Engaging customer senses to leverage service marketing strategies

By Alexander Jakubanecs

18 October 2018 08:02

Engaging customer senses to leverage service marketing strategies

Research has documented significant positive effects of sensory marketing on consumer outcomes in the product domain. Meanwhile, service research in this area is still at an early stage holding great potential for service marketing theory and practice.

Marketing theory and practice has recently shifted focus to studying and developing more sensorially engaging products (Krishna, Cian, & Aydinoglu, 2017). The sensory aspects of a product (smell, sound, touch, taste and look) individually and in interactions with each other have significant influence on the holistic customer experience and ultimately on customer outcomes, e.g. willingness to pay. Extant research has shown that sensory marketing allows to significantly leverage the effectiveness of marketing strategies. This is because focus on sensory aspects engages unconscious triggers (by appealing to basic senses) that increase the impact of marketing messages even in conditions of marketing clutter and customer reactance. While being a burgeoning research area in consumer behavior, sensory marketing has received limited attention in service research. This is unfortunate since sensory elements are an integral part of physical servicescapes and online service solutions, e.g. angles, shape of servicescape elements, colors, ambient lighting and sound. These elements can be powerful tools in leveraging the effectiveness of service marketing strategies.

Existing studies on consumer products have demonstrated the effectiveness of sensory factors in getting consumers´ attention and initiating consumer experience. For example, integrating the elements of touch into packaging, e.g. by allowing consumers to feel the freshness of a product increases impulse purchasing (Peck & Shu, 2009). Also, design of a food product packaging that describes a multiple sensory experience (sound, touch, smell) of consuming the product (potato chips) results in more positive product evaluations vs. single sense descriptions (Elder & Krishna, 2010).


Baek, E., Choo, H. J., & Lee, S. H. 2018. Using warmth as the visual design of a store: Intimacy, relational needs, and approach intentions. Journal of Business Research, 88: 91-101.

Biswas, D., Szocs, C., Chacko, R., & Wansink, B. 2017. Shining Light on Atmospherics: How Ambient Light Influences Food Choices. Journal of Marketing Research (JMR), 54(1): 111-123.

Elder, R. S., & Krishna, A. 2010. The Effects of Advertising Copy on Sensory Thoughts and Perceived Taste. Journal of Consumer Research, 36(5): 748-756.

Krishna, A., Cian, L., & Aydinoglu, N. Z. 2017. Sensory Aspects of Package Design. Journal of Retailing, 93(1): 43-54.

Liu, S. Q., Bogicevic, V., & Mattila, A. S. 2018. Circular vs. angular servicescape: “Shaping” customer response to a fast service encounter pace. Journal of Business Research, 89: 47-56.

Peck, J., & Shu, S. B. 2009. The Effect of Mere Touch on Perceived Ownership. Journal of Consumer Research, 36(3): 434-447.

Emerging studies from service research document the potential of sensory marketing in services. For example, one study found that angular shapes of a physical servicescape increase customer satisfaction in a busy service environment (Liu, Bogicevic, & Mattila, 2018). Conversely, circular shapes drive customer satisfaction in a relaxed service environment. Further, a warm store design (e.g. by using bricks or wood) leveraged patronage intentions for customers with higher relational needs (Baek, Choo, & Lee, 2018). Bright ambient lighting in restaurants leads customers to choose healthier food options relative to dim lighting (Biswas, Szocs, Chacko, & Wansink, 2017).

These are only the first steps in advancing understanding of the role of sensory marketing in service research. Many areas are still poorly understood offering exciting research opportunities. Sensory marketing is also of great importance for service marketing practice. Based on the above sensory marketing has a great potential to deliver a more optimal customer experience, promote adoption, increase satisfaction and willingness to pay for services in both traditional and digital channels.

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