Can you wake the emotions of your customers in the online environment?

In the current online environment, visual sensory is mostly used to engage with customers’ emotions, however, new technologies are being introduced to create a more alluring online experience. As the use of interactive technologies evolves, marketers are able to differentiate themselves by creating more engaging, immersive and informative marketplaces.

When people encounter stimulation e.g. from a product in the offline world, the brain perceives information and integrates them into multisensory representations, like texture or sound to store them in our memory. This is resulting in a strong connection between the product image and its multisensory depictions, which later can trigger spontaneous perceptual re-enactments (a form of mental imagery). In the online environment, when consumers see an image of the product, they will associate it with their multisensory representations, automatically. More specifically, this means that when customers observe product-related images on websites, sensory expectations might be defined and e.g. the need for touch is offset. Other sensory inputs like sound can act the same way, for example, the use of sound to induce virtual sensation.

According to this theory, marketers can create and display images of food in a way that they stimulate mental images of its texture, smell and even flavour. By activating the customers’ senses, the evaluation of the product can be enhanced. Furthermore, introducing dynamic images or mental simulations by changing the perspective from where the product is viewed can make the product evaluation more immersive, even though only viewing the images on the screen. 3D images can create such a simulation too, when the customer can interact with the product, by dragging, rotating, zooming in or out – this results in more vivid mental images of interaction in the mind.

As specific consumers feel an unconscious need for touch before making the decision of buying a product, the haptic sensory (texture, weight, temperature) plays an important role in online environments. Depending strongly on the product type, differentiating between touchscreens and mice can be key. Direct touch effects, like pinching and scrunching materials, are to enhance interaction, thus results in higher user engagement.

When it comes to customers’ attention online, ensuring congruency between visual product features and other sensory attributes will make the product stand out. A significant product feature, like lightweight, can be expressed by presenting the object in light colours on the upper part of visual fields. Semantic congruency can also affect visual search. Customers find products easier in the online environment when the colour of the packaging can be associated with e.g. the taste of the product. Since these cross-modal associations can be culturally determined, visual and audio features should be adapted to targeted customer groups.

Mediating consumer experience excellently, through multisensory inputs is key to successful online engagement. Atmospherics created by sensory indications (colour, lighting, placement, music, etc.) have been shown to influence the behaviour of customers through their emotional reactions. Besides, with the help of multisensory information consumers become more confident in their choices, consequently, it increases the likelihood of them buying a product.

Therefore, the answer to the question of whether marketers can engage with consumers’ senses in the online world, is a strong YES. Not only it is possible, but it is now a necessity for them to stand out in the crowded space of online retailers.

Finding the right balance of using different multisensory information is challenging for any passionate marketer. Proven methods depending on the product, service, and environment have been developed and tested in diverse scenarios.

Do you want to be a part of defining the future of digital sensory marketing together?


Christina Hoffmann


Reference: O. Petita, C. Velascob, Ch. Spence (2018): Digital Sensory Marketing: Integrating New Technologies Into Multisensory Online Experience