The importance of maintaining sensory brand guidelines

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May 15, 2015

by Luisa Robertson



The vast majority of brand owners will have clear guidelines for their brands in terms of both the values it is or should be associated with and its visual identity. These guidelines are essential for both internal and external purposes – to drive a common focus in brand maintenance and development, to ensure recognisability and ultimately to drive a strong relationship with end consumers.

Luisa Robertson


With successful brands, these guidelines will help guarantee consistency of message - through press or TV communications, but also through social media conversations.  Consistency is important to help build and reinforce brand engagement.  Alignment of language, tone and visual cues across all touch points will help your brand to stand for something which will in turn encourage a sense of connection with consumers.

As well as the longer term benefits of building loyalty, consistent brand guidelines have a more immediate value in terms of shortcutting mental processes – communicating with consumers on a deeper level by driving immediate recognition.  This is clearly important in store, where shoppers have to deselect before they select, to cope with the wealth of choice.  Where brand values and identity are apparent through the packaging design, and aligned with ATL communications, your pack is working to reinforce your marketing messages with very little conscious processing required, thus allowing you to get more impact from your marketing budget. 

Ehrenberg-Bass quite rightly talked about the importance of recognising your brands Distinctive Assets. Knowing what your brand stands for and what aspects of your branding communicate this position are important first steps in terms of being able to protect and promote it.

Unfortunately, too often brand guidelines are owned wholly by brand owners and marketing teams and the principles are not applied as effectively to other essential components of the brand – for example the product itself.  The sensorial characteristics of the product and indeed packaging can work harder to improve the consumer experience and ultimately drive loyalty.  Ensuring that a product lives up to expectations is more than it being liked as much – the physical properties can trigger deeply held conceptual associations around the benefits it offers both from a functional and more emotive perspective.  For example our research has shown that a lemon fragrance in a shampoo promotes a feeling of clean more so than a floral fragrance despite the actual product benefits being equal1.  So understanding what the sensorial properties of your product are communicating is key to delivering true alignment with your brand promise.  Recognising your sensory brand assets (or sensory signature) is vital to ensure that any product changes (be it cost cutting, a supply change or quality improvement) do not impede the ability of your product to reinforce (or at least live up to) your brand positioning.  On the flip side, your product might be communicating benefits which are not currently strongly associated with your brand thus representing an opportunity to change perceptions through your comms and brand imagery to better reflect the product experience.

Ultimately, sensory branding can help to take the guess work out of new product development – at the most basic level if you know the position you are aiming for and the consumer need you are satisfying, then consumer input can be used to shape a product brief where the sensory profile actively meets these criterion.

My key advice is to stop thinking about brand and product in isolation – it’s when all aspects of the proposition are perfectly aligned that the magic happens.

1The cross-modal effect of fragrance in shampoo: Modifying the perceived feel of both product and hair during and after washing – Food Quality and Preference, Volume 20, Issue 4