Moods.SG, Sensory guru Simon Faure-Field

An anonymous wit once remarked, “the biggest room in the world is the room for improvement”. Nowhere is this more true than in the world of businesses that cater to the enjoyment, entertainment or comfort of the people.

During my years working with leading hospitality and retail brands, I have often noticed once cardinal sin – the clients’ failure to place importance on certain key areas where their brand and customers interact. It is almost as if these crucial and often very public aspects of business operation were so obvious they did not require any additional energy to analyse or critique.

Take, for instance, the sort of music that a business broadcasts within its premises. All too often the choice and selection of music, the type of genre, audio volume levels and so on are left up to the most junior staff on the floor, whether they be bar staff, hotel receptionists or sales assistants. This might be in a hotel chain, for example, which has paid million of dollars to an advertising or brand consultancy to develop a coherent brand identity for them.

Yet here they are, taking one of the most emotionally powerful and charged of the five human senses – the sense of hearing – and leaving that sense completely up to chance, or the whims of someone who, most likely, has not received a single iota of brand training.

To illustrate what I’m talking about and how serious the brand implications can be, i was in a major sportswear chain a couple of years ago with my wife and young daughter. In that store, they were broadcasting over the PA system some rap and R&B music. Now, the problem was that the lyrics (which I shall describe with my typical British understatement as being “somewhat fruity”) were completely unsuited to the shop, the environment, and the type of customer to be found there. At the least, people shopping with their families should not have to listen to a stream of “gangsta” rap obscenities.

That chain did a good job of completely alienating me that day and I made a mental note not to return (or at least until they changed their concept of acceptable music).

Clearly, if you’re running any kind of business this is the reverse of what you want customers to be thinking. If anything, you want them to be reaffirming their faith in the brand, their commitment to the brand. Not voting with their feet. And in this case, a customer was lost purely because of a certain kind of music being played.

I probably have one of the most frustrating but at the same time rewarding jobs in the world. Why so? As an independent consultant, I can see with a certain amount of objectivity the often extreme measures that a brand should be taking to address issues of how that brand is communicated through environmental and sensory cues. Sometimes, it can be frustrating because businesses are often by nature conservative with a small c. They desire change but only in small steps. But it’s fantastic when you do find yourself dealing with a decision maker who, from day one, is on board with what you are proposing, sees the value and the R.O.I immediately and gives you a clean slate to proceed with a system or solution. And in business it is fairly predictable that those with the vision to take chances and think big often outpace their competitors.

Take the practice of placing signature fragrances in the public areas of major hotel chains, another area where I am closely preoccupied with my clients. Certain chains like Shangri-La and Westin have effectively set the pace by scenting their hotel lobbies with unique fragrances developed specially for their brand. This gives their properties a consistent and powerful sensory cue whenever a guest enters that space. Furthermore, because the sense of smell is the only human sense directly linked to the brain’s centre for memory, it sets up a lasting connection for the brand in peoples’ long term memories. Now that these chains have adopted these stealth techniques in sensory branding, others have no choice but to follow since there is absolute no advantage in “not” adopting these solutions.

But you would be surprise how many business owners still fail to see what is directly in front of their faces. Their focus is too often only on the visual – interior design, staff uniform or retail displays or what you have. Or else their other marketing strategies always zero in on price and promotions.

Yes, these are clearly all important ingredient in the marketing mix. However, when you address the other senses and appeal to people less on the rational and more on the emotional level you also go one better to create an experience for your customers. If that experience is sufficiently positive, pleasant or reinforces the upbeat experiences they had while transacting with your business then you will have repeat business from them. And that’s what it’s ultimately all about isn’t it?

In this new series of columns, the sensory guru, Simon A Faure-Field will share his expertise on how F&B business can achieve competitive advantage through new branding techniques that appeal to the human senses. He is the founder and CEO of Equal Strategy Pte Ltd and counts global brands such as Marina Bay Sands, Solaire, Resort World Singapore, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Marriott Group, Microsoft and Mercedes-Benz among his clients.

Simon Faure-Field