Ever wonder why your favorite restaurant chain has the same interior color, design and background music? Have you ever considered why elevator music exists? Why is it that every Body Shop store smells the same?

Marketing has an answer - and as a professional, you can use it to strengthen your company.

Marketing is largely a game of getting the customer to perceive your product or service in a certain way. Perception occurs when one of the five senses - vision, hearing, taste, smell and touch - is affected. In this way, marketers use color, sound, flavors, scents and surface to shape your perceptions. Customers (and site visitors) will react to these things; even if they are unaware they are doing so.

But with these perceptions in mind, marketers can better execute their strategy.

You can learn how to leverage the five senses to improve your marketing efforts. Here's how:


Color influences our moods and physical responses. But when thinking about color, you have to think in terms of two color hues (warm and cool), degrees of color saturation (what we call richness), and levels of depth (light or dark) as ways to influence customer perceptions.

Color psychologists have found that warm colors (red, orange, and yellow) generally encourage activity and excitement, whereas cool colors (green, blue, violet) are more soothing and relaxing. That's why so many soaps, lotions and body washes come in packages with cool colors; they're trying paint a calming picture of their product. That's also why kids toys and candies are often in the warm colors; they're trying to encourage perceptions of fun and energy.

Color can have great effect on whether or not your customer likes your product. In fact, some marketers use experts to help forecast which colors consumers will like two or three years down the road. Researchers have also found differences among social classes in color preference. Hot, bright colors usually appeal to lower-end markets, which deep, rich colors have historically appealed to higher-end markets.

Which color should you use?

Assume, for a moment, that you are a fast-food restaurant. Then you'd probably choose reds, oranges and yellows so that customers perceive an on-the-go product. This will get them in and out of the restaurant faster (even if they don't realize it), increasing table turnover. If, however, your fast-food restaurant brand conveys comfort, then a hot color scheme may in fact undermine your brand equity. Clearly, an effective color scheme is consistent with your brand and target segment while also producing the desired customer perceptions.


Sound represents an important form of sensory input. In particular, music can influence physical behavior. Fast music, like the kind you'd hear at a health club, tends to energize consumers. Slow music can be soothing. The type of music you play can have dramatic and direct effects on your business. For example, researchers found that a slow temp can increase sales as much as 38 percent in retail stores because it encourages leisurely shopping. Alternatively, a fast tempo is more desirable in restaurants because customers will eat faster, thus allowing greater table turnover and higher sales.

Sound can also impact moods. Likeable and familiar music can induce good moods, whereas discordant sounds can create bad moods. This is important because moods may affect how we feel about products.

Because both sound and color can affect moods, you can use the two together to strongly shape customer perceptions. A massage studio, for example, may want to use cool-color décor with melodic harp music playing in the background. A nightclub, on the other hand, may want to use hot colors and loud, fast music to produce perceptions of energy and excitement. Using the wrong colors and music together may undermine your marketing efforts.

Ok, now that you know about color and sound, think about your website (assuming you have some sound associated with your website). Are you using colors and sound to your advantage, or are you turning off customers? Customers might not even know they're leaving due to the color and sound, but they might anyway just like in a restaurant.


Smell also produces physiological and emotional outcomes. Some studies report that certain scents make people can feel tense or relaxed. The smell of peppermint, for example, arouses us; the smell of lily of the valley makes us feel relaxed. Also, some of our basic emotions are linked to smell. For instance, researchers have found that the smell of the ocean or freshly baked cookies can revive very emotional and key childhood memories.

This has important implications for marketing. You can use smell to draw customers to your product. For example, Kmart Corp. recently reconfigured its Super Kmart stores so that the bakery kiosk, with its smell of freshly baked breads, pretzels, cinnamon rolls and muffins) is the first food area customers encounter in the store. The sense of smell can also be used to expose customers to stimuli. Some perfume and cologne ads, for example, are doused with the product to increase sensory processing.

Researchers have found that providing a pleasant-smelling environment can have a positive effect on shopping behavior. In one study shoppers in a room smelling of flowers evaluated Nike shoes more positively than did consumers in an odor-free room. Perhaps this fact explains why Federated Department stores, The Limited and Thomasville Furniture are trying to determine the feasibility of using scent in their retail environments.


We know far less about the sense of touch than of smell; nevertheless, the way things come it contact with our skin is a very important element for many products and services. Touch has important physiological and emotional effects. Research has shown that customers touched by a salesperson are more likely to have positive feelings and are more likely to evaluate the store and the salesperson positively.

Some products, like skin creams and baby products, are liked because of the way they feel. When making a purchase, customers often want to touch before they buy. The way shoes, clothes and jewelry feel on our bodies is a critical purchasing factor. Some marketers have incorporated touch in novel ways into their products. Immersion has developed the Feelit Mouse, a mouse that allows the computer user to feel a slight bump when something dragged across the screen reaches a software icon.

Does this mean you should make your product pleasant to the touch? Not necessarily. If you're a restaurateur, for instance, making your tables and chairs too comfortable may encourage your customers to stay a long time, thus reducing your turnover rate.


Taste perception is most relevant for food products. But what tastes good to one person may be disgusting to another. Moreover, clear cross-cultural differences in taste preferences have important marketing implications; what might taste good to one culture (Veggiemite for Australians) may be disgusting to another (Americans hate the stuff).

It is important to balance taste with your brand. The Coca-Cola company learned this the hard way when it introduced new Coke. The firm introduced the new product because it was losing younger consumers to Pepsi, and because blind taste tests dhows that consumers preferred the new formula over the new one. But when the old and new formulas were identified by name, consumers strongly preferred the original flavor. Thus, Coca-Cola was forced to reintroduce the old formula as Coca-Cola Classic.

Now, you can use these ideas to not only shape perceptions, but also to shape your sales.

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