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Sensory Cues Can Bring Others Closer

Give customers the bragging rights that spur them to tell others about their experience at your place or event.  I wondered. Was it the butterscotch-colored walls, light coconut scent wafting through the door as I opened it or the cushy island of deep blue carpet under my feet as I stepped into the boutique hotel?

I don’t know yet I instinctively sighed with relief. And that was before I saw the the smiling doorman walking towards me, saying, “We’re glad that you’re safely out of that storm. Let me help you with your coat, if you like, and your bag.”

The lobby was light with the soft, full-spectrum lights that store make-up counters have, making us all look and feel our best.

Hint: Positive sensory cues multiple their emotional effect when we feel more than one at once or in quick succession.

In fact, without my knowing it at the time, that doorman looked more handsome and caring than I would have experienced him if the entry to that hotel had shiny metal railings, an elaborately patterned carpet and/or a dark colored wall. Further, since the “closing scene” when I left the hotel the next morning was as a positive as the opening scene, I tended to forget the slow room service or  cramped bathroom, according to research on the power of the sequence of events within an experience – from a vacation to a colonscopy.

That’s why it behooves anyone who wants their guests, customers, conference attendees or families at home to feel welcome, brag about their experience and act nicely to storyboard the sequence of multi-sensory experiences that those they serve or love experience in their “place.”

Even apparently small physical experiences make a big emotional and even learning difference. Adapt these multi-sensory cues to emotionally engage with others:

1. Children “are better at math when using their hands while thinking,” found to Josh Ackerman, a MIT psychologist. Further, the weight, texture and hardness of objects we touch affects our opinion of the people and the situation.

2. Actors recall lines better when moving and we remember more when walking, gesturing, eating or physically working on something.

3. “People are more generous after holding a warm cup of coffee and more callous after hold a cold drink,” discovered Yale University psychologist John Bargh.

4. Patterns, whether on the walls or floor or upper part of one’s clothing, break up the observers’ attention span and, like ambient noise in a room from the heating or air conditioning system, make us more agitated and inclined to become irritated by each other’s behavior.

5. Scent is the most directly emotional sense and thus a two-edge sword. If the evoked memory is positive it hits deeply and, if not….well, we are more likely to project bad characteristics on the scene and individuals around us.

6. Enable people to engage in the scenes or objects around them and gain bragging rights as a consequence. Have a “What’s next for you?” sign on a large bowl of positive sayings or fortunes near places where they must wait or pause, such as check-in areas.  Staff can encourage them to read theirs aloud. (The more actions we take on behalf of something the more deeply they believe in it, identify with it and will share it with others.)

7. Encourage colleagues to stand and walk side-by-side with those you serve this “sidling” is more likely to evoke a convivial  “us” feeling.

8. Create a story about your regionplaceinteractive object or monument or event, hopefully involving humorous, heroic or otherwise emotional incidents andindividuals, where you can invite those you serve to become a part of that story, as Peter Gruber suggests.

They may become a part  of “our” story when they can participate your custom ritual, receive your souvenir as a gift, eat the snack that’s part of the story or you take a photo of them in front of the scene on the wall that represents a highlight of our story – and email it to them after they leave.

9. Continue to keep them involved with “our story.” Use geosocial apps that enable them to connect with each other – and your staff – as they walk through your store, hotel, hospital, sports arena or event. That’s what DoubleDutch did for TED conference attendees. And use augmented reality apps, as in Tuscany, yet to enable people to discover more about your area, place or meeting.

What multi-sensory cues have you used to involve people in your place, event or other experience?  Also share your favorite cues to bring us closer via Twitter. I am @kareanderson.

Categories: behavior, Co-Create and tagged , , , , .
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  1. Posted January 2, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    Fascinating insights Kare. Not sure I have a favorite cue. Perhaps its a cue to get more physical… to mix online & offline work, assuming offline integrates a different mind/tool set. Your post reminded of something I read in the Walter Murch (Hollywood film editor) bio, In the Blink of an Eye, in which he said he liked working standing up, putting his monitors at eye height… he says it gave him a whole body (multi-sensory) experience.

  2. Posted January 8, 2012 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    You named my top cue for 2012 Ben — more in-person time sharing adventures — from taking a walk/talk to dining and discussing a fascinating lecture or class with others, that’s for me this year — and it would be great if part of that was finally meeting you in person up there in Victoria, or here in Sausalito.

    And I am going to look up Murch, as that makes intuitive sense. I recall friends who are architects doing that.

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