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How to use sensory marketing tactics to create irresistible brands

Relevant topics Archive, Strategy

  • Neuromarketing Principle:
    Sometimes, a product’s surface or packaging feels different in your hands than what your eyes would expect. This works wonders for brands with an exciting personality, but not for brands associated with a sincere personality.
  • Application:
    In case of sincere brands: align sight and touch (sensory match). For exciting brands: unalign sight and touch (sensory mismatch).
  • In today’s day and age, the most successful brands are the ones that deliver feelings and emotions. By stimulating senses (like sight, hearing, taste), emotions will be delivered and learning will be stimulated. This is very effective, because our senses are directly linked to the limbic part of our brain that is responsible for memories, feelings, pleasure and emotions.

    When a brand tickles multiple senses, we will experience the brand more profoundly and connect with it on a deeper emotional level. Sensory branding is a type of marketing that appeals to all the senses in relation to the brand. This article gives you guidelines to successfully implement sensory marketing for your brand.

    Human senses can get fooled

    The main use for sensory branding is to appeal to your customer’s senses: sight, smell, sound, taste and touch. To understand sensory marketing, it’s important to know a bit more about how perception and consumption relate.

    Most products, at the minimum, incorporate visual and haptic information,
    and do so in temporal order – i.e. consumers first see a product and then they subsequently
    interact with the product through touch.  Such cross-modal perceptions need not align and indeed
    may often conflict, for example between smell and taste or touch and sound. You can think of a bottle that looks like glass, but actually feels like plastic. Or a cookie that smells sweet, but tastes salty.

    In sensory marketing, expectation is the driver of success. The first glimpse of a product will set expectations of the form, the material, the smell. If these expectations do not come true (the expectation does not match your sensory input), you will be surprised by this sensory mismatch. This has an impact on the product experience: when the experience with the product exceeds the expectation, consumers will often evaluate the experience as positive, if the interaction falls short the experience will often be viewed as negative.

    Brand personality: sincere vs exciting brands

    In the light of brand perception, sensory mismatch also has an influence on the brand evaluation. Consumers form an image of a brand personality when they interact with a brand. By giving a brand human-like characteristics, consumers create and sustain an intimate relationship with a brand.


    In general, consumers form stronger relationships with sincere brands (like Hallmark, Volvo, Coca-Cola) than with exciting brands (Apple, MTV). In essence, a brand’s personality influences how its actions and behaviors are perceived by the customer. These actions can be derived from consumer reviews, advertising, past experience and of particular interest of this article, how the product looks.

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    Does sensory surprise work? It’s a matter of brand personality

    Sundar & Noseworthy (2016) researched the effects of brand personality on sensory mismatch. They tested consumption of products that were visually aligned with how they feel (sensory match: a bag of coffee that both looks and feels like burlap) and that were visually not aligned with how they feel (sensory mismatch: a bag of coffee that looks like burlap but feels like paper). They found that consumers intuitively link sensory mismatch to a brand’s personality.

    You would think that when the mismatch is negative (the material from a dress looks like silk, but in reality it’s made of cotton), a consumer should have a negative evaluation about the product. But this is not always the case. In case of an exciting brand, the mismatch will sometimes be perceived positively. This is because consumers view the mismatch as more authentic of the exciting personality of the brand. Sensory match (touch and sight are aligned) is more preferred for sincere brands, because the match is seen as more authentic of a sincere personality. This shows that the success of a given sensory marketing tactic highly depends on how consumers perceive the brand.

    • Sincere brand personality - touch and sight aligned - sensory match.
    • Exciting brand personality - touch and sight unaligned - sensory mismatch

    How to apply this?

    As a brand manager it’s important to know that the packaging of your product and your product’s materials not only influences consumption decisions but also brand perception and brand evaluation. Depending on your brand personality, you could choose to surprise your customer (in case of an exciting brand) or to make sure your packaging leaves nothing to the imagination (sincere brand).

    Sincere brands

    • Examples of sincere brands: Volvo, Coca-Cola, Hallmark
    • Align actions to your brand personality:
      • Down-to-earth
      • Honest
      • Wholesome
      • Cheerful
    • Align how the product looks with how it feels (A metal looking phone bumper shouldn’t feel like plastic)

    Example Case: A smell of Herbal Essences

    Herbal Essences is an example of a sincere brand. Their brand promise is to ‘Take your hair to paradise’- hair that smells as good as it feels. In their advertisements they refer to the delicious smells of their shampoos. You see flowers, coconuts, fresh colours and limes. To make their brand promise true, they really need to align the smell of their products to this ad and the product packaging. They need to make sure their shampoo smells fresh (like paradise) when customers are using the product.


    Exciting brands

    • Examples of exciting brands: Apple, MTV, Coolblue
    • Align actions to your brand personality:
      • Daring
      • Spirited
      • Imaginative
      • Up-to-date
    • Surprise the customer: unalign how the product looks and feels:
      • Positive mismatch (a phone bumper that looks like plastic but has an aluminum finish that feels heavy)
      • Negative mismatch (a phone bumper that looks like plastic, but has a glass finish that feels fragile)

    Example case: BMW

    BMW, the ultimate driving machine. An example of an exciting brand. “BMW creates driving pleasure from the perfect combination of dynamic, sporty performance, ground-breaking innovations and breath-taking design.” An exciting brand as BMW would benefit from sensory mismatch. With the BMWi they introduced a car that uses green energy. A car that from the outside looks very different from the other BMW cars. The expectation from consumers could be critical “I hope this doesn’t undermine the sporty performance of BMW”. To create a positive sensory mismatch BMW should make sure this car drives as sporty as the other BMW cars.


  • How to use sensory marketing tactics to create irresistible brands
  • Reference:

    Sundar, A., & Noseworthy, T. J. (2016). Too Exciting to Fail, Too Sincere to Succeed: The Effects of Brand Personality on Sensory Disconfirmation. Journal of Consumer Research, 43(1), 44-67.


    Further Reading

    • The Definitive Guide to Scent Marketing

      The Definitive Guide to Scent Marketing

      Smell. Isn’t it amazing how a dash of invisible scent molecules is able to transport you right back into a childhood visit to your grandparents? Or how the delicious aroma of freshly baked bread seems to lure you into that little bakery around the corner – despite your strict low-carb diet? And everyone recognizes that typical smell emanating from the box of your brand-new phone or television.

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