Multisensory Engagement In Digital Media

Apple, IKEA, Google – strong brands we know and love.  And it is no accident that these brands became as strong as they did.  Professional brand managers built them in a targeted manner and supported them over the long term.  We recognize strong brands right away.  We are uniquely attracted to them and readily separate them from other brands.  We trust and adore them.

The path to a strong brand involves professional brand management.

Strong brands fulfill the needs of the digital consumer: orientation, added value, and trust.  Strong brands in digital media make it possible for a company to establish long-term market advantages.  However, despite these advantages, a look at real world experience is sobering: click-through falls off, visitors get bored, irritated or even angry.  This is due to the need for professional brand management having gotten lost in the fast-paced rise of digital media and digital technologies.  Since the competition is only increasing here, it begs the question of how to manage brands professionally in digital media.

Successful digital branding is not an isolated instance, but rather a piece of holistic brand management. Visitors should experience digital offerings in the same way they experience the brand in television, radio, and print.  But it takes a lot of work for brands to deliver a remarkable multisensory experience in digital media.  It can be done, however, by making sure the environment touches each of the five senses.

The Importance Of Multisensory Experiences

Your brand should create powerful feelings in your users to foster long-term, deep relationships – consumers pay most attention to brands that stimulate them and offer emotional experiences.

Our Senses

Users can see our digital brand; they can hear it, taste it, smell it and touch it.  By itself, the color of a website creates different reactions: red excites, blue calms.  A site can address all senses.

However, it is impossible to create a dictionary of color meanings like we can with a language.  White stands for purity in Germany, but for mourning in China.  Blue is loyalty in Austria, indifference in Brazil, quality in Denmark, innocence in Finland and anger in France.  If you utilize colors to talk to users of various cultures, it’s important to clarify what they signify in the different cultures.

Sight is especially important: 83% of what we perceive of our surroundings is visual. The visual impression of a brand heavily determines its brand image as any luxury brand shows.  The disproportionate effects of sight explain why pictures and images are so valuable to digital media – from the beginning, digital media has relied on visuals, e.g. buttons and graphics.  Today the emphasis has shifted to games and video.

The Information We Take In Via Our Senses



Sight can also trigger other sensory impressions: when we look at an apple, we know how it tastes, smells, feels, when we bite in.  Just by looking at a picture, we can imagine the smell of fresh cut grass.

Our other senses can also trigger multisensory experience: imagine the sound of opening a bottle of beer.  How does it feel in your hand?  How does the first sip taste?  Now imagine how it feels to touch the thorn of a rose with your finger.  How is this possible?  Our brain constructs neural networks.

We store experiences as neural networks (cell assemblies).  Such a network consists of nerve cells (neurons) connected to one another.  We are also familiar with such storage networks under the terms ‘pattern’ or ‘schematic’, i.e. complex, bundled knowledge: the mountain or alpine world we have spoken about consists of thin air, the sounds of cow bells in the pastures, the smell of pine forests, the sensation of picking a wildflower.  Tropical themes are conveyed by humid air, palms, white sand, waves, and coconut flavor.

The multisensory network of our brand consists of all the possible sensory impressions (multisensory holistics) via:

  • Sight: Pictures, stages, etc.
  • Listening: Brand acoustics, music, other sounds (the sound of a BMW car door shutting), language
  • Smell: Leather, flowers, food
  • Touch: Surfaces, landscape, wind
  • Taste: Hot, cold, spicy, mild, savory

Multisensory Boosting

If a digital brand activates all five senses, the effects are far greater than the sum of each one – our brain reacts substantially stronger to a simultaneously seen, heard, felt, smelled and tasted impression than it does to any of them alone – If our brand activates all five senses, the effects are 10-fold.  Experts refer to this as multisensory enhancement or explosion of senses.

The Senses All Influence One Another

Our senses influence our other senses: synesthesia, for example, or mixing the senses: a thick, leather-wrapped steering wheel evokes sportscar; wine tastes better on vacation than at home.  The color of margarine affects taste.  Mercedes cigarettes flopped: the name and packaging communicated a heavy cigarette for men; it was supposed to be a light cigarette for women.

A Variety Of Sources Can Activate Entire Brand Networks

The more familiar we are with a brand network, the easier it is to activate – and this from more diverse perspectives and with fewer signs.  One trigger suffices to set off the whole network: a look at the BMW logo, for example, activates our entire body of BMW knowledge, feelings and experiences.  Fragments of sensory information are enough to create a complete impression that comes from our own mind.  The same is true of the Caribbean landscape that appears at the sound of waves and wind.

Core Questions

The following questions will help you to create powerful brand sensory experiences in digital media:

  • Which one-of-a-kind, rewarding feelings signify your brand?  (Reward Promise)
  • How does the reward promise affect all the senses?
  • Which senses does your brand activate?
  • What kinds of sensory impressions do you want to create?
  • How do you use your users’ (already) stored sensory impressions to activate other senses, even if that particular sense is not directly involved?
  • How do you incorporate this learning into your digital brand storytelling?
  • How do you apply this to effective images and videos of people?