Books: The marque as a five-way, multi-sensory experience

Too much and yet not enough ... this book on the art of branding is breezily written and offers quirky facts, says Robert Jones, but is jargon-heavy and silent on strategy.

by Robert Jones
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010


Martin Lindstrom

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The subtitle of Brand Sense tells you all you need to know: 'How to build powerful brands through touch, taste, smell, sight and sound'.

Martin Lindstrom argues that 'sensory branding' is the next big thing, but so overstates the case that Brand Sense quickly turns into brand nonsense.

His hero brands include Singapore Airlines, which, he says, has created a 'sensory brand experience' around the way the Singapore Girl looks, moves and talks. Lindstrom also admires Apple, Disney and Mercedes-Benz for their multi-sensory experiences.

His villains include Ikea, Motorola and Virgin, which, he claims, fail to create sensory worlds - though the blue and yellow logos, the Swedish meatballs and the crush of the checkout queue are, to me, instantly evocative of Ikea. You can see Lindstrom's point. If your brand hits more than one of your customers' senses, it will probably register more strongly.

The book is breezily written and easy to read, with useful chapter summaries and action lists. And Lindstrom is an engaging guide through the material, with a keen interest in quirky facts and stories. I didn't know, for example, that in Japan, young men with smelly armpits are disqualified from military service. Or, indeed, that 'new car' smells are sprayed into cars.

But this book is too much. To start with, it's too long: to fill out the pages, we get a lot of repetition. Towards the end, Lindstrom seems to run out of things to say and devotes a whole chapter to the notion that branding is similar to religion - an old and deeply suspect thought.

And the argument is hugely overstated. Yes, it makes sense for Daimler Chrysler to perfect the clunk when you close the car door, or for Bang & Olufsen to think carefully about the weight of its remote controls. But this is not the start of a new era for branding.

And trying to be multi-sensory doesn't always make sense. It wouldn't help a bank, for example, to develop a characteristic bank flavour. Online retailers manage very happily with just sight and (sometimes) sound. Indeed, plenty of good communication operates on only one sensory plane; think of books, for example (including, ironically, Brand Sense itself).

The book also has too much management gadgetry. Lindstrom claims that branding has passed from the USP (unique selling proposition) through ESP, OSP, BSP and MSP (don't ask) to 'an even more sophisticated realm' called HSP, the 'holistic selling proposition'. How can this kind of jargon overload help anyone?

As in most business books, there are six steps to success, starting with an audit and ending with an evaluation, and with a barrage of mumbo-jumbo along the way - brand dramatisations, brand signatures, sensory synergies.

'Is it part of a RECITAL?' Lindstrom breathlessly and mystifyingly asks at one point.

You end up wondering if it's worthwhile. Who wants all five senses systematically triggered by big brand owners? Who wants the totally controlled environments this book imagines? Who wants its carefully constructed version of 'authenticity'?

Who wants this fanatical brand-as-religion world?

If the book is too much, it's also too little. There's nothing about business strategy or commercial goals. Lindstrom describes Orange as a company that 'decided to position itself between red and yellow on the color wheel', but there was a bit more to the company's success than that.

At one point, he talks about the need for reinvention. 'Brands will have to stand out, assert uniqueness, and establish identity as never before,' he says. True, but this must be at the level of reality, not just senses and sensations.

Organisations will need to create products and services that are actually useful, that meet needs we may not yet have articulated. That's how their profits and their value will grow. And if they smell nice, well, that's an extra.

- Robert Jones is head of consulting at Wolff Olins and author of The Big Idea (Profile Books, £7.99).

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