But First, Coffee

Have you ever realized that there are few Starbucks ads on billboards, in a newspaper or on posters in places where you can expect to see advertisements for most other establishments, like McDonald’s?  The Starbucks Corporation and its successful marketing strategies are definitely something that should learn about. In this article, we’re going to try and understand what marketing techniques Starbucks uses to reach out and attract millions of people worldwide.

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Starbucks wanted to create an attractive and comfortable space perfect to be the place between work and home. Indeed, the doors of the coffee shop chain are opened not only to offer coffees, but also to create a powerful sensorial experience. In other words, as well as coffee, the Starbucks’ marketing strategy can be experienced with the five senses.

Let’s start with smells. They stimulate certain areas of the brain responsible for creating emotions and memories. The human nose can identify and recall as many as 10,000 scents and as much as 75 percent of our emotions are generated by what we smell. Using scent, then, to enhance a brand is nothing to sniff at. When selling a home, we are encouraged to bake cookies just before an open house or light scented candles to generate positive feelings from prospective buyers. Starbucks certainly understands the olfactory benefit of scent – “an atmosphere really special, the coffee smell, it has a certain something that makes you feel comfortable, relaxed.” The smell of coffee is not accidental, it comes from fresheners placed strategically to ‘invite’ us to fancy a coffee in a very subtle way.

Sound has the power to impact our mood and sway our buying habits. Researchers have found that the pace of background music affects customer perceptions of wait time, spending and turnover in stores and restaurants. In other words, fast music decreases spending in a retail environment, but increases  turnover in restaurants. The Starbucks’ music selection is a key in order to create this atmosphere that invites to relax while you are reading the newspaper, have a chat with your friends or even work with your laptop.

In other words, companies, like Starbucks, that are more concerned with increasing the spend-per-customer ratio, use slower music to create longer dining times, leading to a 29 percent increase in the average bill according to one experiment.

The urge to pick up, touch and test things is huge, and retailers count on that in their display strategies. Our hands are an important link between our brains and the world. In fact, as humans we have more tactile receptors in our little fingers alone than we do on our entire back. These receptors help us explore objects in our surroundings. When we encounter a pleasant touch, the brain releases a hormone called oxytocin, leading to feelings of well-being and calm. In research terms, this sense of touch is referred to as our “haptic sense”. Researchers have found that shoppers who touch a product are more likely to purchase, even as it relates  to impulse buys. They’ve also found, logically, that the ability to touch a product increases our confidence in the item’s quality.

In this case, Starbucks’s merchandising is placed close to the casher area, which allows you to approach to the goods while you are queuing and, of course, to touch them. This opportunity of experiencing the articles is so effective that, even at the risk of being stolen, Starbucks keeps its merchandising ‘close enough to touch’.

We’re glossing over the last two senses with just a few obligatory comments. Sight, of course, is the most common marketing medium. Color, architecture and graphic design theory are all well-studied in the marketing industry and fill countless articles. The very well-known logo of the twin-tailed siren has accomplished its mission to be recognised without the need to include the words ‘Starbucks’ and ‘Coffee’. Also, what definitively catches our eyes are the comfortable sofas that are part of the cosy design of the furniture’s stores and reinforce the concept of a place between home and work.

And taste, while of great importance to edible brands, doesn’t fit well into the multi-sensory branding programs of other products. Yet, have you ever been offered a small piece of brownie just when you have pop into a Starbucks coffee shop?

As we’ve seen, the senses influence our emotions and decision-making. Touch, smell, taste, sound, and the look of a product all play an important role in our perceptions, attitudes and consumption of a product. Understanding those roles provides a valuable advantage in today’s marketplace.

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Sensory Marketing – Touch it ! Smell it ! Remember it !

Sensory marketing engages the consumers senses with the purpose of conditioning their shopping decisions. The right situation can trigger a wide range of emotions that can lead the shopper to choose a brand over another.

Studies show that multi-sensory shopping experiences – where two or more senses receive stimulation at the same time – cause the shoppers to stay longer in the stores, buy more products, and develop a stronger engagement with brands.

Today more than ever, it seems that everyone assumes that the determining factor for effectively and successfully reaching the customer depends on how we manage sensory perceptions that the brand or product will cause in people. Which means that when a customer comes in contact with the product, the perceptual machine begins to operate.

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This is where our emotional brain plays a key role in making decisions, by choosing an option even before our prefrontal cortex – the conductor – gets time to evaluate the options. In the decision-making process, many factors influence us – our culture and beliefs, our memories of past experiences that we have stored in long term memory, for example.

While most brands focus their attention on developing visual and auditory marketing techniques, such as logos, specific music to play in the stores, television adverts with original jingles or themed colors for their packaging. There are lots of other resources that could be implemented, which aim to stimulate various senses simultaneously and creating a more intense shopping experience for the consumer.

For example, just by spraying a distinctive fragrance in a store, creating packages with different textures or giving their products a characteristic smell, brands and retailers get to see a significant improvement of sales.

The theory behind sensory marketing is all good and well. Let’s now see what this looks like in practice by examining different marketing techniques well renowned companies use to activate your senses.

In the last years, brands have been working hard to develop distinctive sounds both for their products and their packages. For instance, McDonald’s use numerous tactics to sell their products – for this example, we’ll focus on how they sell their fries. During the rush hours of the day – lunch time for example – the company put adverts out that are specifically aimed at those driving a car. One advert for fries features a sound that you could describe as something like a deep fat fryer and the voice over even announces that the smell of fries being cooked will be transferred to your car. By thinking of the sound of the fries cooking and our mental representation of the smell of fries, we are prompted to go and buy some. In this case, we can hardly say the advertising is subliminal yet, the company thinks that subtlety should not be wasted on its customers. Have you ever wondered why there is so much red in their restaurants ? Well, now you know – pay, eat fast and go away quickly.

Now, after thinking about MacDonald’s, you must be getting hungry. Sadly, manufactures know all too well that food is one of our weakest links. Let’s now turn our attention to chocolate, M&M’s to be precise.

You might have noticed, after years of eating them, that M&M’s don’t really smell of chocolate. Yet, when you enter the famous M&M’s World Store in London, you are bombarded by the soothing smell of chocolate. As you look around the store, you notice that every M&M is already prepackaged. So why is there this strong chocolate smell ? Well, who wouldn’t want to feel as though you’re walking into Willy Wonka’s Factory ?

After getting your taste buds working, you may, by now, have understood that scents mess with your rational thoughts and connect with your emotions. Here’s one final example that proves this. Have you ever noticed that when you walk into a Nike Store you immediately go for the most expensive shoes ? Well, you will know understand why.

Essentially, Nike Stores use a mixed flower scent to direct you towards the more expensive shoe designs inside. Studies show that you are willing to spend up to 10€ more on their shoes if they are diffusing flowery scents in the store. Also, the shops are light and often have white walls with black decorations or images in neutral colors, which makes you relaxed enough to make you pay for their shoes.

It is a well known fact that your memory and smells are tied closely together – a scent can really bring back memories and invoke emotions. Nowadays, companies know this all too well and make use of scents and sounds to jolt your brain into liking or enjoying their product.

Therefore if you wish to successfully sell your product make sure to pair either your store or the actual product with a specific scent – if you feel at home in a store, you are more likely to buy.

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