Tag Archives: sensorial branding

Sex and Sensuality in Advertising: Why it is effective and how to refine it

By James D. Roumeliotis

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Tom Ford Ad

Does sex really sell? It seems to sell but commercially, not morally. Sex in the media has been around as long as media itself ‒ though these days at more extreme levels (from subtle to overt).

They’re not quite selling a product but rather an expression of desire – a lifestyle that can be envisioned with the product or service. It attracts the male audience much more than the female as women are objects of sensual desire for men. It’s no wonder that most sultry ads portray bodacious females.

Marketing and branding via sultry imagery and insinuation

Sex is a primitive instinct which qualifies it as an attention-grabbing technique in the media domain. It’s no wonder a weapon of choice for marketers. Sex also transcends product categories ‒ whether it’s a consumer product such as Axe antiperspirant, a recreational pharmaceutical drug like Viagra or an exotic sports car.

Sexually explicit ads can be controversial and some offensive. They are also subject to socio-cultural climate. As long as they don’t get carried away to borderline pornography, but rather refined, preferably subliminal and certainly not violent or masochistic, the sultry ads can be considered playful and memorable. Their original intent is to create an emotional effect on the viewer. This way, the viewer develops a closer bond with the brand and consequently, stronger recognition. Some ads intentionally incorporate a humorous element which generates further interest for its intended audience.

Fragrance ads by some fashion designers are intentionally created to sell a sultry elixir in a bottle. To succeed and spark emotional purchase desire, its creators have raised the stakes by provoking the visual (as well as the olfactory) senses and causing the consumer to believe that he or she will feel erogenous and desirable with those he or she cares to attract. However, there are few controversial ads which have been banned as they seemingly pushed pop-culture buttons a notch too far.

The benefits of sex in advertising

Businesses have found that sexy ads are a great method for “word-of-mouth” and viral publicity. Their attention grabbing messages have the ability to cut through the clutter of ads and command considerably more views. The intended viewers, however, are mesmerized even as they are absorbing the ad’s underlying subliminal messages.

A case in point: In 2000, Heineken launched the “It’s All About the Beer” campaign. One spot, called “The Premature Pour,” shows an attractive and alluring woman pouring Heineken into a glass. As a result, a guy across the bar reacts by pouring his own beer but nervously pours it too quickly and spills foam all over the table, as well as on himself. The sexual content is tacit, yet blunt. The insinuation in this, and other spots in the campaign, yielded a successful outcome causing sales to rise 13% in the first two quarters following their airing.

Popular men’s magazines like Maxim and FHM have experimented often with their covers. By placing a spicy, semi-naked woman on the cover, male readership spikes and outstrips an image of any popular male star whom men can readily relate to.

At Montreal’s renowned steakhouse, Queue de Cheval (French for “horse’s tail”), its eccentric owner, Peter Morentzos ‒ who is known for pushing conventional advertising boundaries, came-up with the idea to host a “Food Porn” event for a charity event. The sold-out $250 per person event featured young hard-body waitresses in skimpy outfits along with shrimps hanging on them which resembled human trays. To promote it, he used the photo of a naked woman’s torso deemed too racy for print in the culinary magazine Gourmet.

What sexually overt ads should avoid

For sexually explicit ads to be effective, they should be created in good taste with respect to the following:

  • Provide a meaningful message through the images;
  • Avoid over-reliance on sex due to saturation as it may lose its intended impact;
  • Should not depict violence, aggression and/or masochism;
  • Shouldn’t be doing it with just any product merely to grab attention but with some relevance utilizing sexual ideas only.

If a brand is willing to risk taking a controversial position to gain attention amongst the crowded product landscape, it should not be excessively overt. It ought to target the brand’s specific market along with not offending its fans and best customers.

Marketers at times tend to step out of line ‒ though, today many consumers happen to be savvy and realize when they’re being manipulated by various media messages. The products touted in the ads may contain sensuous interplay but if they don’t stand-up to their promises and hype, those brands will disappoint and won’t be able to hold onto the customers for long. At the end of the day, the truth in advertising signifies the “trust” factor which is inherently crucial in attracting and retaining clients.

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Filed under controversial advertising, sensuality in advertising, sex and media, sex in advertising, sexy advertising

Maestros of Ambiance: The Art of the Hotel & Food Establishment Experience — in visuals

by James D. Roumeliotis

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Brand Experience, Not Product Branding: Cutting Through the Clutter

by James D. Roumeliotis

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Products in the same class-categories struggle to differentiate themselves. Consumers often take brands for granted. Purchases are not so much conscious brand selection as choice by default. The two following examples highlight this. Going out for coffee in North America usually dictates a visit to Starbucks. When sparkling water is ordered at a restaurant, Perrier appears almost by magic.

The age of the internet has made copying competitors’ products, marketing strategies, and overall business practices to name a few. It’s not enough to merely compete at a product and pricing level which doesn’t take long to be outdone. Anyone can lower prices. What begs the question is where you draw the line before your profit margins are eroded to the point of no return and many ramifications for a business. Savvy marketers look beyond pricing and product features. Instead, they search for sustained ways to market their brand rather than their product.

Brand Not Logo 

“Branding” redefined for the new era

 To begin with, a “Brand” is a promise of something that will be delivered by a business. This promise comes in a form of quality, an experience and a certain expectation in the mind of the consumer. It includes the Unique Selling Proposition (USP). Marketing, on the other hand, is about spreading compelling messages to your target audience while branding is a combination of words and action. Marketing is extroverted and communicates quickly, while branding is introverted and a slow process if it’s to produce any real impact. Effective marketing activities are vital in developing a brand. When combined successfully, branding and marketing create and promote value, trust, loyalty and confidence in a company’s image, products and services.

When consumers are delighted by a particular brand experience, they begin to bond emotionally with the brand. They become brand loyalists and advocates – buying the brand more often and recommending it to others. This behavior serves to build the brand’s reputation.

A branding strategy should consist of:

  • Brand Positioning – Position is a descriptive sentence, slogan or image the brand is known for in the mind of the consumer and which the company delivers on it consistently. This is what sets the product or service apart from competitors.
  • Brand Identity – This is every visual expression of the brand, whether in print, television, digital or the iconic (Pullman) brown color identifying the trucks and delivery staff of the UPS courier company.
  • Brand Experience – Generally speaking, brands that are designed for a lifestyle should have a much higher emotional value to consumers than ones based on features like cost or benefits alone.
  • Storytelling – Brands build relationships by the stories they tell. Stories add personality to products which customers can better relate to and feel affinity with. Luxury brands boast their pedigree.
  • Engaging with your target audience – this is conducted through social media and asking for feedback. Simply put, engaged customers help you build your business.

Senses in Branding Strategy

The holistic selling proposition

Consumers today are more brand conscience, yet there are companies which continue to spend money advertising and selling product rather than brand. They place emphasis on price and quality as differentiators despite these two being overused by many copycats. Successful brands take a holistic approach to selling by exploiting the 5 senses which now constitute the brand. This is accomplished by what I regard as “ambiance marketing” and “sensory/sensorial branding”, through a captivating designed setting, yet alluring. This adds character and invites clients to truly feel the brand experience.

To put the aforementioned into perspective, consider the following:

  • Visual – lighting, décor, colors, layout…you can get a real sense of movement using these elements.
  • Auditory – music, effects, volume, vibrations…you set the tone and the energy of the room with your sonic selections.
  • Tactile textures, comfort, climate…this is all about how your guests interact with the environment.  This is a big thing to consider when you are designing the layout.
  • Olfactory fragrance, emotion, ambiance…this sense is under-rated and powerful. Of all our senses, the sense of smell is most closely linked to emotion and memory. You can use something as simple as burning incense or candles to something far more complex like computer controlled scent machines to enhance your environment. This could just be the extra touch needed to set the mood.
  • Gustative – with food establishments, the challenge is in finding the perfect balance between sour, salty, sweet, and bitter during menu designs and beverage selections.  The presentation also makes an impact on the overall image.

Customer Experience equals customer abbreviation

Developing the customer relationship through customer experiences

The Total Customer Experience is the sum total of the interactions that a customer has with a company’s products, people, and processes. It goes from the moment when customers see an ad to the moment when they accept delivery of a product and beyond.

According to Bain & Company, a leading management consultancy firm, out of 362 leading companies surveyed, 80% believe they deliver a superior customer experience, but only 8% of their customers agree.

The experiences customers go through with your business determine the ultimate perception of your brand and image. Customer experiences also spread the word (offline/online) to others (friends, relatives etc.) about your brand/image. That said, each customer contact (“touch points”) should be handled with the utmost care to ensure that the total brand experience a person has is constant. This requires proper training and occasionally evaluating employee performance. Moreover, improvements may be necessary with systems, technology, methods, services, products and even physical premises. Complacency should be replaced with continuous improvement.

Creating a lifestyle brand through emotional attachment

Brand loyalty is about building an emotional, and in some cases, irrational, attachment in a product. The most ideal example is when thousands of people line-up, regardless of weather conditions, to get their hands on the latest iPhone or iPad. This happens because Apple has built an emotional attachment to their products by creating a lifestyle choice rather than a product purchase.

It’s about how it makes you feel. Same goes for baby boomers, whether accountants or attorneys or business executives who purchase a Harley Davidson motorcycle and ride them for about four or five hours every Sunday afternoon. The bike makes them feel like a rebel – sort of an escape.

A brand that is designed for a lifestyle should have a much higher emotional value to consumers than one based on features like cost or benefits alone. The goal of a lifestyle brand is to become a way that people can utilize it to relate to one another. Those brands are an attempt to sell an identity, or an image, rather than a product and what it actually does.

Lifestyle brands have gained an increased share of the luxury market such as BMW, Armani, W Hotels, Louis Vuitton and Rolex ‒ just to name a few. These have given way to consumers to buy products that they associate with a “luxurious life.” They are essentially a status symbol. Abercrombie & Fitch has created a lifestyle based on a preppy, young elite lifestyle. Their retail outlets reflect this way of life through their luxurious store ambiance, attractive associates and images portraying young people living the Abercrombie & Fitch way.

 Apple Standsout amongst the others

B2B branding differentiation

Consumers are attracted to brands’ nonsensical benefits such as status, affinity, self-comfort and prestige, whereas, Business-to-Business (B2B) customers make their purchase decisions based on practical rationale including pricing, product performance and specifications, Moreover, brand loyalty in the B2B sector is higher than in consumer goods markets because companies in the commercial and industrial segments seek satisfying and long term relationships since jumping from supplier to supplier can cause havoc and inconsistencies with product quality control. Consequently, developing brand loyalty among enterprise customers can capture a larger share can increase profit margins while protecting them against lower-priced competitors.

The final take

The key to success is to market your brand, not your product. Contrary to popular belief, a brand is not a logo, label or product but rather a relationship with your customers. Branding positively adds value to your company including brand equity. This is considered intangible brand value.

A company can define itself as a lifestyle brand when its products promote a more than a product with key benefits and attributes. Note however that lifestyle branding is more than just promoting “a way of life.” It is a product or service that provides consumers with an emotional attachment to the lifestyle of the brand.

One way to overcome the ‘price only’ differentiation, which erodes profits and does not generate loyalty, is for a company to consider building a lifelong relationship with each customer. To do so, requires that each customer enjoys a positive and hassle-free transaction with each touch point. The goal is also to reduce or eliminate customer problems altogether, but that begins prior to and during the first contact with the customer. All problems should be documented, reviewed and corrected without much delay. Hiring the right people is vital, so is training them properly, as well as empowering them to deliver a remarkable customer experience.

When promoting brands, consider that earned media trumps paid media and enhances the brand image. With adverts, consumers don’t care what marketers say. According to the 2011 Nielsen Group report, “False” is the term 89% of consumers closely associated with advertising campaigns.

Whether a product or service ‒ is a luxury brand or falls into another category, it is how you stand out from the crowd that distinguishes you. Know your target audience, get inside their heads and understand how they think and feel. What are their fears, emotions and anxieties? Once you’ve understood this quite well, you then manage the brand consistently.

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Sensorial Purveyors: Creating an Enticing Ambiance in the Hotel Domain

by James D. Roumeliotis

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There was a discussion on Linkedin’s “Luxury & Lifestyle Professionals” group which posed the question: “What is the first thing you check-out when you step into a 5 star hotel?” As you might expect, being subjective in nature, various responses were offered by the group’s participants. Some of them mentioned, the bedding, while others would state it’s the linen, the bathroom, the main lobby, overall amenities, or simply the courtesy from staff just to name a few. There didn’t seem to be an overall single consensus.

It doesn’t necessarily take an expert in the hospitality domain to ascertain what constitutes the right feel of an attractive hotel – one that exploits the 5 senses to attract and retain guests (aka customers/patrons). One needs to recognize aesthetics, be discerning in his/her tastes and expectations, as well as have stayed in various hotels over time to truly appreciate what in fact matters.

Hotel as a Lifestyle
Savvy brands are finding ways to engage all consumer senses to strengthen the brand experience. When affluent guests choose a hotel to stay at, they desire a look and feel better than their primary residence. The hotel is no longer just a place to sleep. It has developed into a home away from home. It’s a lifestyle!

The “hotel as lifestyle” creator, Ian Schrager of Studio 54 fame, has achieved international recognition for concepts that have revolutionized both the entertainment and hospitality industries. His passionate commitment to the modern lifestyle has been expressed through a series of pioneering concepts in the hospitality industry. His keen instincts for the mood and feel of popular culture were honed during the 1970s and 1980s, when he and his late business partner, Steve Rubell, created Studio 54 and Palladium. In 1984, they turned their attention to Morgans Hotel in New York and introduced the concept of “boutique hotel” to the world, and is today one the hottest segments in hospitality.

Boutique Hotel vs. Corporate Chains
“Boutique hotel” is a term to describe hotels which often contain luxury facilities of varying size in unique or intimate settings with full service accommodations. Sometimes known as “design hotels” or “lifestyle hotels”, boutique hotels began appearing in the 1980s in major cities across North America and Europe – mainly in the U.K. These hospitality properties are characteristically furnished in a themed, stylish and unique manner. Boutique hotels generally are known to have less than 100 rooms. Their limited capacity enables them to enhance the customer experience through personalized service, as well as to customize their property and operations. An intimate atmosphere is usually regarded as a vital part of a “boutique” hotel. This includes cozier premises, quality amenities; conceptual dining outlets that become destinations in their own right, and an environment whereby the hotel staff recognize what your needs and desires are, rather than just responding to what you ask.

Several multinational hotel chains are taking advantage of the boutique hotel trend and competition and growing their own upscale and luxury boutique collections with an international expansion. For guests, the collections present an alternative to somewhat indistinguishable properties along with rigid brand standards, whereas, the stand-alone alternative hotel properties possess a distinct personality. As a major hotel chain group, Starwood Hotels and Resorts led the way with the boutique brand in the late 1990s by launching W, which now has more than 50 properties worldwide. This brand offers a modern, sophisticated residential design with an emphasis on elegance and utmost comfort. While sharing a common aesthetic and commitment to service, each W Hotel has its own distinct personality reflecting the flavor of its particular city and neighborhood. Accor, on the other hand, launched MGallery and plans for the collection to reach 100 properties by 2015. Not to be outdone, other chains such as Marriot and InterContinental have also got themselves into the boutique hotel domain not without their challenges though.

Luxury names such as Giorgio Armani, Versace, Missoni and Bulgari are exploiting their cachet and design savoir-faire turning it into a lifestyle with their version of branded boutique style hotels. The first Armani hotel opened in Dubai in 2010, located in the Burj Khalifa tower, the tallest building in the world – in partnership with Emaar Properties, one of the biggest property developers in the Middle East.

The Overall Experience – Sensory Marketing alongside Atmosphere
As in every service sector, with an upscale hotel, every customer touch-point should offer a superb experience. Hotel brands need to use an integrated approach across their various touch points to engage their customers. For example, it’s crucial that the customers have an experience that matches the perception created by the advertisement when they visit the property, or even when they place a call to the hotel reservations center.

Today, the hotel industry is adapting and modifying its offer to differentiate, as well as respond to an increasingly discerning customer through innovative approaches utilizing elements of sensory marketing. During their stay, guests should be subjected to an ambiance which captures their five senses. Ambiance is identified as the decor, the service, the behavior of the staff, and how all these factors add up to create a feeling of care and enhance emotions. It’s the aesthetics, lighting, and the smell, cleanliness of the facilities, the amenities and the intangible factors that contribute to a great customer experience. This entails a combination of “sensory marketing” and “atmosphere” in action. According to the American Marketing Association (AMA), “sensory marketing” is techniques which aim to seduce the consumer by using his/her senses to influence his/her feelings and behaviors, whereas “atmosphere”, in marketing terms, is the physical characteristics of business premises such as architecture, layout, signs and displays, color, lighting, temperature, noise, and smell creating an image in the customer’s mind.

Westin, who are a part of the Starwood Group, a few years ago began diffusing a signature fragrance in all of their hotel lobbies and they coupled that by standardizing the music in all the lobbies as well ─ regardless of the Westin property one visits anywhere in the world. Combining and integrating different auditory, olfactory, visual, and even tactile elements to attract, retain and seducing customers, create cozy moments of comfort along with unparalleled enjoyment.

A high-end resort developer and operator, Kerzner International, renowned for its One&Only luxury resorts brand has as its core value, “Blow away the customer.” The company walks the talk by impressing its guests through grandiose entrances, facilities, overall ambiance and luxury amenities – then making absolutely certain that they are pampered throughout their stay. It’s all an integrated, well orchestrated and flattering process. Nothing is left to chance although it does take a coordinated team effort to make it all happen flawlessly.

Martin Lindstrom, a brand strategist who has written six books on brands and consumer behavior, asserts that if the consumer’s senses are more involved, it further connects him/her with the brand which may create an increase in willingness to pay more. Consequently, it differentiates the brand and turns brand loyalists into brand advocates.

The Online experience – Case Study: Four Seasons Hotels
Luxury hotel chain Four Seasons recently unveiled a new website that reportedly cost a whopping $18 million to develop. It uses a holistic digital media strategy to enhance the total online experience and give a visual taste of what can be anticipated at their properties.

Extensive research around digital consumption of luxury consumers, both in the travel sector and across other categories, was conducted for the development of the new website. The result of the investment is a fancy, colorful website, with a new booking process, social media integration and personal profile technology that allows users to set preferences and create a more targeted online experience. It is also optimized for mobile, which provides access to a reduced size version of the site, and includes videos, room rates and booking capabilities. In addition, locations and experiences are showcased through photo-rich, informative property and destination pages.

“Four Seasons has always provided an unparalleled hotel experience, and this level of service and engagement extends into our online presence,” says Susan Helstab, Executive Vice President Marketing, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. “The new website anchors our already strong digital presence online, in social media and with the various communities we facilitate.”

The Sum of its Parts
Emotion captured by the five senses is the key to success for a sensory marketing experience.
The quality and feel of materials used all over the premises, quality of amenities, vivid color palettes widely used, the furniture design, look and atmosphere of public areas which encourage social interaction, clever use of lighting and its intensity, as well as the sounds and smell throughout should be well integrated tactile elements to attract, seduce and retain guests/customers.

However, along with inviting areas, delightful service is also a crucial ingredient necessary to ensure a memorable total customer experience. The online customer encounter, along with all other touch points, also carries significance for the hospitality brands.

The design-led boutique lifestyle hotel sector has evolved from a small niche to a recognized and trendy category worldwide which has also attracted the major hotel chains into the sector with stand-alone brands of their own.

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CONTACT ME to receive a complimentary slide presentation on “Ambiance Creations: exploiting the 5 senses to attract and retain customers.”

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