Ana Andjelic: Why visceral storytelling is the next brand-building territory.
Symbolic and visceral, smell is a powerful brand language that convincingly conveys identity and differentiation. It creates a direct, tangible connection between a brand and its consumers.
NEW YORK — When I was a teenager, I’d borrow my mom’s clothes before going out. I loved not only her clothes, but her smell on them. (She was considerably less thrilled by the lingering smell of underground Belgrade clubs afterward). I still remember that although there have been ages since I either went to a club or ventured into my mother’s closet.
Symbolic and visceral, smell is a powerful brand language that convincingly conveys identity and differentiation. It creates a direct, tangible connection between a brand and its consumers. It creates an emotional space around a brand’s audience, and builds and nurtures a brand community around shared feelings and powerful bonds.
Still, brands have yet to crack the code of scent craftsmanship in the modern brand-building. Sure, there are quite a few examples of scented stores, hotel lobbies and event spaces. But scenting a locale is different than introducing bespoke visceral experience as the critical pillar in building a modern brand. The former is the domain of marketing, the latter of the brand identity.
Building brand identities via the expanded sensory repertoire has became a necessity. Businesses have migrated online en masse, often providing functionality but failing to connect emotionally with their customers. When they do invest in forging these emotional bonds, they opt for visual and verbal communication that fails to stand out in the oversaturated market and among overstimulated consumers.
Smell creates the most immediate and emotional of impressions, and is proven to influence purchase behavior. Ambient scents have the power to invite consumers to linger in retail spaces longer and browse more. Pleasant scents also create the perception of quality, spark positive associations, and influence customer satisfaction.
The new signifiers of influence. Today’s affluents are increasingly seeking the pre-industrial experiences of comfort, simplicity, and spiritual fulfillment. These are the new signifiers of affluence. A cursory search reveals more than 31,000 Instagram posts tagged #slowmade, with all sorts of handcrafted objects, farm-to-table food, sustainably made clothing, and transformational experiences on display. This consumer shift is also reflected in the impressive growth of the global wellness market as the new luxury category. In 2015, this market reached $3.7 trillion, and is considered to be one of the world’s fastest-growing, most resilient markets.
Confronted with the need to tell their stories to the audiences that simultaneously want to unplug and be super-plugged-in, brands have to rethink their narrative-building strategy.
Brands have to combine visual and visceral communication. In building intimacy with their customers, they need to realize that messaging is only one part of their brand story. Their umbrella brand narratives need to be consistently implemented across the entire non-linear, multi-touchpoint customer decision-making journey. Within this journey, physical stores assume a new role as cultural and social hubs rather than transactional places. As such they embody the brand identity and the story. Modern bespoke experiences are about signaling a lifestyle and creating an overall context that products and services are part of. In order to deliver these bespoke experiences, brands have to combine visual and visceral communication.
One example of a brand that gets it right is a company called 12.29. It’s a company that accentuates brand-building through scent. In practice, they use scent craftsmanship to transform physical brand interactions (be it through the in-store experience, packaging, events, or products) into emotional, bespoke moments for their clients, who include Tiffany & Co, Harrods, and Cadillac, among others.
12.29 founders, Dawn and Samatha Goldworm, seized on the insight that craftsmanship, superior experiences, and wellness are the symbols of modern luxury and that there is an urgent need to modernize brand-building in this category. With their “visceral storytelling” promise to their clients, they strive to capture the spirit of modern luxury and the critical shift in the contemporary brand-building.
“At 12.29, we engage the visceral language of scent to define, shape, and communicate brand identity,” Dawn Goldworm told me. “Modern storytelling is not complete without emotional engagement which is a natural and acute byproduct of a scented experience.”
Going forward, it’s not hard to see digital pure players with a cluster of retail locations jumping into olfactive brand-building. They’ll likely be joined by members-only clubs, high-end car-sharing services, white-glove healthcare services, high-end fitness studios, movie screening rooms, and modern offices — in addition to festivals, events, and intimate dinners.
The attraction of visceral storytelling is how seamlessly it infuses the sense of artistry and alchemy into today’s luxury. It is the embodiment of the work of human hands, custom-making, human ingenuity and imagination, all the while being undeniably modern.