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Designing Multi-Sensory Experiences for Your Brand Activation

5 Mins read

Has a whiff of someone’s perfume ever carried you back to memories of her? When that one particular song comes on over the radio, what scene do you suddenly relive? What dish magically transports you to past golden hours? By appealing to consumers’ five senses, your brand can tap into their emotions while creating connections with your brand. That’s why it’s important to design activation events — such as pop-up shops and booths at festivals — with these senses in mind.

The power of hearing

Your business’s pitch itself falls within the realm of hearing. In my experience, these pitches shouldn’t be salesy. Rather, craft your pitch to focus on the value you offer. How is your product or service going to make people’s lives better? Will it solve a common problem they have? Will it make things easier, less expensive, or more efficient? Why are you the best source, rather than one of your competitors? Make sure that your pitch goes straight to these insights without delay.

There are other ways to incorporate hearing into your brand activation event, however. For travel agencies, it’s fun to have a wave machine going in the background. Light, upbeat music is a great way to set a positive tone, just so long as it isn’t too loud. The whole point is to have conversations with people, so anything that would make you raise your voice to be heard isn’t a good idea. For similar reasons, avoid setting up shop too close to live music.

Seeing is desiring

Brand activations should also have a visual component. Ensure your brand’s presence is clear and appealing with large, easy-to-read branding on your tend, table cloth or skirt, or banners. This is a great chance to get your name and logo in front of eyeballs, so use it.

Go for attractive, attention-grabbing colors or classic black and white. Whatever colors you use, however, they should align with your brand identity.

Other ways to incorporate this sense into your event include photos, such as before-and-after shots, pictures of happy former customers and reviewers, and slideshows. Photographs and videos work particularly well for travel agencies and local businesses in the travel, tourism, and hospitality industries. These visual images help people project themselves into the proposed destination or activity, heightening their interest and desire. For businesses related to travel, bringing in some fake palm trees can also help people get into the mood.

In addition, charts, graphs, and diagrams work particularly well to translate complex ideas or data into a simple form. This can go a long way to helping people seize your value proposition quickly.

Some brand activations even employ augmented reality (AR), which uses digital elements to enhance the real-world experience. For instance, prospective customers could be given a tablet that triggers sights, sounds, and interactive activities when they scan particular locations throughout the space. Engaging with the content this way can help draw people in, literally making them feel absorbed. Be forewarned that this approach can be costly, however.

Something people shouldn’t see at your event, however, is clutter. Keep the area free from any kind of mess.

The human touch

Handshakes can be a subtle, natural way of introducing the element of touch and establishing a human connection.

In addition, offering free merchandise allows you to tap into the power of touch. Personally, I like to give away stress balls with the company’s logo on it. This works particularly well for travel agencies, spas, and wellness companies — any venture that helps people destress or feel more relaxed. Other small items to give away include smartphone popsockets, sunglasses, and pens.

Similarly, if you make bath and beauty products like lotions or creams, it’s a good idea to have a tester ready. Make sure it’s already open — most passersby won’t want to be the first and open it themselves. Also, make sure sampling is voluntary. Nobody likes the guy at the department store in the mall who goes around spraying perfume at them.

The taste of success

If your business makes food or beverages, it’s easy to offer free samples. All you have to do is ensure they’re presented in a way that customers feel safe in our post-Covid world. Indeed, businesses of all kinds can offer snacks. A local vacation company could offer pineapple candies or coconut mints, for instance.

An added benefit to offering snacks is that it gives people a boost. People who are hungry and irritable become calmer, and their mood improves. This makes for more productive conversations.

Snacks are also a great way to keep kids busy so that brand ambassadors can engage their parents in conversation. In addition, I recommend having coloring books and crayons or other fun distractions on hand for kids. The important thing is to find natural ways to deflect children so you can have a productive dialogue with the actual decision-makers in the family.

Unlocking the secrets of smells

For some types of companies, like food companies or florists, smell is easy. Real estate agents are also famous for relying on the smell of cookies baking in the oven. For other types of businesses, however, it can be more challenging. 

The most important thing is to avoid unpleasant odors, since these trigger feelings of disgust. If the stink cannot be eliminated in a given spot, then you will need to choose a different one. This may require you to be flexible and change your plans at the last minute, but getting away from a negative atmosphere is a must.

To inject pleasant odors, set up an essential oil diffuser or spray air freshener. A local travel agency could use the smell of mango or other tropical scents, for instance. A jewelry company might suggest romance with a sophisticated perfume.

Final considerations

While designing the sensory experiences of your event, don’t assume the venue will provide electricity or strong Wi-Fi. In my experience, it’s better to be completely self-sufficient. This may mean renting a generator — the quieter, the better — or purchasing a hotspot.

In addition, be prepared for accidents to happen and things to break. That’s why I like to have a toolbox, duct tape, paper, markers, and a First-Aid kit on hand.

If you follow these tips and display a little ingenuity, however, your event will capture people’s attention and forge meaningful connections. Propel your business to whole new heights through the five senses.

Ray Sheehan is the Founder of Old City Media, a North American event production and experiential marketing agency. He has a background in strategic planning, marketing, event management, and advertising and has helped the company expand from one city to over twenty states. Before this role, Ray partnered with, a production company in Philadelphia, and worked for 20th Century FOX. He oversaw all aspects of the business and produced a nationally syndicated television show for FOX. In 2020, he launched the G.I.F.T Program as part of Old City Media. Ray is recognized as a leader in the special events industry and an innovative thinker in the Philadelphia community and beyond.

Brand stock image by batjaket/Shutterstock

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