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Sensory Marketing is defined as “marketing that engages the consumers’ senses and affects their perception, judgement and behaviors” (Krishna, 2010). Sensory marketing involves applying the knowledge and understanding of sensation and perception in terms of consumer perception, cognition, emotion, learning, preference, choice, or evaluation to the field of marketing. Despite the significant role played by human senses in an individual’s experience of various purchase and consumption processes, these senses have largely been ignored in marketing. The awareness and perception regarding a firm, its products and brands, relies on human senses, a knowledge of which can help a firm’s marketing and sales more successful (Krishna, et al., 2016).
Of the five human senses, sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch – the sight sense has dominated more in marketing practice, neglecting others which are equally crucial in an individual’s consideration and decision about a product or a brand. However, the growing interest in sensory marketing among researchers, consultants and practitioners has increased the scope of attention to all five senses (Krishna, 2012).
Sensory marketing puts the five human senses at the center of marketing. These senses help an individual in creating brand image and recognition, in terms of mental conceptions and imaginations. This image is a result of the experiences an individual gets from a firm or brand. How an individual’s five senses perceive and interpret an experience, defines his/her logic (e.g. this product is very effective) for that experience and it is subjective and specific to every individual (Hulten, et al., 2009).
- Smell Strategy:
Smell and scents strongly affect human emotions, and experience regarding a certain smell can bring out earlier memories, which can help in recalling or recognizing a brand. Some firms create their own signature scents which connects and associates to their brand experience. Scents can positive impact customer loyalty to a firm or a brand.
- Sound Strategy:
Most people attach a meaning to sound which helps shape a person’s identity. Sounds like music, jingles, voice themes, create a sound experience which can be utilized to reinforce a brand image. Supermarkets and stores use music to create a good environment for customers to shop. People attach feelings to sounds and music. Often brands assign a music star to advertise their products in a unique personalized way.
- Sight Strategy:
Using visualization as a strategy to establish a brand image and create awareness of a product or a brand helps sharpen the customer’s sensory experiences. Sight is the most powerful and seductive of five senses. How a firm expresses its brand through the use of distinctive marketing strategies, via visual and verbal advertising, design, packaging and style of the product, the colors and themes used, interior and exterior graphics, all help a customer identify and recognize a certain brand.
- Taste Strategy:
Taste is one of the distinct human emotional senses. Different kinds of taste experiences can help strengthen a firm or brand’s identity. The taste an individual develops and experiences regarding a brand does not include the actual taste only, but also the scent, design, sound and texture of a brand. This is the reason, the concept of ‘taste’ is related to whole sensory experience than just taste of the mouth.
- Touch Strategy:
The touch sense helps customers build a form sense regarding a product, whether it is round, sharp, long or square. This is the tactile sense which helps in physically contact the world surrounding us and investigating three-dimensional objects. Touch sense helps customers touch and feel a brand which can help them in making buying decisions. Firms should allow customers to touch the products which may enhance their willingness to buy the product.
Customer satisfaction is defined as an “evaluation of the perceived discrepancy between prior expectations and the actual performance of the product” (Tse & Wilton, 1988). Customers’ satisfaction with a firm’s products and services is considered the most crucial factor towards the competitiveness and success of that firm (Thurau, et al., 1997). Customers evaluate and judge the on-going performance of a product and react to it by showing their satisfaction/dissatisfaction towards a product or service (Gustafsson, et al., 2005).
Customer satisfaction is a key customer retention strategy with which a product can create long term benefits for firms including positive word-of-mouth, cross-buying, and customer loyalty. The core product quality has high impact on the satisfaction level of customers (Yoshida & James, 2010). Customer satisfaction influences purchase intentions as well as post-purchase attitude by increasing the loyalty of the customer towards the brand (Shankar, et al., 2003).
Brand loyalty is defined as ‘the degree of attachment a customer has for a particular brand’ (Liu, et al., 2012) and is considered an important variable in marketing literature (de Villiers, 2015). Developing and maintaining consumer brand loyalty is crucial to a company’s strategic plans, especially in the face of highly competitive markets with increasing unpredictability and reducing product differentiation (He, et al., 2012).
Brand loyalty is traditionally conceived as a behavioral construct relating to a customer’s intentions towards repeat purchase (Nam, et al., 2011). Most of the literature investigates consumer brand loyalty from two perspectives: behavioral loyalty and attitudinal loyalty (Bandyopadhyay & Martell, 2007). Behavioral loyalty refers to the frequency of repeat purchase of a product made by the customer. Attitudinal loyalty refers to the psychological commitment that a consumer makes, such as intentions to purchase and/or recommend product without actually purchasing the product (Jarvis & Wilcox, 1976).
Importance of brand loyalty in the marketing literature has been recognized for at minimum three decades. Brand loyalty leads to certain marketing advantages such as reduced marketing costs, more new customers, and greater trade leverage. Brands with high customer trust and affect are linked to purchase loyalty and ultimately to greater market share and better prices in marketplace. The close relationship of a brand with its consumers reflects the level of positive affect generated by that brand. Strong and positive affective responses will be associated with high levels of brand commitment. Brands that make consumers “happy” or “joyful” or “affectionate” should prompt greater purchase and attitudinal loyalty (Chaudhuri & Holbrook, 2001).
S-O-R (stimulus-organism-response) Theory provides the most reasonable theoretical background for understanding the psychology behind buying behavior of customers. Initially proposed by Woodworth (1974), SOR theory construes on the notion that the stimulus elicits different response depending on the state of organism. He modified the initial strict stimulus-response S-R model by adding ‘O’ (Organism) to it. As per S-R theory, a particular stimulus triggers a particular response. If an association is created between a stimulus and response, the stimulus will trigger the same response repeated every time (Gatautis, et al., 2016). Organism is assumed passive and immobile in S-R model. While Woodworth claimed that organism is constantly active, monitoring its surroundings, scanning its own actions and responding accordingly. Effects of stimuli on behavior are mediated by various transformation processes internal to the organism (Peng, et al., 2014).
An organism’s psychological transition process mediates the relation between stimuli and reaction i.e. the effect of sensory marketing (external stimuli) on brand loyalty (response) may be mediated by customer’s level of satisfaction (internal mechanism) (Eroglu, et al., 2003). Organism may choose to respond to the same stimulus in different ways depending upon its state of mind (Chang, et al., 2011). Stimulus is the variable which initiates activity, for example, in our study sensory marketing is the stimulus directed at Organism (customers) and impacts his state e.g. level of satisfaction, which evokes a response (brand loyalty). Most of our behaviors are driven by the mental states which are affected by how we associate to a particular stimulus. How sensory marketing (stimulus S) impacts the satisfaction level (state of Organism O), would evoke loyalty or disloyalty with the brand (response R).
SOR Theory is considered important in understanding the psychology behind consumer behavior. Stimuli from environments affect an individual’s cognitive and affective reactions, which in turn influence his/her behaviour. Sensory marketing used by businesses affects the cognitive and emotional states of customers i.e. level of satisfaction which then influences their behaviour outcomes towards the brand i.e. loyalty (Wu & Li, 2018).
Customer satisfaction can help the brands build long and profitable relationships with their customers (Eshghi, et al., 2007). Building a strong and loyal customer base is a costly but effective and profitable investment in the long run (Anderson, et al., 2004). Therefore, a firm should retain its customers by providing them with quality experience regarding its products and services. Firms should also focus on strategies to engage customers by offering them special saving deals/packages, sending birthday cards, brochures for the new products, arranging some social activities etc. (Gustafsson, et al., 2005). A brand should be able to meet customer needs and desires. If a customer is satisfied with a product, the chances of re-purchase increase and customer may even be willing to buy at higher price and also refer it to others if it meets his/her satisfaction level (Hanif, et al., 2010).
Customer satisfaction is considered one of the main goals in marketing (Erevelles & Leavitt, 1992). The five human senses play a crucial role in the individual’s experience of different purchase and consumption processes. These senses characterized by five strategic experience modules: sensory (sense), affective (feel), creative cognitive (think), physical/behaviors and lifestyles (act), and social-identity (social), enable individuals to perceive organizations, products and brands (Hulten, et al., 2009). These modules connect and interact with each other to enhance customer experiences. How a customer perceives certain product or service impacts his/her satisfaction with the respective product or service. Incorporating SOR theory in this model, sensory marketing is the stimulus (S) which impacts the customer (O) by affecting the relevant state he possesses i.e. level of satisfaction. Based on this supportive literature, we propose:
H1: Sensory marketing has a positive impact on customer satisfaction (S-O)
Brand loyalty is one of the ways with which the consumer expresses his/her satisfaction with the performance of the product or service received (Bloemer & Kasper, 1995). Therefore, customer satisfaction with the product or service is one of the key constructs in predicting customer’s brand loyalty. Various studies have investigated this positive relationship between satisfaction and loyalty in different sectors namely: restaurants (Back & Parks, 2003), hotel industry (Faullant, et al., 2008), commerce (Lin & Wang, 2006), tourism (Yoon & Uysal, 2005), and retail banking (Anderson, et al., 1994). The level of satisfaction a customer feels because of the stimulus of sensory marketing would evoke a response regarding the brand/product. If the customer (i.e. Organism) is satisfied with the marketing targeted at him/her, his brand loyalty (Response R) would increase. Based on this literature study, we propose a positive relation between customer satisfaction and brand loyalty.
H2: Customer satisfaction has a positive impact on brand loyalty (O-R)
Sensory marketing helps customer enhance their experience with a certain brand and this brand experience positively affects consumer satisfaction and loyalty. Brand experience constitutes subjective, internal consumer responses such as sensations, feelings, and cognitions, and behavioural responses initiated by brand related stimuli, incorporated by a brand’s design and identity, packaging, communications, and environments (Brakus, et al., 2009).
Sensory dimensions of brand experience focus on consumers’ senses of vision, smell, taste and touch. The affective dimension refers to consumer’s emotions and inner feelings towards the brand. The cognitive dimension involves a customer’s creative thinking and the behavioral dimension refers to customers’ life focusing on physical experiences (Walter, et al., 2013).
Customers’ awareness of the product is the first step of branding process of a product or service (Spry, et al., 2011). Therefore, how a customer experiences or interacts with a brand depends on his/her exposure to the brand’s marketing mix. Any evaluation (positive or negative) based on these experiences can influence customers’ perceptions about the credibility of a brand. As these brand related experiences have the potency to shape brand associations by becoming a part of a person’s memory, and thus it is quite likely that some of these associations can play a significant role in building attitudes such as brand preference, credibility, satisfaction and loyalty (Keller, 2009).
Based on this literature, we propose that sensory marketing strategies stimulate positive affective responses to a brand, which enhances a customer’s satisfaction with the brand and his/her loyalty for the brand increases.
H3: Sensory marketing has a direct positive impact on brand loyalty of customers.
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