Why Authenticity is a Touchy Feely Sensory Thing 2

By Andrew Wardlaw

In the third and final of our sensory branding articles we attempt to decode authenticity by looking at the notion that to be truly authentic, brands have got to pay more attention to their sensory profiles. 

Every marketing manager knows that brands stand or fall by the level of trust that consumers invest in them. Trust is hard won and easily lost – and many brands have discovered this to their enormous cost.

Remember Sunny Delight? It was “the great stuff kids go for.” Positioned in the chiller cabinet and fortified with vitamins, Sunny Delight reassured mums that this was the healthier option. That was until the U.K Food Commission got involved and revealed that Sunny Delight was anything but – with added sugar and only 5% juice. This fiasco reminds us of the huge price paid when brand, pack & product are not perfectly aligned – be it a reduced level of trust, engagement or advocacy. The Sunny Delight example might be extreme, but I believe that any discourse between brand, pack & product will carry some degree of penalty.

Today, attaining authenticity in the eyes of consumers is seen as a modern way of commanding trust. Various definitions of authenticity exist, but in my view, a definition is not so clear cut.  Authenticity is a fuzzy thing. But, after relentless ‘hang outs’ with millennials and other ‘switched on’ consumers, I think I’ve cracked how to define it!

I would define authenticity using a three-pronged approach:

To be authentic is to go beyond a box with a brand name.

An authentic brand Demonstrates Purpose – beyond what you do (make soup) and where (Yorkshire), and increasingly why you do it and how. Ella’s Kitchen isn’t just yummy baby food. It’s a movement to create a generation of good little eaters by making healthy food fun!

The second ‘prong’ is Meaningful Distinctiveness, where things become even more ‘touchy feely’.  Most of us are aware of the phenomenal impact Ehrenberg Bass have had on ‘marketing think’.  ‘How Brands Grow’ by Byron Sharp has practically spelt the end of functional differentiation. Sharp recommends that we embrace Meaningless Distinctiveness. Be bold and be visually different in a highly memorable way!

Being at the coalface of sensory led research, I can go one step further and advocate meaningful distinctiveness – because when consumers encounter your pack and product, they are subconsciously processing its sensory construction. Every curve, aroma, texture etc. is cross referenced with a series of associations that kick in on contact.  It’s why we think of babies when we smell Johnson’s Baby Bath. It’s why we think of sandy beaches when we smell Nivea After Sun – even in our own bathroom.

Taking this further, sensory science can guide brands towards more distinctive (and meaningful) sensory signatures – a brand DNA that is unmistakable and even more memorable. The attainment of sensory signatures helps brands to operate at a deeper, more emotional level. Sub-consciously more authentic, no less.

The third and final ‘prong’ is Totally Truthful, where you can be confident that your product delivers exactly against expectations set by your marketing and packaging. If you launch a new chocolate bar with fanfare eliciting ‘luxurious’, ‘powerful’ and ‘sensual’, and your recipe delivers a sensory blueprint akin to ‘comforting’, ‘warm’ and ‘sociable’, then no matter how liked it is, it is not aligned.  You’ve broken your promise. You’re not authentic.

My journey towards a definition has taken some time, but I am confident that it stands up to scrutiny. What struck me was how much authenticity relies on the consumers’ sensory experience.  In a post truth world – where objective facts are becoming less influential in shaping opinion than appeals to emotional and personal belief, attention paid to non-conscious sensory cues will become ever more imperative. Authenticity maybe fuzzy, but it can be engineered. A sensory led approach on your next project can get will help get you there.

By Andrew Wardlaw, MMR