Sensory Branding: Branding Through the Five Senses

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Sensory Branding: Branding Through the Five Senses

Reading Time: 6 minutes
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Imagine that you are tasked with defining a new brand. You’d probably tend to start by selecting colors and fonts, creating a logo, and designing a website. Yes, all of these brand elements are essential, but they focus primarily on the visual aspect of branding. What’s missing are ways to engage the rest of our senses. Savvy marketers know that effectively stimulating all of our senses attracts interest and builds a distinctive brand identity. So, in this blog post, we explore sensory branding and branding through the five senses.

Mind-Body Connection

What we see, feel, smell, taste, and hear defines our experiences. These human senses play a critical role in influencing our behavior by shaping our sensory experiences and decisions, a phenomenon called “embodied cognition” as defined by the Harvard Business Review.

The important concept here is that it’s not only our brains that decide our behavior. It’s our entire nervous system and the inputs we get through it that influence our actions. Psychology Today offers a more detailed explanation: “The brain, while important, is not the only resource we have available to us to generate behavior. Instead, the form of our behavior emerges from the real-time interaction between a nervous system in a body with particular capabilities and an environment that offers opportunities for behavior and information about those opportunities.”

What we perceive through our senses profoundly affects our attitude, mood and memory. How we think and behave is influenced by the state of our body. Yes, this goes against some traditional psychological models that attribute how we behave solely to what we think. The key implication here is that to influence someone’s behavior, you might not need to change them; you might just need to change their environment, which will then in turn change their sensory experience.

There’s a popular example of this that made the rounds in the news a few years ago. Maybe you remember the study that showed that people who held a warm beverage in their hands were more likely to think a stranger was friendly than those who held a cold beverage?

Or, if you recall your own most vivid and memorable experiences, there’s a good chance that you remember not only what you saw but also what you heard, felt, smelled and perhaps even tasted at the time. So, if we’re going to be effective marketers, we have to pay attention to the entire customer experience, and that means branding through the five senses.

How It Works: Putting Sensory Branding Strategy Through the Five Senses Into Action

Sensory branding works because we are innately wired to have powerful, emotional responses to both conscious and non-conscious stimuli of our senses. Whether or not we are aware of the intentionality behind sensory branding and marketing, most of us can’t help but respond.

Multisensory marketing uses sensory branding to establish a deeper, more significant emotional connection with customers, and it enhances brand identity and brand image. The Journal of Brand Strategy explains five strategies for vision, sound, smell, taste and touch, and we’ve added specific examples to help you get ideas for your own brand.

Visual Branding

Visual Sensory Branding Strategy

As we mentioned earlier, this is where most companies tend to spend the most time and money, but it’s about more than just colors, logo, and a website. Sensory branding elements play a crucial role in visual branding by creating immersive sensory experiences that foster a deeper emotional connection with customers. Generally, it’s about a brand’s gestalt, and specifically it can refer to particular graphics, imagery, typography and even lighting.Generally, it’s about a brand’s gestalt, and specifically it can refer to particular graphics, imagery, typography and even lighting.

  • Target’s conspicuously consistent red logo and coloring inside and outside their stores.
  • Love it or hate it, Apple’s now iconic logo evokes a strong response in many of us.
  • The “little purple pill” has become synonymous with Nexium’s heartburn medicine.

What we perceive through our senses profoundly affects our attitude, mood and memory. How we think and behave is influenced by the state of our body.

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Auditory Branding

Auditory Sensory Branding Strategy

This is how a brand is expressed through sounds, such as voices, music, jingles or even a particular spoken language or dialect. By engaging multiple senses, auditory branding can complement other sensory elements like sight, smell, taste, and touch to create immersive and memorable experiences. It could be theme music for a radio show, TV program or podcast. Sounds can also be used to intentionally indicate that something has gone right or wrong with a product or service.

  • Many public radio fans will instantly recognize this theme music for NPR’s Science Friday.
  • When you turn a portable JBL-branded speaker on and off or set up its Bluetooth connection, it plays unique, catchy tones.
  • When you start up an Apple computer, you’ll hear a signature sound.
  • Language learning app Duolingo gives immediate audio feedback when you get something right.
Olfactory Branding

Olfactory Sensory Branding Strategy

This is how brands use scent to create sensory experiences.

  • Every perfume has its own special fragrance, and over time, many of us come to associate specific scents with particular experiences and personalities. Sensory stimuli play a crucial role in olfactory branding by engaging our sense of smell to create memorable brand experiences.
  • Hyatt has used distinctive scents throughout its hotels. They’re designed to help you feel a welcoming elegance.
  • Dr. Bronner’s uses strong, unmistakable scents like peppermint and lavender across many of its products, such as soaps and hand sanitizer.
Tactile Sensory Branding

Tactile Sensory Branding Strategy

This is how brands use touch to create memorable brand experiences through sensory elements. Think form, material, surface, texture and weight.

  • A heavier quality of cardstock for printed brochures can reassure and inspire a sense of confidence.
  • Unboxing a piece of jewelry from Tiffany’s will make you feel like you’re opening something luxurious and special.
  • Higher-end and luxury hotels sell comfort with big, soft pillows and comforters.
  • Rounded or smooth edges and surfaces, such as on knobs and gauges in a car’s controls and dashboard, can be designed to feel distinctive and familiar so you can comfortably and easily switch between vehicle models and years of a particular car brand.
taste sensory branding

Taste Sensory Branding Strategy

Food, beverage, and hospitality brands can use taste as a key sensory branding channel to create a comprehensive sensory branding strategy. Think of using taste to create a memorable sensory activity.

  • The hotel brand Doubletree has adopted a welcoming strategy of leaving delicious chocolate chip cookies on pillows on its guest beds. Other brands offer mint chocolate treats.
  • Handing out tasty snacks or food samples at product demos or trade shows can favorably predispose your potential new customers to your brand.
  • Chain restaurants like McDonald’s or Olive Garden reliably churn out consistent flavors for menu items across all locations and time so you can always count on getting a particular gastronomical experience.


Branding through the five senses is an approach that works across all industries, but understanding the target audience is crucial for creating effective sensory branding strategies. Some industries, such as hospitality brands, incorporate multi-sensory inputs more readily than others. While we gave many mainstream examples above, sensory branding applies to scientific and medical companies, too.

  • Tremfya commercials do a great job of using visuals to communicate the tactile pain of plaque psoriasis.
  • Intel has its distinctive sound logo.
  • National Geographic’s famous yellow border around its magazine covers is unmistakable.
  • Johnson & Johnson’s scripted red and white logo is familiar to anyone who’s ever used a Band-Aid.
  • NASA’s historic worm logo made a comeback in 2020.

Marketer Beware

Because people are emotionally and cognitively affected by both positive and negative sensory experiences, it’s especially important to be in tune with your audience if you’re going to use multi-sensory marketing. Overstimulation can lead to sensory overload, which may have the opposite intended effect by overwhelming one’s senses. The more you engage in branding through the five senses, the greater the potential consumer response, whether good or bad.

Global companies, especially, must pay attention to cultural differences that could make what is a pleasant sensory input in one culture come across as unpleasant or offensive to someone from another culture.

Sense and Sensibility

Not paying attention to sensory branding trends, including emerging technologies like augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence (AI), is a missed branding and marketing opportunity, and in our increasingly competitive business world, it’s a mistake you can’t afford. So, grab your marketing team and see if you can’t hone your branding through the five senses. Yes, it’ll take some time and creativity, but it’ll pay dividends in the form of stronger, more powerful emotional connections with your customers.

Partner with Cobalt for Branding Expertise

As a full-service science marketing agency, Cobalt helps science-focused B2Bs with branding and all aspects of B2B marketing and communications, integrating sensory branding into overall marketing strategies to enhance marketing efforts and create a comprehensive and memorable brand experience.

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