Wim Hamaekers @ haystack international introduced the day with tales of the emotional impact of sensory on the behaviour of consumers, and how one sensory experience can impact on others.
Brands need to look at how they can create impact on consumer behaviour using sensory channels, and as one example, Wim told us how Nitto Automotive check the acoustic performance of car doors not only in terms of decibels, but also in terms of creating a good acoustic experience for consumers.
Dr Herb Meiselman @ Herb Meiselman Training & Consulting covered off a number of key issues that need to be addressed over the coming years in the area of Sensory Research (many of which came up again over the course of the day, confirming their relevance, not that we doubted) – those that resonated most for us were :
– the need to introduce psychographics not just demographics in consumer testing given how emotional the senses are, and how big a role they can play in decision-making, often more so than factors such as age or where somebody lives;
– more testing products as they are consumed, i.e. in-situ, as part of a holistic experience, given that ritual and habit which often drive consumer choices. “70-80% of food is consumed as part of a meal, so, shouldn’t it be tested as it is consumed, as part of a meal?” Such an observational / ethnographic approach makes sense to us as we conduct a lot of studies of that nature and can vouch for the value of doing it, but it makes even more sense when there’s a somatic focus.
– cross-cultural, and how as our world becomes ever more globalised, it is ever more important key to identify and understand key global consumer issues. “In 30 years, we’ll eat a diet of global foods, designed and processed to look and taste fresh”.
– and the importance of measuring beyond liking, such as emotions associated with products which can be very revealing especially in the food&drink sector.
The charismatic Diana Derval @ Derval Research went into great detail about Sensory Profiling, and the critical role played by the 5 senses in determining our brand preferences, with the supposition that if you can understand a person from the inside, then you can understand them – and even second guess them – from the outside. Derval do this using their Hormonal QuotientTM which assumes there are 8 different types of men and women according to different levels of testosterone and oestrogen, and that our hormones determine how many receptors we have for each of our senses – and whether we are Super vs Medium vs Non-Sensors for those senses, such as Super Tasters, Medium Tasters and Non-Tasters.
To show how extreme the differences can be from one person to another in terms of sensory perception and thus profiling, Diana performed a wonderful sketch using as an example how the quantity of tastebuds we have affects our experience with taste (paraphrased) :
“Some of us have 11 taste buds, others may have 1100. Now, imagine I am the food you are meant to taste, and imagine that this carpet is your tongue. If you only have 11 taste buds, think how (un)likely it would be that I will reach you as i pass over your tongue” <she said, walking over the carpet, not stopping>. “But imagine now, in contrast, that you have 1100 taste buds, and just how likely I am to reach you, multiple times <walking back over the carpet, stopping frequently>. This is the difference between NonTasters and SuperTasters.”
For Super Tasters, “life is hell” as their sense of taste and perception of bitterness is heightened, whilst Non Tasters at the other end of the scale tend to find that “life is pretty easy” although are more inclined to live a life of excess seeing as they don’t have any warning signals to stop. Hence Red Bull learned to target Non-Tasters specifically (rather than just people with a certain lifestyle such as night workers and long-distance drivers) because they have an less need for protection.
And it’s a similar story for the other senses, which adds weight to the theory that when we research food&drink products, or pretty much any product for that matter, we really should evaluate and account for different sensory profiles as this may have significant impact on results.
Cultural specialist Fiona McNae @ Space Doctors took us on an interesting journey into the world of sensory semiotics, and how she helps clients to make sense of the world and construct meaning for brands, by understanding how the senses contribute to and shape brand perception, and just how much brands influence sense perception.
By analysing elements for each of the senses, it’s possible to understand the whole of the meaning. It is also crucial to understand the prevailing culture, and any cultural norms and patterns in different countries, with Fiona citing as an example the differing symbols and meanings of the concept of ‘Freshness’ in Brazil vs Japan.
As well as giving various examples in popular culture of how we experience through the senses, Fiona told us about Space Doctors’ own “Choco-phonica” project, a collaboration with ‘experiential experimenters’ Bompass & Parr, currently installed at The British Museum of Food, which is proving that taste perception can be influenced from memories triggered (in this case) by soundscapes, eg. how the sounds of ‘childhood’ can make a taste seem sweeter, whilst the sounds of ‘artisanship’ can make a taste seem more bitter.
If the use of soundscapes – and any other sensory triggers – can alter taste perceptions, there are potentially huge benefits for a future of healthier consumption habits, eg. to reduce quantities of sugar in products without affecting taste.
Musicologist Laurent Cochini @ Sixième Son, who develop sound signatures for brands, focused specifically on the sense of hearing. He explained that audio can still get overlooked in a branding strategy, and yet it has both emotional power and functional power to bring consumers closer to a brand, as Sixième Son have proven with their audio logo for French rail company SNCF. With music a universal language able to transcend barriers and borders, a unique sound signature can enable a brand to stand out from the crowd, both nationally and internationally.
Also specialising in one sense was Massimo Cealti @ Symrise, this time the sense of smell, and the creation of olfactory signatures to build brand equity; as with audio logos, these too can become ownable and distinctive codes to trigger meaning beyond the visual, although with scent, these can do even deeper and last ever longer.
Unlike ‘iconic’ fragrances, olfactory signatures don’t just happen, and need to be developed using tools that can translate meaning of phrases into olfaction to create a unique genetic structure which can convey brand personality, heritage, emotions, brand ambition, memorability and uniqueness, and create the desired emotional link between brand and consumer.
The most interactive session of the day was led by Ludovic Depoortere @ haystack International who took us on a Sensory Safari, which included getting us to do our own taste tests, to see who of us in the room were Super vs Medium vs Non Tasters – and there were certainly some surprises.
Another ‘experiment’ involving an unmarked pill proved that without your sense of smell, you get a lot less flavour from a taste – not rocket science (not to those of us who have ever had a cold anyway!) although what some may not realise – and this is where we can see again just how much we need to do to get everyone using the right language in sensory research – is that flavour and taste, whilst often interchangeable in day to day speak, are not actually the same thing; flavour depends more on smells/aromas/odours, whereas taste is what our taste buds perceive, namely one of the 5 classified tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami).
From another test, we saw how we really do make associations and develop expectations according to colours, and shapes of say packaging, eg. angular shapes convey stronger taste connotations than rounded.
Ludovic also explained how previous exposure to and a sensory memory of taste experiences will influence next choices, which is very significant for market research.
Arnaud Montet @ IFF opened the session on the business sense of the multi-sensory, with an interesting case study of developing the Acqua di Gioia fragrance for women. Using a proprietary tool called “SCENTEMOTIONS”, IFF is able to understand, define and ‘translate’ consumer concepts, perceptions and vocabulary into cues for scent. For example. consumers might say fresh, which in olfactory terms is interpreted as citrus.
As discussed by previous speakers, cultural perceptions also need to be understood. “We all have our own sensorial universe, but around the world concepts like sensuality mean different things.”
Sjoerd Koornstra and Codruta Berbecaru @ Heineken @ IFF shared with us their case study of creating and rolling out their Radler brand worldwide, with phenomenal success. Tapping into trends such as ‘bitter & sour being the new sweet & salt’, they focused on lemonade to be a key ingredient with beer, and a concept of ‘double refreshment’ for the brand. These then had to be understood, in terms of taste perceptions and other cultural connotations and expectations around the world, to inform development of recipes and branding by market. (And one research agency did the lot to save re-briefing – a philosophy we firmly believe in too!)
The last case study came from Karin Loobuyck @ Barry Callebaut, global chocolatiers who go out to continuously inspire consumers, and understand why and what people are consuming to inform their development of the chocolate types of the future. To do this, they use a mix of desk research, expert research and qualitative research to identify consumer motivation trends, together with any cultural differences in different markets. e.g. in Asia the motivation area of ‘pride’ is about wanting to impress, whilst in Europe it’s more about simply feeling proud of something. These motivation areas then have to be translated into chocolate products that convey the right message through ingredients and texture, for example substituting (some) sugar in one product line to fit with the motivation area of “health”.
It was interesting to hear about the use of techniques such as synesthesia for developing language that can make motivations more tangible, and neural testing to evaluate fit of chocolates with motivations and to appreciate the importance of context.