Saturday, March 15, 2008

How Many Senses Do You Have?

A week ago, I shared our definition of Experiential Marketing (XM). Integral to the concept of XM is the need to engage the senses. This sounds simple, but what does it mean?

If my TV ad is seen and heard, I've engaged the senses, haven't I? The answer to that question is the defining line between traditional marketing and XM. It's the difference between engaging your consumer's physiological senses or their emotional senses.

So, here's a simple question: How many senses do you have? Your 5th grade science teacher told you that you have five senses--sight, sound, touch, taste, and scent.

Some learned folks claim we have nine senses, adding pain, balance, thirst, and hunger to the list. While I'm no physiologist, I find it curious "time" isn't considered one of the senses, since one's sense of time is integral to everything from appreciating music to finding a speaker motivational to walking down a flight of stairs.

But while the human body may gather all of its input via five (or nine or ten) senses, it is clear there are other factors that impact the way we experience the world around us. Here is a simple comparison to make the point:

  • Think of the last time you read a technical manual or legal document. What senses were engaged? How did you feel as you were reading it? Was it memorable?

  • Now think of a favorite book. As you consumed it, what senses were engaged? How did you feel as you were reading it? Was it memorable?

It's a painfully obvious point, but in the physiological sense, reading is reading. You primarily use one sense: You see the words. (You also feel the book or paper, which may seem irrelevant to the idea of reading, but given the slow acceptance of e-books such as Amazon's Kindle, it would seem many of us find the sense of touching the printed page an important aspect of recreational reading.)

So if you always engage the exact same one or two senses while reading, how can the experience of reading the "Windows Vista Technical Reference Manual" be so different than reading Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" (a book I found impossible to put down and emotionally devastating) (in a good way)?

Obviously, we humans have other senses--emotional senses. Our five or more physiological senses may completely define every method our bodies and brains have for collecting external stimuli, but how we individually and uniquely interpret that stimuli is at the core of having experiences, and thus an important aspect of XM.

Here's another example to make the point: Think of a time you went to see a movie with other people. For 120 minutes your group experienced exactly identical physiological inputs--you saw the same movie, heard the same soundtrack, sat in the same theater seats, and tasted the same popcorn. Yet at the end of the movie, one of your friends loved the movie and someone else hated it.

Like the reading example, this one states the obvious: we're all individuals who interpret the world around us uniquely; but to understand XM, it's important to recognize that the physiological senses are merely the transportation devices that deliver to our brains data about the world around us. Whether that information is ignored, forgotten, remembered, or initiates a change in our opinions and beliefs depends upon how our emotional senses are engaged or rejected by the content being transferred in those transportation devices.

So, to return to the original question: If my TV ad is seen and heard, have I engaged the senses? That depends upon how you define the word "senses". How many ads have you seen in the past week? How many can you recall? How many made you aware of a product you previously didn't know, or caused you to consider a product, or actually encouraged you to purchase a product? Chances are that you remember almost none of the ads and are probably not cognizant of any conscious change in your attitudes toward the products advertised.

This is because TV ads tend to engage your physiological senses but not your emotional ones. This isn't to suggest that TV advertising doesn't work; it does, by exposing you repeatedly over time to brand messaging that works its way into your subconscious.

But while traditional media settles for broad aim, high frequency, shallow engagement, and tiny incremental changes in consumer attitude, XM is the opposite. It focuses on cutting through the noise caused by frequency- and reach-based marketing to provide a strong, memorable experience that reshapes consumer perception and expectations, creating a significant and immediate change in brand awareness, perception, and preference.

We'll explore engaging the emotional senses more in future posts on this blog. Your thoughts and input on this topic would be greatly appreciated, so please feel free to click the "comments" link below and share your insights and opinions!

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