Making more sense of brand experiences
A recent post on Making Sense of Brand Design (link here) shares some great examples of creating sensory signatures to create short term impact and long term brand identity, and recent reading (see references) has revealed more ways in which the senses can be leveraged to create great brand experiences.
The most interesting overall finding revealed in Helmut Leder’s Scientific American article is that in the short term how a product or experience looks is very important to its appeal, but after a month of use how it feels comes to be much more important than how it looks. It’s great to wear a really fancy pair of shoes for the first time, but we won’t wear them very often unless they are really comfortable on our feet.
There are several well researched principles of looking good. We all tend to prefer big objects over small objects and round forms to sharp ones (which might be dangerous). More interestingly, we also prefer complex designs to simple renditions, but this is not as important as shape and particularly symmetry. In one of the studies cited by Helmut Leder, four types of design were tested: complex symmetrical, complex non-symmetrical, simple symmetrical and simple non-symmetrical. The results were consistent with other research, with complex symmetrical patterns judged the prettiest, followed by simple symmetrical patterns. This shows that symmetry is more important to our evaluation of beauty than complexity, but the combination of both is optimum.
Other studies have shown that symmetry is a key attraction in faces, and “average” faces (ie ones which average features across a number of different real faces) are attractive (we like the aesthetic ‘norm’), perhaps because they are missing gross irregularities and are seen to represent good health. However, another theory is that such ‘average’ faces’ are easier to recognise (they need less mental processing), giving them an efficiency advantage which drives the brain’s reward systems. And other research has shown that such reactions are mood dependent, with familiar forms providing reassurance in some contexts, although this was less important in others where participants were more ‘open’ to new experiences (and felt less threatened). Other work has shown that the more we know about something, the more interesting we find new and different forms (that is, ‘experts’ like original forms more than non-experts).
Ease of recognition is very important in likeability (the exposure effect). Read more about the exposure effect here.
Other research shows that there is typically a trade off between familiarity and the urge for novelty, and an interesting experiment on the designs of tea kettles and other objects showed that participants rated very conventional designs as least attractive, followed by designs which were very unusual. The designs rated highest were those which combined an element of originality within a classic form, appearing innovative while retaining a sense of the known (a principle nicknamed, “the most advanced yet acceptable”).
Many good designers combine innovation and classic forms intuitively of course, such as the updated Aston Martin design which retains the mischievous grin of its predecessor (and reminding us of the importance of face-like features in driving attraction).
However, the look of something is most important and the moment of purchase, and declines in impact after use, with touch becoming much more important during the lifecycle of a product or experience.
So our eyes give us an initial impression of the appeal of something, and even hit at what it will feel like (through colour and shape), but it’s only when we get to experience something that we can truly understand what it feels like (its material properties, weight, surface, extension). We are very good at working out what objects are through touch (and without other senses). For example, we can determine gross shape and size through enclosing something in our hands, weight through lifting and precise shape by exploring with our fingers. The power of touch, especially when combined with other senses, is an important lesson for marketers. If you can get someone to hold or experience what you have to sell, they are much more likely to buy than through appearance alone.
Also remember that many objects effectively ‘extend’ our sense of our body, or as David Katz put it, “When one feels the world through a stick, one feels the world, not the stick.” When designing objects like tennis racquets or mobile phones, don’t just think about how they feel in themselves, but how they will feel as an extension of the user.
The secret to successful brand experiences
So if you want consumers to love your brand for a long time, then you not only have to look good to encourage them to buy, you also have to feel good to keep them coming back again and again.
Sensory Marketing: Research on the Sensuality of Products edited by Aradhna Krishna (2011)
Thinking by Design by Helmut Leder, in Scientific American Mind, July/August 2011