Customer experience can be as simple as a coffee cup

by Guest Contributor Graham Staplehurst | March 04, 2020

Author: Graham Staplehurst

Graham Staplehurst
Global Strategy Director, BrandZ

On a recent flight with British Airways, my attention was drawn to the sensation of touch. Running my fingers over the vertical waves on the side of my coffee cup brought me back to myself from the zombie-like soporific state that long distance flying induces. This is a designed experience that puts the customer in the centre.


The sensation started me thinking. Previously, coffee cups on airplanes were plain and dull. Some shaped only to facilitate stacking economically in tiny stowages. Others attempting to convey an abstract impression of high life sophistication. This coffee cup brought me back to life through being more than just a vessel for much-needed caffeine.

Customer experience is now a frequently discussed topic among marketers. Marketing expenditure on customer experience has significantly increased over recent years, with a focus on aspects like staff training, chatbots, VR and AR. But a brand is delivered through a series of sensory experiences. The possibilities this presents to create and embed positive brand memories is tremendous. Personally-lived experiences are the strongest. Brand developers should consider how the brand will touch consumers: touching them physically through all the senses, and through this touching them emotionally. Brands must put themselves in the position of a user or consumer to design every aspect of the experience. The use of colour and shape. The choice of texture and weight. The selection of materials and how they sound or fit to the hand. The associations of a font or the spatial relationship of visual components on a pack or in a store.

We regularly think about the five main senses that we all know: sight, taste, sound, touch and smell. Academics describe many more – there are 21 commonly cited, such as temperature, pain, pressure, gravity, balance and proprioception (self-awareness). Human bodies are amazing in their perceptual capacity, so it’s valuable to think about all these areas. Overall, delivering the right sensory experience creates a ‘feeling of rightness’ which reinforces a brand choice. That feeling of rightness is a Type 1 thinking mode in your brain. It can be intuitively evoked each subsequent time a brand choice must be made, and underpins the predisposition a consumer has to opt for your brand rather than a competitor.

This week, a UK supermarket, Tesco, has received a huge amount of attention for launching a range of sticking plasters in different skin tones, to reflect their varied consumer base. This is another great example of a brand thinking about its users and designing an experience to delight them.

Marketing at is best is a combination of science and creativity. A brand owner must be artist and musician, sculptor and chef, engineer and lighting director, author and gardener. Most of all, the brand owner must be the consumers and create for them. A simple tactic could be to audit your brand from a sensory perspective and identify one sense that you haven’t yet delivered on: perhaps you could add or amplify the aroma, or intensify the colours, or improve the feel in the hand. To help you choose on what to focus, try a sensory deprivation experiment. Put yourself in a pitch-black room and see if you can distinguish your brand by its touch or smell. Try opening the pack with one hand. Compare images of your brand to others with the colour removed.

Do you think marketers are under-estimating the power of the senses? Please share your thoughts.

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  1. Neil 'Lex" McKee , March 26, 2020

    I love that line from Henry David Thoreau, "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately..."  We are reaching an exciting time where brands move from unconscious accessing of an associated sensory response to making this the deliberate primary focus of the brand.  After all, if you were a cow being branded, you'd feel it!  Hey, you'd hear it, and you'd see the results ever after.

    Accelerated Learning has been using 'sensory marketing' for decades in the deliberate search for ways to help the student see the learning, hear the learning, and feel the learning.  In this way, the learning is branded into the student's mind.  Customers are learners too.

    Deliberating taking control of how you want your brand to hit the optic nerve, stimulate the olfactory system (the key to emotional memory), feel the fixtures, hear the tone, grasp the gravity, enjoy the comfort of the temperature, experience the ease of movement... as we say in teaching, the more ways you teach, the more people you reach.  Perhaps this is a case of the more deliberately you broadcast on specific sensory wavelengths, the more people you want to reach will 'tune-in'.

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