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Oana Diana Crăciun, IAA Young Professionals Member, Romania. Marketing

Digital multi-sensory consumer experience – a Zugzwang strategy of the future

Almost our entire understanding of the world is experienced through our senses

Martin Lindstrom

If in the game of chess, zugzwang means “compulsion to move”, a move in which the other player is doomed to failure, in the game of marketing, an experience is the ultimate tool in moving towards the goal of being not only in a consumer’s mind, but also in his heart, conquering him completely.

Experiences are the sum of our actions and emotions triggered by them. They can last a lifetime or only a moment. Even so, what really matters is not their duration, but the intensity that fundamentally impacts the way we make decisions.

We are all humans before being consumers and only the brands that understand this fact have the power to create significant interactions with us. A decisive matter may be that most of the brands take into consideration only individual influences, neglecting the subconscious ones. In other words, our entire system of understanding the world around us is based on our five senses: the sense of smell, sight, taste, touch and hearing.

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A Conceptual framework of Sensory marketing (Aydinoğlu & Krishna, 2011)

A multi-sensory experience is a decisive factor in the purchase-decision process because it is based on perceptions that were formerly created after a series of cumulate sensations from sensory receptors. (Sensory Holiday Laboratory, Virgin Holidays).

In this sense, brands try to meet up the consumers’ expectations that change constantly, by concentrating on their basic needs that were stated by Maslow: the psychological need, the need for safety, for belongingness, for esteem and self-actualization. An example in this way can be represented by an airline company through the concept Happiness Blankets. The idea behind this concept was seizing how comfortable were feeling the customers in a flight. The customers’ brain waves were analyzed, sent by Bluetooth and the blankets changed colors based on the nature of their emotions.

Furthermore, another example is Face Reader app, part of the Empathic Products Project, by Vicar Vision and Noldus Information Technology. FaceReader decodes the facial expressions that were first identified by Paul Ekman: happiness, sadness, anger, disgust, fear and surprise. After this process of decoding, this tool is created especially for improving the user experience and for gaining insights about the customers. It can detect facial states, but also a person’s gender, age, ethnicity and even identify the subject.

Digital multi-sensory experiences

On a whole different level, we are now facing a new move from our opponent, the time, that is now working aside disruption so as everybody can experience sensations, not only in the real life, but also in the virtual one. In addition to improving the way we experience the virtual life, this new mechanism can definitely change the way we react, by being ahead of people’s reactions and sending the right stimulus at the right time. Consumers could buy their clothes after touching the material used in manufacturing; they could choose a destination through a booking agency after having sensed the temperature of that place or could virtually smell a perfume and even taste a specific wine before placing an online order.

The sense of touch

In the virtual world, this sensory experience is promised to us by haptic technology. This technology leverages scientific knowledge about the sense of touch to create haptic interfaces that enable consumers to interact with virtual objects and distant environments. Katherine Kuchenbecker, engineer by profession, introduced for the first time the concept of haptography, but, IBM also conducted some research itself in the field of digitalizing the tactile sense. This is possible through mobile devices whose vibrations match what the skin mentally translates to the feel of certain textures. Moreover, Immersion Corporation, founded in 1993, already uses haptic technology to create digital experiences. Touch Sense app is mainly applied in video games, movies or sports area.

The sense of smell

oPhone technology was first created in 2014 by engineer David Edwards. Even though the technology was limited at the beginning, the application embodies now a mechanism named oSnap. Through the use of oSnap, every user can take photographs and create tags of the objects through olfactory notes. The oSnap presents up to 32 unique scents of which every user can choose from one to eight, resulting in over 300 000 combinations. The scent-based messaging platform can send the olfactory notes only to those who own this type of device.

Moreover, dr. Adrian Cheok, founder and director of the Mixed Reality Lab from Singapore and professor of City University of London developed a device called Scentee that can be attached to a smartphone allowing scents to be sent and received on command.

The sense of taste

Dr. Adrian Cheok is also the founder of the Electronic Taste Machine, a project through which consumers can experiment the sense of taste. The Electronic Taste Machine uses metal sensors to trick this sense into experiencing various tastes ranging from sour to bitter, salty or sweet depending on the electrical current passing through the electrode: “I believe that in the future we will move from the age of information to the age of experience in which the customers will have the possibility to learn much experientially.”

Instead of conclusions…

For immersive experiences, besides stimulating the five senses, social connection is integrated through augmented and virtual reality that can facilitate consumers not only to have a human-based avatar, but also to experience multi-sensory interactions.

But what if these technologies could be integrated in apps like Face Reader in which human emotions could be previously decoded?

Nonetheless, before these technologies are available and accessible for more countries, every brand should first create multi-sensory experiences full of creativity in real life because, as Kate Nightingale states: “Senses are the only way into our customers' minds”.

The article was written by Oana Diana Crăciun, member of IAA Young Professionals Romania.

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