30 Ways to Connect with your Customers

Feb 12 2014

How does your brand show its true identity? Many brands focus on their visual appearance and most especially their logo, against an already cluttered and over-crowded visual environment. There are huge opportunities in exploring how brands can connect with their customers across other less densely occupied touch points.

What is the right sensory mix for your brand, and how can you connect beyond being seen? Marketers often forget that sensory touch points are not only about creating immediate experience, as when a familiar colour or logo reminds a customer of a recent brand experience. Marketers can also leverage the senses to create meaning in the minds of customers. From the simple association between sugar and energy (the meaning created by sweet taste), to the cultural meanings of white colour and its associations with purity and simplicity, to the more powerful archetypal stories linked to the archetype of Idealist or Innocent.

In Brand esSense I propose 30 different ways in which brands can create meaning through sense, symbol and story. The framework (see below) forms a hierarchy of how brands can prime customer expectations, engage them in the brand experience and grow brand experience across multiple touch points.

How do you sense a brand? The most important prime is colour, defining the key meanings associated with the brand. The flavour (smell and taste), touch (skinfeel) and sound of the brand experience engage closely with customers’ senses, and the total sensory experience can be grown through physical texture, orientation (sense of balance and direction), movement, temperature, light and the overall intensity of the sensory experience.

Brands like Cadbury, Coca-Cola, Innocent and Tiffany are strongly associated with particular colours (purple, red, white and robin egg blue). Colour is known to prime our bodies with direct physiological effects too, as red speeds blood flow and stimulate nervous system responses and blue can have a powerful calming effect.

Similarly, smell can work with our sense of taste to trigger powerful memories and emotional responses as Play-doh sometimes still does with many adults. Another brand with a smell signature is Dettol, linked to its underlying story as a ‘protector’ of families and ‘crusader’ for health.

Apple’s use of the sense of touch goes beyond their touchscreens to the naming of products, the careful design of packaging and their well-designed stores where you can touch everything on display. Wranglers made a slightly more unusual use of touch when they launched moisturizing jeans earlier this year.

One of the least considered senses is our perception of temperature, although this is a sensory signature of one of Singapore’s most successful brands, Tiger Balm, and is critical in creating the right ambience in any retail outlet and the right taste profile for many alcohol brands like Guinness.

How do you symbolize a brand? The most important prime is the brand name, which defines the consumer job to be done either directly or perhaps by analogy. The shape, graphic devices, logos and sonic iconography of the brand all engage customers with the symbolism you want to build, and sonic icons, fonts, size, product formats, visual icons, pictures and language all nourish and develop a brand’s symbolic value.

Think of how McDonalds has created a whole family of McNames to build their brand identity, and how Häagen-Dazs creates a feeling of authenticity with a completely fabricated name, invented by Polish immigrants in New York (there are no umlauts in the Danish language).

The terrain of its home country Switzerland inspired Toblerone’s iconic shape, and Nestlé’s Kit-Kat has four rectangular bars. No one can mistake the shape of an Absolut bottle, even when it’s not really there, nor can they miss Mickey Mouse’s ears.

The language of Disney is unmistakable too, with its use of ‘magic’, ‘fantasy’ and ‘dreams’ to create a magical experience. Many brand names have become generic terms for the category, such as biro, thermos, yo-yo and in the modern day google. Much of the modern-day language of coffee has been invented by Starbucks – where did the name ‘frappuccino’ come from?

Intel’s sonic logo has lasted more than 20 years and created a strong association with the brand and continuously high recall. Font’s can be unmistakable too. I recently had to look several times at a window advert in Singapore before I could work out that it was for sports brand and not vodka (I could have sworn that it used the Absolut type face). Similarly, Coca-Cola’s script and IBM’s stylized letters are unmistakable whatever words they are spelling.

Language leads us neatly to story and how you tell a brand story. The most important prime is your brand archetype, defining the motivations and rewards that the brand can bring to customers. Emotions, rituals and songs, jingles and music all engage customers with a deeper story, and finally metaphors, navigation, tradition, service style, talent and ambience all help to grow and elaborate the brand story.

The power of archetypes is not only to create vivid identities and personalities for all brands, but also to help realise the answer to ‘why?’ Dettol are on a “mission for health” and “kills 99.9% of germs” and Dove “has a vision of a world where beauty is source of confidence, and not anxiety”. IKEA’s mission is to “create a better everyday life for the many people” and this is delivered with well-designed and standardised products delivered with a store experience where everyone is the same.

Singapore Airlines and Starbucks both make use of small service rituals, such as handing out the (scented) towels, calling customer orders, grinding beans and steaming milk to create a stronger sense of connection and the anticipation of expected pleasures. The pouring of Guinness has been made into a ritual and Stella Artois have created their own none-step pouring ritual to reinforce the brand’s perceptions of quality and prestige, using Latin numbers and archaic language which are closer to those of a religious ceremony than a bar.

Many brands have used music to strengthen their emotional connection with customers, including many alcohol brands and most famously Coca-Cola, “always” reinforcing their identity as a happy-go-lucky brand with the ability to connect people.

One final example will serve to show how brands can combine sense, symbol and story to build their identity. Abercrombie & Fitch combines racy marketing photography, athletic and good-looking talent (often dressed in red), a dark spot-lit store interior, loud thumping music and a strong fragrance (aptly named ‘Fierce’) to create an archetypal athletic and competitive archetypal personality. At the other extreme, Virgin Airways combine a hand-written name, jokey advertising, a comedy safety video, tongue-in-cheek language and a “best mates” service style to create an archetypal “fun in the sky” personality.

In their different ways, these brands are connecting with customers in many different ways to build a strong and consistent brand identity. You can read more about the role of the sense, symbol and story in branding in Brand esSense.


Brand esSense: Using sense, symbol and story to design brand identity by Neil Gains

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