With an audience of over 570 attendees from all over Latin America, Carlos Velasco shared several ideas regarding the vision he has developed through his more than ten years of research in the experiences and multisensory packaging fields.
Based on his work as an associate professor at the Norwegian Business School BI and supported by his Experimental Psychology studies at Oxford University, Velasco has been exploring how the senses and the existent knowledge about them play a role and are applied in the development and design of packages.
In this presentation, Carlos Velasco explained how in the current experience of a client with a product/package goes hand in hand with previous perceptions and altogether impact considerations and decisions before, during, and after completing a purchase. This is what Velasco calls “the client’s journey”, an ensemble of experiences that, in hand, will determine future experiences.
And “experience” was the resounding word throughout Velasco’s talk, as its concrete explanation —which has been subject to debate amongst the research community— points to the connection a person makes with a certain event through the five senses or “the impression left on someone by an occurrence or event”, as he explained it in the EXPO PACK webinar.
In this client’s journey the contact points (such as a package) that the traveler establishes with a brand, along with the knowledge on its multisensorial properties, are the core elements in designing specific experiences.
Brands may set more than thirty contact points with their clients, including elements such as packaging, the environment, its websites, participation in trade fairs, public relations, and even word-of-mouth messaging; these serve as a stage on which to build client-product relationships that surpass the limits known up till now.
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Velasco has summarized this concept in his book Multisensory Experiences: Where the Senses Meet Technology, coauthored by Marianna Obrist and published last month by Oxford University Press, where he indicates that “multisensory experiences refer to the impressions created through specific events, whose sensory elements have been carefully crafted by someone. The senses are at the center of the formation of an impression.”
Creating Sensory Signatures
In the future, when more technologies come into play with the “client’s journey” and these become integrated with the consumer experience world, examples as those presented by Carlos Velasco during his talk will become increasingly widespread. These, along with several others, are included in his book Multisensory Packaging: Designing New Product Experiences, coauthored by Charles Spence and published in 2019.
During packaging’s long history, its essential purposes of protection and conservation have developed to include multisensory properties that push the level of experience of customers with brands far beyond. For example, a carton package of Coca-Cola allowed for its conversion into a virtual reality gadget to be used with smartphones.
The packaging for the popular soda Orangina resembles an orange peel, arranged in such a way that the consumer opens the bottle simulating the action of peeling the fruit, which creates the idea of naturalness and freshness of the beverage through a tactile sensation.
Sound, as an element of creation for a multisensory experience, was used by the Japanese beer Asahi for its premium class, after a thorough investigation throughout four European countries by Velasco revealing the association consumers make between a product’s high quality and loud and blunt sounds, as was demonstrated during the webinar. The use of these resources through packaging gains broader worldwide acceptance every day: “Currently, many brands are in pursuit of sensory signatures that are truly distinctive”, said Carlos Velasco as he illustrated his statement with the case of Snapple bottle caps, that have created a unique identity element within their category with their characteristic sound.
In 1915, Coca-Cola requested a bottle that was recognizable by the sound it made when breaking against the ground or while being touchedin the dark”, commented Velasco to further illustrate the sensory identity of packaging.
As a categorical example of the effect the sound of a word has on the quality perception of a product, a poll was conducted during the webinar asking attendees to choose in terms of creaminess between two similar ice-creams with names that differed only by the vowel used in their names. An overwhelming 82%, matching this result to those of previous studies, went for the option “Frosh”; this demonstrates that names assigned to brands have an impact on what the consumer expects from a product and on the easiness with which new brands’ experiences can be created (1).
The shape of given typography can also be associated to communicating taste properties of a product and become essential when it comes to generating expectations and experiences for costumers, just as spatial structures of the brand-name or a package. For products whose freshness depends on their prompt consumption, the transparency of their packaging is closely tied to this concept and to allowing the consumer to view directly the properties and quality of the product, as does the symmetry of elements printed on the packages.
Four Premises for the Creation of Multisensory Experiences
A theme emphasized by Velasco during his presentation was the one about the premises that must be present in the creation of multisensory experiences. The first one being the consideration that all the experiences we encounter on a day-to-day basis are essentially multisensorial. The second one is based on getting to understand the human senses and their interactions as a focal point of consumer experiences design. As a third premise, the inconvenience of stimulating most or all the consumer’s senses must be considered; in other words, what Velasco calls an emotional overload. The fourth and last premise states that “brands may capitalize on a better configuration of the information at hand and that can be manipulated to create a particular experience”, which the author highlighted citing studies he carried out in 2019 along with Charles Spence.
To underscore the validity of the first notion in the construction of multisensory experiences, a survey regarding the importance commonly placed on each one of the traditionally accepted senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch) was conducted during the webinar, as related to food and beverages. The results stated that hearing has a low index of appreciation among consumers in the context of experiences, a conception that Velasco refuted with practical examples showing how sensations as particular as temperature and sweet or sour tastes can be related through sounds.
On the other hand, the core importance of the know-how about the senses in the design of multisensory experiences was explained in accordance to the concepts of semantic congruence, crossmodal correspondence, and sensory overload and dominance, which are useful to packaging designers and CPGs in defining their product strategies.
The semantic congruence refers to how we relate the information we perceive through our senses as a function of clear meaning or identity; an example of this could be the image of a strawberry printed on an ice-cream container to manifest its flavor. In a less evident case, higher quality or lavishness can be associated with elements such as color or shine, for example.
Somehow a little more abstract relationships were framed under the category of crossmodal correspondence by Carlos Velasco. These appear when there is consonance among different senses, such as the relationship that may occur between sweetness when associated with round shapes, while sour is related to more angular ones; as with particular sounds, as Velasco demonstrated with a quick survey of the attendees he conducted during the webinar.
Lastly, sensory overload and dominance are concepts that need to be carefully considered in the design of multisensory experiences through packaging. The first one can be clearly illustrated with a compostable package of a renowned potato chips brand, which due to an elevated noise level of its multilayer structure (above 100 decibels) annulled the effects of other elements of its design and “completely ruined the consumer experience”, as explained by Velasco.
Along the “client’s journey”, all senses do not have equal importance… And this is where the concept of sensory dominance comes into play, which was explained during this EXPO PACK digital seminar through the shoes shopping example, where the appearance is initially privileged by the sense of sight and later gives way to the prevalence of the sensation received by the customer through the sense of touch.
The use of the possibilities offered by digital technologies is profoundly transforming the “client’s journey” and having a deep effect on the packaging world with widespread repercussions. The limits between reality and the virtual scene are fading and now we are hearing of a mixed reality that combines both environments opening the door to a vast field for the construction of new multisensory experiences. A clear example of this cohabitation can be seen in a supermarket, where through augmented reality a customer gains lengthier access to information about a product and can imagine the consumption experience even before purchasing it.
In an amazing display of the use of combined realities, Carlos Velasco described features of a project carried out with a coffee brand that handed out to its clients a simple cardboard device to visualize through virtual reality the surroundings in which its beans had been cultivated, sowed and processed, while they enjoyed a fresh cup. “This could be the future in which we connect packaging to experience”, said Carlos Velasco referring to this development. “We all live in a mixed reality, having broad access to smartphones, computers, tablets, and other digital devices that enhance our experiences”, he stated.
We all transit the “client’s journey” equipped with real and virtual elements that brand-owning companies and designers must learn to balance around experiences and thus reach preset strategic landmarks. Carlos Velasco ended his presentation of what nowadays is referred to as “digital multisensory marketing” with this idea.
A Constructed Future
Investigations in different disciplines, as well as the work of professionals in the fields of psychology and neuroscience, are essential to the development of multisensory experiences, in pursuit of a better understanding of the senses. Likewise, the involvement of marketing experts that can identify how consumption patterns function, as well as engineers and scientists who are able to develop new technologies facilitating the surge of new experiences, is indispensable.
Enabling communications between these actors is a task to which Carlos Velasco and his colleagues, Marianna Obrist and Charles Spence, have dedicated long years of their work, looking to integrate an understanding of multisensory processes regarding consumer knowledge with engineering and developing solutions to bring back to the context of consumption. With this fusion of know-how, “we could not only await the arrival of a new technology but probably influence the way in which it is developed, so the experiences we are searching for might be created”, stated Velasco summarizing the purpose of his work by the end of his presentation.
(1) Source: “Phonetic Effects of Brand Names on Consumer Judgements” by Eric Yorkson & Geeta Menon, 2003.
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