Why your experiential marketing efforts need to activate all 5 senses

In the modern consumer environment, it is more difficult than ever to grab audiences’ attention and make a lasting impression. This challenge is no more apparent than in experiential marketing.

It’s not that attention spans are declining, as such. It’s been widely reported that the average attention span is down from 12 seconds in the year 2000 to eight seconds now. But these stats aren’t entirely verifiable. There isn’t an ‘average attention span’ to begin with. Attention, it turns out, is task-dependent. How much we focus on something depends on how demanding that something is.

Listening to a lecture or watching a film are passive activities that only involve one or two senses, so their creators need to make them more demanding. That’s why faster, busier slides and shorter shot lengths have become popular in recent years. Likewise, social media isn’t making attention spans shorter – it’s just well constructed, presenting low-demand micro-tasks that deliver rewarding dopamine hits in quick succession.

In other words, it’s not that we’re paying less attention – it’s that the science of attention is better understood, and creators are better able to deliver engaging experiences.

Experiential marketing is well positioned to make the most of this latest research. It can activate and engage all five senses, compared to only one or two in conventional marketing activities. When done well, this means people focus more and for longer, and become more receptive to messaging. Fit them all together well and you can create an attention-grabbing, memory-making marketing experience.


Sight is the dominant human sense: the one we rely on most to navigate and understand the world. We say “I see what you mean”, “things to see” and “seeing is believing” for a reason. Sight’s the initial hook, the first sense your field marketing will activate, opening up the customer for the rest of the show.

Activating sight is all about providing cues, standing out from the visual noise around you. Do you use photography on the stand – and if so, how do your images disrupt the surrounding environment? This doesn’t mean being bold and clashing – sometimes a restful, natural image amongst the chaos of branding and packaging can catch the eye.

Colour vocabulary is a factor: the colours you choose either present positive or negative statements about your brand and business. Emotional, extroverted yellows are powerful for creative businesses, but if your selling point is knowledge and rationality, intellectual blues will serve you better.

Finally, think about location and shareability. People see things and they want to share them – the easiest social media activity is the quick snap or selfie that’s on Twitter or Instagram in seconds. Look for ways to frame those shots – angles from which to approach your stand or event that cry out for a photo.


While sight is a trigger for understanding, sound is a trigger for memory. The hippocampus – the part of the brain which recalls episodic events in our lives – uses sound triggers to contextualise and sort those memories.

Music is especially powerful here: drawing on the familiarity of songs and their cultural associations is one of the oldest and most potent tools in the advertiser’s box. Songs can be recalled involuntarily, suggesting this familiarity is a two-way street: the sight of a brand triggers the memory of its music and advertising, evoking an existing relationship between brand and customer.

five senses garden Israel Holon

Senses and sensibility: The five senses garden in Holon, Israel

If you have the luxury of an installation – a space to call your own for the duration of your event – this is a powerful way to build focus. In-store events have to stay quieter, but there’s nothing to say you can’t alter the soundscape around your stand in a more subtle way.

Sound also alters the effectiveness of our other senses. Research from Oxford University indicates that higher musical notes are associated with sweet tastes and lower ones with bitter.  So, if you’re running a field tasting session, curating the soundscape is vital – a gentle musical cue on the edge of hearing makes sure people hear things that bring out the right flavours.

Smell and taste

Smell is the basis for our most significant memories. Our early smell experiences create associations with events, which come to mind when we encounter the smell again. The ability to smell different things is dependent on our early experiences, and it takes time for us to overcome this early conditioning and learn to smell different things

Long-term scent memories also modify how other odours are perceived. That’s the scientific basis for ‘acquired tastes’: repeated sensory experience with a flavour or aroma changing our attitudes towards it.

Smell and taste are part of the same system, and what appeals to one is drawing on the other. Scents prime visitors for a taste experience – and the simple change in what can be smelled around a retail or exhibition space suggests that visitors are about to experience something different. It’s the same principle as the signature fragrances in hotel air conditioning, or the use of fresh bread smells to attract customers into a location.


Sight may be our dominant sense, but touch is the first one we develop, and it’s the sense which communicates compassion and interest – that’s why shaking hands is a powerful introduction.

Touch also makes experiences concrete: VR didn’t feel real until haptic feedback was introduced, appealing to the sense of touch to give some weight and presence to what users saw and heard.

If you can offer something hands-on that’s relevant to your brand, do so: it’ll ground everything else you’re offering in something concrete. Think about what visitors can do with their hands. Touchscreens to hand over their data, if you’re collecting it. Interesting packaging that they want to handle: an opportunity to touch the merchandise is unusual and attractive. On a more subtle level, consider the ambient temperature – if your stand’s a cooler place on a hot day, the immediate refreshment creates a positive sensation of relief.

Why does all this matter?

At the bottom line, we’re trying to create a positive, memorable experience.

The senses have a direct impact on our memory. Smells are the foundation of our preferences; sounds tie our experiences together; sight is how we make sense of the world, and touch is what makes our experiences feel real. Get all that right, and you can’t help but leave a great taste in customer’s mouths. By delivering the complete five-sense package, we leave lasting impressions with consumers – and those are vital for brand loyalty.

That’s how we do what we do. To find out how well we do it, take a look here.


Image credit:

Wikimedia Commons (CC), Senses garden in Holon