Read an Excerpt
Body of Truth
Leveraging What Consumers Can't or Won't Say
By Dan Hill
John Wiley & Sons
Copyright © 2003
All right reserved.
Fighting the Battle
How to Make the Case for
the New Marketing Paradigm
Marketing departments have a huge problem. (By "marketing,"
I also mean advertising, sales, and other departments
involved in consumer outreach or contact either within the
company or as a vendor.)
A problem for all marketers is the need to provide proof that
what they do actually matters and advances the company's fortunes.
Look at the situation from the chief executive officer's (CEO's)
point of view. He or she has only so many resources, and stockholders
to reassure and pacify. The CEO wants return on investment of
significant dollars, which is critical to protect and enhance the
value of the company. That's fair enough. It's up to you to get the
CEO the needed information.
Remember retail guru John Wannamaker's classic nineteenth-century
lament that he knew that half his advertising money was
wasted, but he didn't know which half? Today, we have Lee Clow,
TBWA/Chiat/Day's creator of the legendary "1984" commercial for
Apple Computers, upping the ante. He contendsthat 90 percent of
advertising has always been terrible.
Why shouldn't the CEO be worried? Why shouldn't the CEO
be hesitant about spending lots of cash on marketing that may not
be helping the company?
As Ken Kaess, CEO of DDB Worldwide, pointed out to his colleagues
when he was the incoming chairman of the American Association
of Advertising Agencies, there's a need for a new way to
quantify the effectiveness of advertising. He wanted something far
and above the status quo client copy testing often so anachronistic
that it "would almost be hilarious if it weren't still being employed
by the people who actually make brand and advertising decisions
based on the results."
The proof that vivid sensory stimuli can make a difference is evident
everywhere. For example, I was six years old when my father's
job took our family to Italy. Landing in Naples on our way to Genoa,
near the port area during shore leave, I saw a baby octopus hanging
from a meat hook. Right then, I knew I was in a new world.
The change caught me by surprise. The new "old" world snuck
up on me. I was jarred by my senses, and they followed their own
Every CEO needs an equally strong experience, something to
convince or remind him or her that a great skill at reading numbers
and developing strategies must not blind a person to the value of
making a sensory-emotive as well as rational connection with consumers.
In this chapter, I provide the justification for why the new marketing
paradigms matter-because they connect companies to consumers
more intimately-and I show how appealing to consumers'
senses makes marketing plans far more effective.
CEOs can be reluctant to listen to projected benefits, but in my
experience, they will listen to science and how scientific findings
can be relevant to business, as I will explain. I'll start with why the
new scientific understanding of how our senses work is especially
important in today's hectic, overstimulated world. I'll show how
the senses offer an immediate inroad to consumers' hearts and
The Role of the Senses in Our Era
Should you want one simple reason why consumers' sensory responses
matter so much to business today, look no further than the
role of television. TV's emergence during the 1950s has threatened
the supremacy of the written word for the first time since the invention
of the printing press in the fifteenth century.
Say goodbye to the rational age; it is now buried beneath entertainment
and its half-sibling, infotainment. The average citizen in
the developed world now watches TV for three to four hours a day.
As a result, there's been a fundamental shift regarding how we receive
information; to an ever-increasing degree, we're now living in
a visual, postliterate society.
Why do we watch so much TV? Surely, much of the reason we
want entertaining diversion is that we're burned out, starved for fun,
and physically exhausted. We're overloaded, and we're seeking a
way out. We want visual stimulation, and we also respond to other
sensory information that breaks through the clutter.
Companies must recognize that although consumers may appear
to tune out certain amounts of sensory data, they still fundamentally
crave stimulation. In addition, sensory stimulation and escapism
can go hand in hand, as I'll explain shortly.
Companies able to appeal to consumers' perceptual processes
are in touch with the era we inhabit.
Breaking through the clutter is a cliche that nobody in marketing
can escape. It's a well-known fact that people now typically experience
over three thousand advertising messages daily.
I've found that the key to winning over consumers is to get on
their sensory bandwidth. Part of the reason senses are so powerful is
because they offer instant gratification. However, companies miss
the sensory mark all the time.
Consumers won't be able to tell you which ads will or will not
work, but they can feel it. For example, at my company, Sensory
Logic, we test consumer reactions to multiple stimuli. We line up various
related advertising pieces and evaluate how people react on a gut
level. Sometimes we compare competitive brands, like jeans from the
Gap versus those from Levi's. We also compare different versions of
ads for client companies. In one case, we lined up a pair of TV spots, a
30-second version versus a 60-second effort for the same product.
We found that the 60-second spot soon grew tiresome to viewers.
In contrast, the 30-second spot captivated viewers for about 20
seconds. Our findings were confirmed by the testing and also at a
I was once in the office of an executive for a potential client. A
computer repairman was there, too, trying to get the executive's
desktop functional again.
I started to play the 30-second spot. The commercial was running
on top of the screen, with the second-by-second biofeedback
scores unfolding below it. There came a point when the main actor
left the scene. By then the music track was growing stale, and the
actor had his back to the viewing audience. (Ask yourself: How
often does seeing people turn their back to you generate warm feelings?
Just then-as the scores were beginning to tumble-the repair
guy cut in. "I know that commercial," he said.
The executive and I looked at him, across the room. "Yeah, I
know that commercial," the repairman repeated, before adding,
"And at first I like it. But then it starts to annoy me."
The executive looked back down at the screen, then at me. The
biofeedback verified that the commercial took a definite downturn
after a promising beginning. "You guys are good," he said, smiling
The lesson is the following: Imagery that appeals to our senses
has a powerful effect on consumers, and it can lead to an emotional
reaction. Although they may not be able to articulate the reasons
why one ad appeals to them more than another, they nevertheless
make split-second decisions based on sensory input.
Imagery processing is like microwave cooking. The brain
cooks the equivalent of ready-made meals. In other words, the
senses cause us to have an immediate reaction to stimuli.
I'll discuss these concepts in further detail in the next chapter.
In addition, appealing to consumers' senses is the right strategy for
our harried times. For example, cell phone companies besiege us
with complicated monthly plans, whereas Apple Computers gives us
simple "Think different" advertising, a single strong image, and
plenty of white space that lets us catch our mental breath rather
than encouraging us to flee.
There is no better way to generate clutter-busting impact (and
appeal, too) than by creating vivid, immediate sensory stimulation.
Companies that can provide adaptable, flexible, responsive interactivity
will succeed in this environment.
To be successful at stimulating sensations within your customer
is really the ultimate in customized relationship marketing. It's also
a reminder that the senses can provide a "wow." Our media-driven
society has made consumers accustomed to high production values.
They're aware of such a wealth of product choices that they now
fully expect to be wowed.
Leveraging the sensory bandwidth can help you avoid or get
out of the commodity trap by offering your customers extra, unexpected
value. Think of OXO GoodGrips kitchen utensils, which
have grown market share by adding a component of visual and tactile
delight to tools that otherwise serve a functional utility. With
their oversized, supple handles and bright colors, these products appeal
to consumers' senses and come across as fun and different, as
well as easier to use by everyone, including especially people suffering
Forget about people's consciousness; more than articulated
needs must be met. As science shows us, what's verbally known and
shared is only the tip of the iceberg.
An offer that delights the senses is less likely to be passed over.
It establishes a greater value that you can price accordingly to enhance
profit margins-something your CEO will love.
The Senses Are Tangible
and They Provide Information
The second strategic reason why the senses matter so much to business
is that they build trust. They capture information that lets us
make the case for why we respect or choose one company over another.
To understand how we handle our investigations, think of the
old Columbo detective episodes. Peter Falk shows up in his battered,
barely running car, wearing an old, stained raincoat, and figures out
what nobody else can apparently see.
How did he do it? Usually by noticing the small but crucial sensory
clues that went unnoticed by the regular cops. It wouldn't occur
to them to crouch down to find the subtle, telltale sign that would
belie the accepted theory about who committed the crime.
Columbo's instincts are relevant because they illustrate the second
strategic reason why the senses matter so much to business.
Whether on purpose or by chance, companies inevitably disclose a
multitude of sensory clues to consumers. For consumers, these clues
are a weathervane or a barometer; in other words, they provide a
way to gauge the situation. They can be felt by the consumer on either
a conscious or an unconscious level. Regardless of how consumers
register them, these clues either build or erode the trust on
which brand equity relies.
Like good detectives, we assemble sensory impressions that give
us information about our surroundings. Sight, sound, touch, taste,
and smell: Where would we be without them? Sayings like "seeing is
believing," "listen up," and "follow your nose" reflect society's beliefs
in the power of the senses. Our sensory clues give us an idea
about which companies care about us. The senses provide touch
points with consumers, and they represent consumers' most innate
means of judging the situations they encounter.
Today more than ever before, we live in a world of "spin," which
is often politically motivated distortions of the basic facts. Although
sensory data can also be manipulated, it is generally easier to be
disingenuous with abstract, verbal information. We rely on our
senses to "sniff out the situation" and determine who's trustworthy.
The sensory clues that both delight and reassure offer the ideal
means of solving the case of long-lost customer loyalty.
The Senses Are Universal
The third and final strategic reason why the senses matter so much
to business is because they help us reach across borders in an age of
globalism. With globalization, tapping into international commerce
has become more of a priority for many brands, and clearly there are
enormous opportunities available. Of course, responding to the call
for globalization can be a challenge, and reaching the world economy
also means multiple markets that have multiple languages and
potentially a host of communication barriers.
Fortunately, the language of the senses is nonverbal, and
when used effectively, sensory marketing can transcend the
inherent gaps between diverse targe audiences.
Sensory marketing on an international scale also creates the following
Internationally. Visual and other sensory clues provide an easy,
quick way to differentiate your offer while simplifying the consumer's
decision-making process. Many large brands have now taken
on the status of cultural icon, reaching across borders. Do Tokyo
consumers know anything about colonels or where Kentucky is located?
Probably not. But they know Colonel Sanders's bow tie because
KFC is a major chain in Japan.
Companies able to identify and understand the sensory clues
that suit us as a species can hope to span continents by tapping into
psychological truths. Ruggedness? Youth? Mobility? In overseas markets,
Levi's epitomizes America's promise to let you shape your own
life. I discuss these universal emotional desires in Chapter 5, which
examines tapping into consumers' innate desires.
Domestically. America's recent large-scale immigration doesn't
always lead to the kind of melting pot assimilation that took place
during earlier waves of immigration. These days, a "salad bowl"
analogy is often more appropriate, because many nationalities have
retained their own cultural traditions within the larger American
community. Without sensory clues, today's more fractured ethnic
markets are not always easy for major corporations to reach. Sensory
clues can overcome communication barriers.
To return to the international benefits, my company's testing in
Europe and Asia has revealed cultural subtleties. To draw some generalizations,
the French are concerned with beauty, and the Germans
focus on integrity. The English seem to gravitate toward
marketing efforts that reflect deference, whereas the Japanese seek
However, if we look at the international products that work,
many offer sensory gratification that transcends cultural barriers.
Consider, for example, the universal appeal of Hollywood block-buster
movies. Entertainment in all of its forms now represents one
of America's largest, most successful export categories; action films,
in which the words are secondary, often lead the way. The sensory
information and visual stimulation available in these films gives
them a profound universal appeal. The adrenaline rush they elicit
through their powerful use of visual effects also contributes to this
The Senses Rule the Decision-Making Processes
So far in this chapter, I've focused on the senses from a scientific
and a strategic marketing perspective, showing how to justify sensory
marketing to even the most skeptical CEO.
Excerpted from Body of Truth
by Dan Hill
Copyright © 2003 by Dan Hill.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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