It’s no secret that emotion is a powerful resource in your branding toolbox. Although some practical-minded business owners reject emotional marketing, doing so ultimately does both their business and their audience a disservice. Emotion makes us human, after all, and it’s the key to forming lasting connections that will not only spark joy in your clients’ lives, but make your business memorable to them.
Once you understand that making your brand connect emotionally is worth it for your bottom line, the question remains: how do you go about making it happen? And what do you do when you've followed all the basic graphic design principles to enhance your brand... but it's still not landing with your audience the way you want it to?
In this article, we’re going to dive into one of our favorite strategies for emotional branding: sensory design. Within the world of branding and marketing, sensory design is the practice of incorporating the five main physical senses into your audience’s experience with your brand. And here at Miss Details, we use sensory design to communicate your brand’s visual story to your audience, creating a strong emotional connection that will keep them coming back time and time again.
Read on to find out more about sensory design, why it works, and how to incorporate it into your own branding to create an unforgettable journey for your ideal clients.
Why Sensory Design Works: The Senses + Emotions
If you want to build an emotional connection with your audience, you have to stimulate their senses. This is due to the main neural link between the senses and the emotions: memory.
It’s no secret that emotions and memory are strongly linked in our brains. We’ve all experienced that moment when a certain sight, smell, or sound whisks us back to a specific time and place in our mind, sometimes with startling clarity. Perhaps the scent of chocolate chip cookies brings you back to happy childhood memories of baking with a grandparent. Or maybe hearing a certain ballad on the radio causes you to relive a painful teenage heartbreak.
The impact of the senses on memory is so powerful that music is often used in therapy for patients with dementia. For a powerful example of this phenomenon, look no further than this viral video of a former prima ballerina with Alzheimer’s who, upon hearing Tchaikovsky’s haunting Swan Lake score, began executing her old choreography from her wheelchair. Such moments suggest that the human senses are so inextricably linked with memory that simply hearing a particular piece of music can momentarily surpass both mental and physical ailments.
It’s not only our individual memories that are linked to senses, but our cultural memories as well. Strange as it may sound, there are certain sensory experiences we as a culture have deemed either positive or negative. Some of these are due to evolution—smells that we automatically consider “bad” often belong to poisons and other materials that could potentially harm us, such as gasoline or rotting food. Others have more complex explanations, or no explanation at all. No one can really explain why the sensation of scratching a blackboard is so universally abhorrent, but the minute someone describes an experience as being akin to “nails on a chalkboard”, you know it’s an experience you want to avoid.
All this is interesting—but what does it have to do with your branding? More than you might think. The key here is that humans don’t view their memories objectively—we characterize our memories as good or bad. So, if you can use sensory design to trigger good memories in your audience, they’ll be more inclined to interact with your brand.
There’s strong scientific evidence to back this up—research shows that powerful sensory experiences and emotions actually build stronger neural pathways in the brain. If you can leverage your branding to achieve this for your audience, it’s much more likely your brand will stand out in their mind—which is exactly what you want for your positioning.
How to Use Sensory Design in Your Marketing
When we think of design, we tend to think of just one of the five senses: sight. But in today’s increasingly virtual world, audiences crave a fully sensory experience. Your clients don’t just want to see something—they want to experience it.
This poses an interesting challenge for modern brands, since there’s a good chance that most, if not all, of your clients’ journey with your brand will take place online. So, how do you engage all five senses in an online space? Miss Details specializes in doing just that.
Stock images aren’t just a tool for filling negative space on your website and marketing collateral—they’re a major part of your branding strategy. Studies show that the human brain processes images and other visual information at 60,000 times the speed of words (Vogel, Dickson, & Lehman 1986). Not only that, but humans are more than 55% more likely to recall information paired with relevant imagery than plain text (Medina 2018). All this means using images in your branding materials significantly increases the chance that your audience will remember you the next time they need the product or service you offer.
The catch? You can’t just use any old stock images—you need to be strategic about the ones you choose. The secret to using stock images as a tool for sensory design is to take advantage of a truly fascinating phenomenon: synesthesia.
Synesthesia is a neurological condition where information meant to stimulate one sense stimulates another, or several. If you’ve ever heard someone talk about “hearing colors” or “tasting textures”, chances are that person experiences synesthesia. But you can emulate this phenomenon in your audience no matter if they’re prone to synesthesia or not by choosing images that trigger other senses.
We see this all the time on restaurants’ social media pages. Have you ever checked out a local restaurant on Instagram, and spent a few minutes scrolling through their photos before realizing your mouth was watering? Maybe you saw a close-up image of the restaurant’s freshly baked bread that clearly showed the cracked crust and steam rising from the soft center—and swore you could almost smell the delicious scent wafting from your phone screen. Those images provide a feast for your senses, and chances are you’ll remember them the next time your partner asks where you want to go to eat for date night.
Even if you’re not a restaurateur, you can choose images that form an emotional connection with your audience by speaking to their senses and cultural memories. A photo of a peaceful blue lake might evoke a sense of calm and clarity—perfect for a counseling or coaching service page. Meanwhile, an image of a freshly sharpened pencil against a crisp white notepad may speak to a creative audience.
Keep in mind that the emotions you evoke through your imagery don’t necessarily need to be positive ones. A perfect example is the ASPCA, an organization notorious for its close-up photos of the world’s most mournful dogs. These pictures work—they certainly trigger strong emotions in their viewers that inspire them to action. Just be aware that the emotions your images evoke are the same emotions your audience will unconsciously associate with your brand. So, if you don’t want your audience to feel guilt and despair when they think of your brand, we suggest staying away from the sad puppies.
If you’re not sure what images best evoke your brand’s core emotions, Miss Details can help. Take a look at these examples of mood boards we’ve created for different brands with our Brand Snapshot service.
A great logo should be wholly unique and instantly recognizable—but it should also be crafted with emotional intent. Believe it or not, you can design a logo that incorporates your brand’s personality, positioning, and even core values.
To illustrate this, we’ll use the example of one of our former clients. Miss Details went through several stages of logo and branding design with a benefits company, which was originally called “The Bagnall Company”, simplified to “Bagnall”. When they approached Miss Details for a brand refresh, we took the time to get to know them before coming up with a new logo that reflected their personality and told their brand’s story.
We went with a turquoise blue color to evoke peaceful blue waters—based on the brand’s desire to give their clients an experience akin to a relaxed vacation. We added the degree mark based on two pieces of information that had come up in our conversation:
- Bagnall was not only the owner’s last name, it’s the name of a region in Staffordshire. We used the degree mark in conjunction with all capital letters to suggest the brand wasn’t just a business—it was a place on a map, unlike any place the audience had ever been before.
- Bagnall had an internal mantra at the heart of its core values and work culture: “Take it to 212°.” This mantra was based on the concept of boiling water: At 211°, water is hot. But if you take the water to 212°, it boils, producing steam that can power a train. This idea that the effort for one extra degree would make all the difference was so integral to the Bagnall brand’s story, Miss Details knew it had to be featured in the logo.
This is just one of thousands of examples of how you can create a logo that not only plays to your audience’s senses and emotions, but that tells the visual story of your brand. If you want expert support in achieving that for your own brand, be sure to check out Miss Details’ logo design and branding services.
Adding the Extra Dimension With Sensory Design
Emotions are at the heart of the human experience, and few things trigger emotions faster than our senses. Utilizing sensory design in your branding is a “secret sauce” strategy that will add an extra dimension to your brand by creating a truly memorable experience for your audience. By delighting their senses through carefully chosen images and branded designs, you can position yourself at the top of your audience’s mind, while treating them to visual storytelling they won’t soon forget.
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