Opinion: How to harness the senses to craft memorable virtual experiences
Whether experiential marketers like it or not, virtual conferencing and events will be here for the foreseeable future. While attending video conferences, live concert streams and networking “drinks” without wearing pants is convenient, digital events have limitations when it comes to brand engagement.
Martin Lindstrom, an expert on sensory branding and author of "Brand Sense: Build Powerful Brands through Touch, Taste, Smell, Sight, and Sound," says that effective brand experiences are enhanced when more than one sense is involved; when three are used, brand impact increases by 70 percent. Thinking outside of what your attendees can see and hear might feel like an impossible task. But if you have the budget to create and deliver goodie bags, coupled with careful planning and innovative thinking, it is possible to create multisensory brand experiences in the virtual world.
Here’s how you can utilize additional senses to enhance brand engagement during COVID-19:
Sense of smell
Have you ever encountered a smell that rekindles a forgotten childhood memory? More than any other sense, smell is associated with memory. Our sense of smell is extremely powerful in that it can trigger a strong emotional reaction, put us in a particular mood and leave a lasting impression of an experience. Even in the live events world, it is often overlooked.
Unlike the other senses, our sense of smell connects to our brain’s limbic system, which controls emotion, memory and associated learning—how we learn to process the association between two stimuli. These are powerful tools for experiential marketers to harness.
Consider adding aromatherapy oils, a scented candle, flowers or a fragrant postcard to your event pack. Even perfumed herbal tea is appropriate. Keep in mind that different smells will magnify different moods. If you’re hosting a wellness-themed event, include an item like lavender that has calming properties. For a cozier, more intimate vibe for a virtual cocktail party, cinnamon will enhance the mood. Worried about people nodding off? Peppermint tea will promote alertness and concentration.
Sense of taste
If sushi is something you typically serve in real life, don’t stop now. While tracking down a supplier that will deliver in the midst of a pandemic might be a logistical nightmare, guests will be impressed with the lengths you went to make it happen.
Your menu should match your message. Choose something easy enough for your audience to prepare themselves, while staying on-theme and on-brand. If food is not your forte, hire an expert. Collaborating with a chef to design a menu or teaming with an alcohol sponsor to craft make-at-home drinks will take your event from OK to exceptional.
Sense of touch
Touch is the most challenging sense to integrate into a virtual event, but is the one that makes us feel most connected to a brand. Ensuring your event has an interactive component is important. How does each of item in your goodie bag feel? When people use their hands, they unknowingly see and process more clearly.
One of my favorite pieces of technology is the Sensel Morph, a tablet-sized media controller that uses velocity sensitivity—it can respond to intensity of touch. Swappable interface overlays offer uses including music production, illustration and video gaming. While it’s not cheap, if you’re hosting an intimate event for creatives, consider loaning them to guests.
Overcoming limitations and constraints with innovative thinking will make your event stand out. Thinking beyond sight and sound will go a long way in helping you create a memorable digital experience.