Why you need to use sensory gratification marketing to sell more online
Sensory gratification marketing sounds a grand term but all it really means is stimulating as many senses as possible. The more senses of a buyer you stimulate, the more likely they are to buy because they become immersed in your product. The problem is that the Internet mostly only stimulates one sense – vision.
There are other senses that are worth stimulating too because they engage people, sometimes more than vision. What about touch, smell, taste, or hearing? Or balance, hunger, pain or temperature? The traditional notion that humans have five senses is out-dated; these days there are thought to be more than 20 senses. How many do you stimulate on your website?
There are only two ways to stimulate senses on your website – words and pictures. Yes, I know you will say that you can use audio to stimulate the sense of hearing. However, many people have that switched off in busy offices, or they don’t want “auto playing” sounds disrupting them. Stimulating the sense of sound is possible online, but is a comparatively minor option. In spite of millions of videos being watched at this very moment and tens of thousands of podcasts getting an airing, that is all dwarfed by the amount of text that is being consumed. That’s where you need to start to stimulate the senses.
Write like a novelist to stimulate the senses
When you are able to lose yourself in a novel it’s because the writer has fully engaged you so that you escape the world around you and immerse yourself in the make-believe places of the book. Novelists are masters at using sensory gratification. Take this opening of the science fiction novel, The Maze Runner by James Dashner:
He began his new life standing up, surrounded by cold darkness and stale, dusty air. Metal ground against metal; a lurching shudder shook the floor beneath him. He fell down at the sudden movement and shuffled backwards on his hands and feet, drops of sweat beading on his forehead despite the cool air. His back struck a hard metal wall; he slid along it until he hit the corner of the room. Sinking to the floor, he pulled his legs up tight against his body, hoping his eyes would soon adjust to the darkness.
Just one paragraph and you can sense sound, touch, temperature, movement and visuals.
Charles Dickens was a master of stimulating senses. This is how he describes Magwitch, the escaped convict in Great Expectations when Pip first meets him:
A fearful man, all in coarse grey, with a great iron on his leg. A man with no hat, and with broken shoes, and with an old rag tied round his head. A man who had been soaked in water, and smothered in mud, and lamed by stones, and cut by flints, and stung by nettles, and torn by briars; who limped, and shivered, and glared, and growled; and whose teeth chattered in his head as he seized me by the chin.
You can almost feel this scruffy, cold villain up against you.
Yet when you visit most business websites, are you transported into a world where you can sense everything? The chances are, you are not…!
You might find an item of clothing described as:
Manufactured to the highest standards using responsibly sourced raw materials.
Wouldn’t that sound better and appeal to more senses if it were re-written as:
Made with care using the softest cotton handed to us directly by the farmers themselves and sewn by people who can probably see a dropped stitch from 100 paces.
Business-speak is unappealing, it lacks engagement and it doesn’t stimulate the senses. Fiction writers know exactly how to get your senses going, so websites need to be crafted more like fiction writers than business copy.
Show images that demonstrate sensory gratification
Many websites contain product images. They may show the products in all their detail, but they don’t stimulate any senses. Indeed, even the visual sense is rarely stimulated as the images are frequently of isolated products on white backgrounds.
To get the sensory juices flowing you need to have images that convey sensory information. That would mean seeing the products in a typical environment, with people touching them, even looking as though they are smelling them. Sofa manufacturers are quite good at this in their TV adverts. Take a look at the advertisement from “Sofology” below. It includes the stimulation of hearing, touch, vision, taste and smell.
Yet when you visit the company’s website, almost all of what you see is just pictures of sofas with no real stimulation of the senses in the way they do so well on their TV advert, which triggers the imagination much more as a result of sensory stimulation.
You are far better off including people engaging with your products in your imagery, showing them touching and using products in ways that will stimulate the senses of your visitors.
Sensory words and picture trigger mirror neurons
When you see someone smelling something and pulling a face as though the smell is bad, your brain also senses the bad smell. When you see someone cuddling a lovely soft cushion, your brain senses the same feeling. When you read a text which makes you feel something, your brain is actually producing those feelings inside you.
Mirror neurons are much debated in psychology, but several studies show that when people see others engaging in sensory activities that similar neurological patterns are identified in the brains of the observers. This implies that when people see someone on your website touching your products, the visitor will also get some neurological stimulation suggesting the same kind of feelings of touch. This makes the individual much more likely to be connected to the product.
Studies have shown an impact upon the way our senses are stimulated and our resulting behaviour. For example, researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong found that when people were in a warm atmosphere they were more likely to conform to social norms. Understanding psychological features like this about the impact of sensory input and using similar techniques on your website can help increase e-commerce conversions, perhaps.
Sensory gratification marketing is often used in real-world retail – some shops use lighting, floor coverings, temperature and fragrances to stimulate certain kinds of behaviours. Just because you only have visual stimulation online doesn’t mean you cannot trigger other sensory gratifications. Website owners are missing out if they do not use text and images to help trigger those mirror neurons and make visitors feel as though their senses are being stimulated. Do that with your website and you are bound to increase engagement.
Graham is a psychologist who helps businesses understand the behaviour of their online customers so that companies can tap into this and increase their profits. He is an academic, working as a lecturer for the University of Buckingham and the Open University. Graham is the author of 29 books and is an award-winning writer. He regularly appears in the media commenting about the way people use the Internet.More about Graham
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