Brand Sense: How to Build Powerful Brands Through Touch, Taste, Smell, Sight and Sound

Strategic Direction

ISSN: 0258-0543

Article publication date: 1 February 2006



Lindstrom, M. (2006), "Brand Sense: How to Build Powerful Brands Through Touch, Taste, Smell, Sight and Sound", Strategic Direction, Vol. 22 No. 2.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Brand Sense: How to Build Powerful Brands Through Touch, Taste, Smell, Sight and Sound

A round-up of some of the best book reviews recently published by Emerald.

Brand Sense: How to Build Powerful Brands Through Touch, Taste, Smell, Sight and Sound

Martin Lindstrom,Kogan Page, London and Sterling, VA, 2005

As a teenager, I remember working in the local movie theatre and being directed by my manager to pop popcorn constantly, all day and all night. We had already popped plenty of popcorn for the day early in the morning, and in fact, much of the popcorn that I would pop throughout the day would end up going in the trash. I could not figure out at the time why we were wasting so much popcorn!

I realize now that the popping of the popcorn occurs, not only to create product to sell, but also to create a unique customer experience, using the sense of smell. The scent of popcorn popping not only stimulates the olfactory senses in a very positive way that creates desire for the product, but it also assists in making going to the movies a multi-sensory experience.

Brand Sense, by Martin Lindstrom, is a real-world, example-filled book of brands which have built loyal following using multiple dimensions of our natural senses. Those who are familiar with brands that play on our senses, will no doubt be entertained by the many examples that show how firms appeal to a variety of our senses, ranging from travel leader, Singapore Airlines, to mega-brand, Coca-Cola. Lindstrom uses both successful and unsuccessful examples to show how brand managers can create their own “smashable brand”, which the author defines as a brand that is still recognizable after removing the product’s logo and brand name. In other words, if you were to smash a bottle of Absolute Vodka in which the label was removed and lost, what people still realize that the remaining pieces of the bottle were a bottle of Absolute?

Lindstrom stresses many brands today are not smashable, in the sense that if the product lost its logo and name, the brand becomes unrecognizable and loses its meaning. In order to reverse this logo and name dependency, all other elements that are picked up by our senses – colors, pictures, design, sound, taste – must be fully integrated.

Lindstrom gives multiple examples of brands that lost their “smashability” by becoming too dependent on brand name, such as the struggling Kodak. However, he counters each miscue by dissecting the successful Singapore Airlines, in which the company has made the experience of air travel a truly multi-sensory experience from the specifically tailored look of the “Singapore Girl” to the scent that she wears while on the job (which is also found in throughout the cabin). Lindstrom clearly illustrates this in his succinct writing style:

The sensory branding of the Singapore Girl reached its zenith by the end of the 1990s when Singapore Airlines introduced Stefan Floridian Waters … and aroma that has been specifically designed as part of the Singapore Airlines experience. Stefan Floridian Waters formed the scent in the flight attendants’ perfume, was blended into the hot towels served before takeoff, and generally permeated the entire fleet of Singapore Airlines planes (p. 15).

Multiple anecdotes like these are found throughout the book.

What the makes the book particularly interesting are the visual diagrams Lindstrom uses throughout to show a graphical representation of where a specific brand falls in terms of appealing to each of the five senses. His depictions are simple to understand and follow, and can be easily utilized by a brand manager with just a small amount of data. Using these diagrams and examples throughout, Lindstrom paints a clear picture of what brands appeal along multiple dimensions, and which ones do not.

Lindstrom’s book is not as much a “how to” as it is an introduction to brand managers of the concept of “brand smashability”. This book can be resourceful for brand mangers of new products in development as well as brand managers of well-established brands who can take advantage of creating a multi-sensory experience to get an edge on the competition. The author even presents data and analysis that shows how Coca-Cola has taken better advantage of using the customer’s multiple senses compared to its rival, Pepsi. All throughout, this book is chock full of practical, recognizable and relevant examples using global brands that almost anyone can understand and relate. Lindstrom has a knack for taking a brand, and analyzing its key components in a clear and understandable way that will make sense to even the newest brand managers. Additionally, his writing style is highly enjoyable, as he gets his points across without over analysis.

The book is broken down into eight clear and distinct chapters. At the end of each chapter a rather comprehensive “Highlights” section appears, which breaks down the key points of the chapter. Additionally, the Highlights are followed by “Action Points” offering specific instructions for brand managers whereby they can apply the key chapter concepts to their own product(s) and brand.

While this book’s intended audience is primarily brand managers, I myself intend to use it my Consumer Behavior class. This is a fun, easy to read book that packs a lot into a small number of pages. Students will enjoy the multitude of examples of their favorite brands and how the brands have evolved into becoming “multi-sensory.” I think all brand mangers should read this book if they want to get an additional edge by tapping into the natural physiology of their customers.

A version of this review was originally published in Journal of Product & Brand Management , Volume 14 Number 4, 2005.

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