Designing Emotional Sensory Experiences

What is Experience Design?

Experience Design is about interacting your brand (event, company, product) with your consumer, allowing your brand to come alive for them.

This creates a fresh connection between brand and consumer, in their personal world.

These connections should be formed by experiences that are personally relevant to the consumer. It should be memorable for them, it should be interactive, and it should invoke emotion.

The 3 Stages of an Experience

  1. Experience/Encoding – This is the stage where your consumer interacts with the brand message. During this stage your memory begins to encode the information it is receiving.
  2. Memory/Storage – This is the stage where your consumer’s brain decides if the message is worthy of long or short-term memory. This is the most important stage. If your message is not strong enough, the consumer’s brain will process it as short-term memory and the message will never reach the next stage, also known as forgetting.
  3. Recall/Retrieval – This is the stage where your consumer retrieves or remembers the message over time.


The 5 Senses

Your 5 senses can aid in the process of creating long-term memory. Your senses, also referred to as “Receptors” are sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Although all people have a dominant sense, the most common receptors you’ll be focusing on are sight and sound.

Once your receptors capture an experience, the experience goes through the quick process of sensory memory. Sensory memory is a hub. It cannot hold memory for more than a couple seconds. It decides what gets thrown out and what moves on.

It is at this point that your brain filters out weak sensory experiences into short-term memory, and strong sensory experiences into long-term memory. The more receptors an experience can activate, the more likely the experience will be filtered into long-term memory.

Emotion is Key

Emotion is a key component to create a memorable experience. The formation of emotional memories  occurs in a small section of your brain called the Amygdala. The Amygdala is part of the process of consolidating information into long-term memory.

The first stage of memory is encoding, when a stimulus is encountered for the first time. By influencing perception and attention, the Amygdala can alter the encoding of episodic memory, such that emotional events receive priority.

Combining Sensory Experience with Emotions

Both your senses and emotions carry a lot of weight when encoding memory. If you can create an experience that also triggers an emotion you are guaranteed to have a higher rate of recall. Sight and sound are the senses most likely to trigger an emotional response, which is why commercials are so successful. If you heard Sarah McLachlan’s song “Angel” on the radio, there’s a good chance that you’re going to think about the animals from the SPCA commercial. This is sensory recall, and what we all aim for when creating a message for our consumers.

Recall: The Subconscious Mind

Sensory marketing can be used to create subconscious triggers that characterize consumer perception of abstract notions of the product.

During recall, the brain “replays” a pattern of neural activity that was originally generated in response to a particular event, echoing the brain’s perception of the real event.

Memory retrieval therefore requires re-visiting the nerve pathways the brain formed when encoding the memory, and the strength of those pathways determines how quickly the memory can be recalled.

Measuring the ROI of an Experience

The ROI of an experience can be measured by 5 different levels. Your ultimate goal is to reach level 5, advocacy.

  • Level 1: Awareness
    • Number of people exposed
    • Increase in recall and understanding
  • Level 2: Consideration
    • Increase in reported “fit” with beliefs and actions
    • Change in perception
  • Level 3: Preference
    • Increase in perceived relevance
    • Agreement with messaging
    • Positive differentiation
    • Intent to purchase
  • Level 4: Commitment
    • Increase in aligned attitudes and behaviors
    • Intent to learn more about the brand
    • Increase in belief, trust
    • Purchase
  • Level 5: Advocacy
    • Positive word of mouth recommendation
    • Number of advocates
    • Number of people acting on recommendations
    • Net promoter score

A strong brand message paired with an emotional sensory experience with produce more level 3 and above reactions from your attendees. These experiences can be produced before, during, and after an event.

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