sensory marketing

Paradox of the sensitive and the industry


The concept of sensory marketing has come up against a much more naïve vision of the world of the senses, especially since the creation of the world's first sensory research laboratory, Certesensin 2012 in Tours. Touch, sound, taste, smell or colour are increasingly important in the consumer's appropriation of manufactured products. The sensory system is now based on the idea that objects will gain extra soul if, from the moment they are designed, we anticipate the sensations.

In Sumer, almost 6,000 years ago, merchants unknowingly practiced sensory marketing: using the colours of products to organise the stall in a market, tasting food products to customers or feeling the silkiness of a fabric, cleverly arranging the fragrances of products offered for sale or the particular sound of a product... These are all ways of enhancing the value of the offer to potential buyers. Closer to us than the Sumerian merchants, Emile Zola proposed us in To the Happiness of the Ladies, a dazzling treatise on sensory marketing describing the methods of sales space enhancement introduced by 19th century department stores.

Has contemporary marketing therefore only rediscovered, and perhaps formalized under the term "sensorial marketing", millennia-old practices that any practitioner engaged in commercial activity discovers by experience or spontaneously imagines if he has this famous "sense of commerce"?

One of the major innovations introduced by marketing research has been to highlight the fundamental role of the product as a communication vector. Product attributes induce cognitive and affective reactions in the prospect that will enable him to develop a favourable or unfavourable attitude towards the product that will predispose him to purchase or not. (Source: Le marketing sensoriel - Agnès Giboreau 2008)

How does it work?

Our whole life functions on the principle of sensations: I feel, I transmit, I perceive. My life is an individual perception of the world around me.

The brain decides to process the information if it is waiting for it. When the information passes this filter, it is encoded as an electrical signal and then reaches the central nervous system. There, it is processed, classified, compared and becomes a mental representation of the individual. This phenomenon of selection allows us to quickly access a sensation, an interpretation. 

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A sensation is the result of a complex process: in a schematic way, there is the stimulus - the information selected by the brain - and the representation that you care. While the sensory domain concerns all perceptible things, the sensory domain derives from the five senses, the sensory organs. Today, the sensory can be analyzed and measured. Our body is a veritable sensory map of sensors and sensory cells. Each sensory cell is specialized in receiving a certain excitement. It constantly "listens" and is ready to transmit its information to the rest of the body. It systematically reacts to physical or chemical excitations, but only some of them will give rise to a sensation.

These sensations are the basis of our field of experimentation, they are vital. Everything that happens to us forms our experience and knowledge of things. The brain perfects itself as our sensory education progresses. Man exists and builds himself individually in relation to his environment. Sensations, once represented and classified, constitute a veritable data bank in our brain. Memory and sensory experience will constitute the two essential elements of our life.

How the sensitive integrates into the industrial world

A daily life full of experiences and new sensations favours the implementation of technology in our homes. For example, the feeling of cold for food and drinks in the middle of summer has come about with refrigerators. To make everyday life more pleasant, objects enter our lives as they leave the production lines.

Material acquisition has become a social act. All our life is accompanied by objects, they are an integral part of our western culture. It has also become a reference to a certain way of life, an affirmation of self. Objects have become the link between people: there are those who design them, produce them, transform them, distribute them, sell them, buy them, those who produce the energy to make them;...

The senses in the product

Our objects define us, affirm our belonging to a social category in a cultural context. They speak about us, for us. In the beginning, the industry emphasizes function: from prototype to product, the object becomes functional. It must be useful, logical in its use, and must best replace the human hand or lighten its effort.

Then there is the concern for numbers. Why not distribute to as many people as possible and share this progress with everyone? Once households have been invaded by multifunctional household objects and practical, slave products, the new concern of the industry is quality. Quality of the product in its image and not in the reality of its use. The company is looking for an identity, a brand image that carries value and symbolism. Graphic charters are flourishing. Aesthetics becomes the new industrial breath. 

Finally comes the colour, which must be combined with a form/function combination. The product comes in a range, ensuring a multiplication of the offer while maintaining production at a competitive price. This perpetual renewal responds to the need to differentiate oneself in a competitive market, but also to personalize the product for a target. Customers are no longer the mass that we have known, but are individuals that must be seduced as such.

A new western preoccupation: the sensory, or finding, for each customer, the object of his difference.

Consumers are no longer a mass, but a number of individuals, all different, with specific expectations. Innovative attempts are being made. Objects seem to meet new specifications. We are told about sensory, tactile, olfactory and sound in areas we are not used to. This is a real concern for the company, a real strategy for selling and seducing the consumer. 

The current trend is to design objects without first reading. That is to say, to give the consumer the choice of his reading. It is up to him to decide if the product conveys it to him. We play on the consumer's sensitivity, it is up to him to find his signs, the affects he attributes to the product, the functions that the object must fulfil. It is a process of total appropriation that is proposed to the consumer.

Currently, the industry is trying to restore our senses, to give back the letters of nobility to our olfaction, our hearing and our flavours. The current preoccupation is to harmonize perceptions - functions, to give a global sensory image to a product. It is not a question of privileging a particular sense. It is a question of establishing a hierarchy of senses in each product, finding what corresponds best to it. Products have always had an anthopomorphic tendency. All these changes claim a global quality requirement for the consumer. The industry is turning to the "sensitive side" of the product. It is difficult at this point in time to say whether this concern is just a new way of differentiating a product in a saturated market or whether it is a sociological concern, which affects all areas at the same time.

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Can we detect a "desire" for a creator, a designer, an intuition, or rather a social phenomenon, a response to a need?

Western culture emphasizes the mind more; the body and the physical senses less. It may be thought that our preoccupation with rebalancing the mind and body is legitimate. In the sensory field, the notion of the individual has limits. There is the desired sensation (I go to the country to breathe) and the passive sensation (a smell comes to me, I suffer, I didn't ask for anything, it is unnatural). What the industry is proposing to us today are sensations that are experienced. Grapefruit or vanilla flavorings in office washrooms are an example. The individual may be saturated with these sensations. Having the choice of one's own sensations is part of the freedom of the individual.

The sensory problem is characteristic of an urban population. Only urban landscapers try to make us find our senses in these jaridns and parks by the presence of the elements, water, earth; by the possibility of a stroll, a horizon or an intimacy and by the intensity of smells and colours. These parks have become true national conservatories of meaning.

As we consciously use our senses little in our daily lives, it is perhaps logical to want to use, discover or rediscover them in the current evolution of our society (knowledge of our bodies, search for different sensations, ...) The arrival of new consumer sectors such as shops, restaurants, hotels, restaurants, ... Nature and Discovery or Body Shops, and their success shows that changes in mentality in the industry need to be taken into account.

If a real trend exists, how is the sensitive currently treated in the industry? Who is going to be the "decision-maker" of our new sensory perceptions?

In an industrial process, the treatment of the sensitive means that each new data can be reproduced, materialized, repeated at will. Industry manufactures multiples of products. This is one of the greatest constraints in the processing of sensitive data in industry. For the moment, only the sensory is part of the industrial process.

To take into account what society knows about the sensitive, the best answer we have found is the test. While science can measure the quality and intensity of the stimulus (i.e. the measurement of the electrical impulse), it is unable to measure pleasure or displeasure. We can only evaluate it, through different tests: the common method is based on translating into words what the testers feel, like or dislike. 

The aim of the tests is to move from traditional empirical expertise to methodical sensory evaluation. No two individuals are similar biologically and psychologically. The tests will enable a choice to be made among all possible industrial options. Sensory analysis is mainly used in the food industry to verify the type of sensation associated with a new product.

The marketing method

Marketing remains more established in the industry than sensory analysis. It seeks to know what, at the time of the study, will please, what will sell and satisfy the consumer. To do this, tests are organized around a prototype, a finished product or several products with a panel of selected testers. Choosing to expose the method of sensory analysis and that of marketing is not based on a value judgment. The point here is not to compare them, but to know the methods used by the industry to understand the mechanism of a product's appearance on the market.

In the evolution of sensory analysis, it is interesting to see that the pleasure factor is beginning to take its place. Initially, this service differed from marketing by its hedonistic refusal; it joined it by a more "scientific" way. We are quite naturally eager for pleasure, for "natural and unnecessary desire", as defined by Epicure in the "Letter to Menecaea" (306 BC.) Gastronomic value takes precedence over food value, a good smell over a stench, a harmonious shape over an ugly one... We are always looking for new sensations and the industry has understood this very well.

The creation of objects turns gently towards the sensitive of our products, it uses human stimulation to seduce. Product design seeks to master the product's sensitivities as a whole.

The product designer must appreciate the impact of his intervention on the sensitive to continue to stimulate us, to excite our senses, while leaving us free of our own sensations. Its role is to bring novelty to our sensors: a sensation is like a stimulation to go further, to push man to reveal himself, a pleasure to exist by projecting his imagination into reality. (Source: S. Amar - ENSCI)

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