-all sound experience,” Suttor says. “We’re a society of individuals and we want to be in control.”

Do: Remember that sound is more than music. Auto brands often experiment with unique sounds in their TV ads a practice called conceptual sound design. The audience makes an association between the known object the car and an unknown or playful sonic effect. “We’re able to make an association between sounds and images that we read as being innovative,” Suttor says.
Don’t: Turn up the volume. Says Suttor: “People use volume as a way of selling things but it can also be a repellent.”



Hands On. Many brands have incorporated relaxation stations and lounges into their events often in the form of spa experiences and massages. It’s a smart move says developmental psychologist Tiffany Field. “If you stimulate pressure receptors under the skin you increase attentiveness,” she says.

Paying attention to something tends to slow the heart rate and stimulating pressure receptors—through massage for example—can create the same effect which helps heighten people’s alertness levels. You don’t have to roll out an army of massage therapists though. Putting something interactive in the hands of consumers creates the same effect. “Even if you’re just feeling something you are stimulating pressure receptors and it does enhance attentiveness,” Field says.

Do: Tap into peoples’ childlike impulses to touch everything by providing lots of interactives. (Remember petting zoos?) “Even with something that sprays like an aroma experience people will take their hands and try to feel the spray,” says Field. “It’s absolutely instinctual.”
Don’t: Frustrate consumers with “Do not touch” signs. “The instinct is to hold something turn it around look at it and feel it,” says Field.



Energy Boost. Feng shui is the ancient Chinese practice of positioning furniture objects and buildings to create a harmonious flow of energy. One tenet of the philosophy is that there are five elements—water wood fire earth and metal—that transform a space’s energy. Feng shui practitioners divide homes or business spaces into quadrants and then suggest how incorporating those elements can bring prosperity romance or other missing energies into each part.

Sound impractical? Feng shui instructor Betty Stone says that if you have ever noticed that certain areas of a trade show or festival attract your attention more than others it’s because the energy is better in those spaces. And it’s not always in the places you’d think. “Just because you have the corner spot doesn’t mean the energy flow is good,” she says. “You may get more exposure but the energy could be very stuck and stale.”

And Stone adds the booth’s location is more important than its layout.

Do: Ask properties which footprints get the most business. (Not foot traffic or exposure—those are different criteria.) “Energy will be [present] in that particular section and that will always be true for that building,” says Stone.
Don’t: Worry that incorporating feng shui into your exhibit means you have to create a Zen garden. A good consultant will find elements that are brand- and event-appropriate. Wind chimes in a convention center booth would look silly but to incorporate a moving metal element you could try “a wall clock with a metal pendulum,” says Stone.

Photo courtesy: Karen Roe/Flickr
Jessica Heasley
Posted by Jessica Heasley

Jessica worked for more than 15 years in marketing and events before joining Event Marketer in 2007. She earned her master’s degree from t he Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and her bachelor’s from the University of Washington (go Huskies!). Her last gig before coming to Red 7 was at Psychology Today magazine. Her proudest professional accomplishments include fixing a branded 1972 VW bus accelerator pump on the side of a highway in South Carolina with a paper clip and some string the night before a 30-city college tour; convincing Dr. Laura that she wasn’t writing a piece about lusty event marketers having lurid affairs on the road (which she kind of was); and, while at an independent film dot-com called AtomFilms, using about fifty bucks worth of chocolate chip cookies and a couple gallons of milk to lure film festival attendees away from Steven Spielberg’s (now defunct) big budget “Pop! Multimedia” booth to her company’s tiny living room event space. Although she is a native of Seattle, she never once owned an umbrella or rain boots until she moved to Brooklyn, where she currently resides with her husband and daughter. She was born in Everett, WA, home of the pulp mill.
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