When considering a new hair salon, my first two questions are what kind of lighting does it have and what color are the walls? Oh, and then I consider the stylists’ abilities.
The problem is the bully in my brain; she feeds on long exposure to mirrors. In a salon with fluorescent lighting and purple walls, she’ll throw jabs like I guess your eyebrows are possessed by demons today or better call The Hunchback of Notre Dame to see if he wants his knobby knees back. On the other hand, in a salon with soft lighting and a color scheme that complements my skin tone, my brain bully is pacified and quiet. Thanks to the effect their thoughtful environment had on my experience, I’ll return for peace of mind alone.
The study of sensory marketing is the intersection of branding and interior design. Jupiter branding consultant Cheryl Baldwin explains, “to me, walking into the lobby of a business is the first experience with their brand. Is the furniture dated or fresh? What feelings does the color palette invoke? Does the space make me feel excited, relaxed or a little sad? Like most things in life, our first impressions are so important to our brand, and everything associated with the brand needs to reflect who we are.”
Recent research only amplifies Cheryl’s outlook. According to a 2009 study1, “When consumers are affected by sensory stimuli, their loyalty to a business increases, their relationships with the business strengthen and the bond between a consumer and a business tightens.” Friend, if your business has a foyer or lobby, it’s time to think about how you’re engaging clients’ senses in those first crucial minutes.
We’re all familiar with the old realtor’s trick of baking cookies prior to an open house, but here’s one you may not be familiar with. Dunkin Donuts3 installed scent atomizers in South Korean public buses, which released a coffee scent every time their jingle played. Remarkably, foot traffic at bus stop-adjacent locations increased by 16%, with sales increasing by 29%.
There’s a condo building on Jupiter Island which shall remain nameless here, but let’s stipulate that its common areas are 80s-fabulous and almost every apartment needs significant renovation. Management needs to attract youngish, seasonal residents who are in the market for a beach pad and have the resources to renovate. Though the lobby’s aesthetics haven’t changed in two decades, its manager has installed a silky beach scent in the lobby. This fragrance has such effect on me that I never fail to leave with sun-soaked notions in mind, indicating that they’ve successfully affected my behavior and memory.
Your lobby scent should target your clientele and the experience you intend to create for them. For example, studies show that a cinnamon scent makes us feel warmer, and the feeling of warmth subconsciously encourages people to group together. If your business strives to create community, cinnamon is a fragrant tone you might introduce. The smell of leather and wood remind us of wealth and luxury, great for banks, law firms and businesses focused on luxury. And so on, and so on.
Cards on the table. I have no use for “corporate art,” which I loosely define as the personality-devoid junk businesses hang on their walls when their main objective is to “get something on the wall that doesn’t offend anyone.” Yuck. No. Stop. The bare wall was better.
I know choosing art is the last thing business owners want to deal with, but if you can tell me why your business is different than the guy down the street, you’re only one step away from telling that story through visual clues. Your employees are the foundation of your success? Bam! photos of them at work and play. You have a unique product? Bam! oversized copies of your patent. Your background is unique? Bam! mementos of your life experiences.
I admit choosing interior colors can be daunting, but here are just a few things to consider:
1, How are you incorporating or highlighting your logo and branding colors in your lobby?
2, Consider the emotions you are trying to evoke, and read up on the basics of color theory.
3, When all else fails, choose a bold accent color and balance it against a field of neutrals.
All the art and color schemes in the world are useless without good lighting. If I were to justify giving attention to lighting temperature in just one sentence, I’d tell you that yellow lighting creates dramatic effect, natural or daylighting promotes comfort and relaxation, white lighting provides superior color rendering, and blue lighting improves alertness. That’s a huge oversimplification, but it demonstrates that for every type of lighting, there is a place and time. Lighting designers are a wonderful investment. If that isn’t in your budget, try visiting a lighting supplier, preferably a distributor of brand names such as Lutron, Cooper and Elite. Talk to them about the concerns you’d like to address, the budget you’ve assigned to the problem, and let them guide you toward possible solutions.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention wayfinding. Look, great signage is expensive. It’s also vital to the success of your space. If the first emotion I experience when stepping foot in your space is frustration, you’ve downgraded an opportunity without uttering a word. Create a sense of security and safety by providing enough visual clues to point people in the right direction. It’s even more important than the artwork.
I am an enthusiastic proponent of installing many contrasting, “pettable” textures in common areas. I wrote an entire blog post on the topic and could probably write three more. When a person uses their fingertips to trace the shape of an interesting door pull, brushes against an unexpected countertop texture or is compelled to caress the walls of an elevator, memories are created. Memories translate to experiential recall, brand loyalty and increased profit.
Interior designers have long preached the power of memory points for resale value. Rather than make a home completely neutral in the hopes of attracting every buyer, we encourage clients to create memory points. When Mr. and Mrs. Jones return home after viewing five very similar properties, we’d like them to muse remember the one with the crazy kitchen faucet? or remember the one with creeping ivy by the front door? The secret to these memory points is that they must engage the senses. If Mrs. Jones was compelled to run her hand over the faucet, or Mr. Jones brushed against ivy and felt the tickle of its leaves, memories were written and recall was born.
More texture pointers in this blog post.
There is a clothing store in the Palm Beach mall which shall rename… ah heck, it’s Express. The loud club music they pipe in is probably “hip” to younger ears, but one Christmas season the racket literally drove me from their store. Two days later I found myself in a Wisconsin mall, where I entered another Express and purchased several items. The only difference was the Wisconsin outlet’s gentle pop music. You might attribute my behaviors to a case of get off my yard-itis, but studies point to my experience being true of most shoppers. Good, lyrical music at reasonable volumes compels us to stay longer and spend more.
For a time, soundscape companies like Muzak had retailers convinced that light pop tunes with an abundance of synthesized strings would keep customers docile as they waited (on the phone, in the elevator, on a train platform). Now we have at least one study2 saying their tactic has backfired, as a large percentage of the public learned to associate those soundscapes with complaining, waiting, and irritation.
Instead of playing music our employees dig – or God forbid, easy listening soundscapes just to fill the vacuum – businesses should define their ideal client and the experience they’re creating. Which genre, tempo and volume are likely to aid in that endeavor?
My parents were big proponents of the clean-your-plate club, a real drag at family gatherings, which tended to feature dishes like creamed rutabaga and roast pheasant. When I was quite young, my Grandpa Charlie became ill and took to monitoring dinnertime conversations from the comfort of his nearby recliner. From there, he would beckon his grandkids to come sit with him, knowing full well he would not be denied by the responsible adults in the room. I remember gleefully abandoning my plate, piled high with stuff I wouldn’t even feed the dog, to climb up on Grandpa’s lap. Without fail, he would quietly pull his candy jar full of Runts over and offer me my choice of bananas, oranges or apples. Thirty years later, the minute I pop a tart candy in my mouth I’m transported back to those family dinners. Strangely enough, Runts are one of the most tangible memories I have of my grandfather.
[Author’s Note: Be thankful I told you the Grandpa Charlie story to illustrate the power of taste recall. I could have gone with my Sour Apple Pucker tale, and you would never forgive me.]
Taste is certainly a more challenging sense to incorporate in your lobby, but it can be done, and perhaps because it’s so commonly overlooked, a taste experience can be that much more memorable. Think of the car dealership that offers fresh popcorn, the mint your bank teller never forgets, or the cucumber water at your nail salon. Get creative. Put on your hospitality cap and create a distinct memory by way of taste buds.
I hope you’ll find ways to incorporate all the senses in your visitors’ experiences in your welcoming space. If you’re in need of a boost to your branding package, I cannot recommend Cheryl Baldwin at Sweet Boo Design enough. Whether you put Speak Easy Designs or your cousin Sal in charge of crafting your interiors, make sure their designs incorporate your branding package and involve all five senses. Best of luck. I’ll see/smell/talk to you later!
1: Suhonen,T. & Tengvall, J. (2009). “Branding in the air: A study about the impact of sensory marketing.” (Unpublished Master’s Thesis). Jönköping International Business School, Jönköping University.
2: Niven, K. (2014). “Can music with prosocial lyrics heal the working world? A field intervention in a call center.” Journal of Applied Social Psychology, vol. 45, no. 3, March 2015, pp. 132-138. Wiley Online Library, https://doi.org/10.1111/jasp.12282.
3: Tam, B. (2012). “Scent of Coffee on Seoul Buses: What’s the Marketing Secret?” CNBC.com, 15 Aug 2012, www.cnbc.com/id/48676703. Accessed 9 April 2018.
4: Hyken, S. (2017). “Three Ways To Create An Engaging Customer Experience That Drives Sales.” Forbes.com, 11 Feb., 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/shephyken/2017/02/11/three-ways-to-create-an-engaging-customer-experience-that-drives-sales/#2f1671ec296f