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Have you ever gone into a retail establishment and it just felt off? Maybe the colors were jarring, it smelled a little sterile or the music was too loud. Compare that to another location, maybe your favorite restaurant, that has great lighting, music at just the right volume to allow for dinner conversation, great smells from the kitchen, high-quality table linens and fantastic food. These sensorial experiences aren’t the result of luck; they are intentionally planned and deployed to delight consumers on several sensorial levels.

Any business that has a store, a branch or other space where people gather and interact understands the importance of capturing the essence of a brand, and experiences are what really stick in consumers’ minds and make them want to come back again. For retail, nothing can be more important than the return customer. As the old adage says “we only have one opportunity to make a good first impression,” and one way to ensure that good impression is to utilize the science of the senses. The more senses thtat are influenced in a positive way, the more likely a brand will be remembered. That means more engagement with the brand and more enjoyment of the overall experience, which results in consumers wanting to return. In fact, in the AmericanExpressOpen Forum article Why Great Brands Appeal to All 5 Senses, Martin Lindstrom, author of Brand Sense: Sensory Secrets Behind the Stuff We Buy, says, “Brands have to be powered up to deliver a full sensory and emotional experience. It is not enough to present a product or service visually in an ad.”

One thing that companies within retail and other consumer-facing spaces have come to recognize is the benefit of baking in experiential elements into physical spaces from the beginning. These are strategic decisions made during the design phase of new construction rather than as an afterthought. Companies make strategic decisions based on an understanding of who the target audience is, how they will use the space, and how they’re going to interact with and engage in that space. As any architect or contractor knows, thoughtful spaces don’t just happen; much deliberate planning and preparation goes into spaces that end up functioning and feeling right. When sensorial strategies are part of the planning process, today’s construction experts can bring a different kind of tool bag to the physical spaces they’re constructing by advocating for a well-thought-out design that addresses the senses from the outset.

Not every client is going to concentrate on all five senses (sight, sound, scent, touch and taste), but most companies have a great opportunity to captivate several senses to enhance the interaction within a space. Doing that requires companies to understand how these senses help consumers fully engage with their physical locations. Whether it’s the digital signage that features engaging content in a retail environment, background music in a coffee shop where people are gathering, the smell of cookies permeating a hotel lobby, or a handcrafted bar in a restaurant, sensorial elements are all around us, and those elements either engage or disconnect.

Successful brands like Starbucks have a deep understanding of sensorial branding. According to the Harvard Business Review Brand Report Card, Starbucks' sensorial approach to business has been part of its strategy since 1983, when CEO Howard Schultz was on vacation in Italy and was drawn into the vibrant coffee house culture that was a feast for the senses. Starbucks' success as an innovator in the coffee market is undeniable, with the average Starbucks customer visiting a store more than 18 times per month. Other companies that are most effectively deploying multiple senses in their branding efforts include powerhouse brands Apple, Disney, Mercedes Benz and Tiffany, which are among the top 10 brands embracing sensorial marketing today, according to Lindstrom's Brand Sense: Build Powerful Brands Through Touch, Taste, Smell, Sight and Sound.

Why should contractors, designers and architects be concerned with sensorial branding? Because in today's uber-competitive environment, the spaces that are being designed and constructed have to function for much more than just foot traffic. Architects, contractors and designers must consider multiple touch points within a space in advance of construction, a vital activity that will become the defining characteristic of forward-thinking construction companies and those that are left behind. The world's largest companies with locations across the country are enhancing their own sensorial approaches, devoting large budgets to deploying them to enhance customer experiences. The future of comemrcial construction may hinge on the ability to integrate and implement this customer journey. 

From a purely practical standpoint in the schematic stage of design, companies are can move walls around so they can build in strategic visuals they want consumers to see. Clients can change ceiling types or install flush-mount speakers to maximize the sound possibilities, but in an unobtrusive way. For smell, clients can look at installing a scent machine to capitalize on the welcome zone, where a customer’s sense of smell is activated immediately, opening the door for a very positive first and last impression. Today, all of these strategic decisions can and should be made during the design phase so clients are creating a holistic, 360-degree experience for their customers.

It’s also important to note that once a physical space is already designed, built and open for business, developing a sensorial strategy after the fact becomes increasingly difficult. At that point, clients are wondering why people aren’t coming back. What's exciting about building sensorial strategy into design at the outset is that clients can be proactive, rather than reactive, and ensure that the physical environment is aligned with how they want their customers to experience the space on all levels. After all, what good is a beautiful space if it doesn’t function to enhance the customer experience?

Adam Huxhold is a design consultant and award-winning sensorial strategist with Adrenaline. For more information, email ahuxhold@adrenalineshot.com.

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