Why Marketers Should Care about Taste, Touch and Smell

New research from Columbia Business School shows how the order of sensory cues can influence consumer choice

Jul 20, 2015, 10:00 ET from Columbia Business School

NEW YORK, July 20, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- Marketers have long wondered how to display product samples in a way that is most favorable. Now, research from Columbia Business School provides the answers. According to the study, marketers should concentrate their efforts on being either first or last in a sequential display because consumers don't rely on the packaging to spot a good product, but instead want to taste, smell, touch, and hear merchandise before committing to it. Recognizing this theory, more marketers are upping their game to allow consumers to sample sensory-rich products in order to enhance the overall shopping experience.

Donald Lehmann, a professor from Columbia Business School, conducted experimental studies to examine how the order of products with similar or dissimilar sensory cues influences consumer choice. This research provides guidance on strategic product sample ordering.

The studies found that when sampling products with comparable sensory cues, such as music from the same genre, consumers tend to prefer the first one they tried in the sequence.

"As consumers experience similar products over and over, they become less appealing and the products start to lose their luster," said Lehmann. "There's a desensitization that occurs, and as a consequence the first thing you sampled will be seen as the best."

"The research also showed that in sampling products that are different – like listening to songs from opposing genres such as country versus rock – consumers tend to prefer the last one tried. This happens because with each new sensory experience, memories of previous ones fade, and the most recent one becomes more appealing," said Lehmann. 

Since marketers can often control the order and types of samples in a given sequence, these findings provide tactical guidance for marketers on strategic product sample ordering.

The Research

The researchers conducted seven diverse experimental studies to examine how order effects sampling a sequence of products. They used a combination of field experiments, lab tests, as well as two online studies, one with participants from a national panel and one with university students. The tests incorporated a variety of products rich in sensory cues like fragrances, food products (i.e. beverages, chocolates), and music clips.

"It's important that marketers and retailers consider how the sequence of samples impacts consumer choice in order to maximize their earning potential," said Lehmann. "For example, free product samples enhance the overall shopping experience and are proven to translate directly into sales."

The research was recently published in the Journal of Marketing and is co-authored by Dipayan Biswas, University of South Florida, Lauren Labrecque, Loyola University, and Ereni Markos, Suffolk University.

To learn more about the cutting-edge research being conducted at Columbia Business School, please visit www.gsb.columbia.edu.

About Columbia Business School

Columbia Business School is the only world–class, Ivy League business school that delivers a learning experience where academic excellence meets with real–time exposure to the pulse of global business. Led by Dean Glenn Hubbard, the School's transformative curriculum bridges academic theory with unparalleled exposure to real–world business practice, equipping students with an entrepreneurial mindset that allows them to recognize, capture, and create opportunity in any business environment. The thought leadership of the School's faculty and staff, combined with the accomplishments of its distinguished alumni and position in the center of global business, means that the School's efforts have an immediate, measurable impact on the forces shaping business every day. To learn more about Columbia Business School's position at the very center of business, please visit www.gsb.columbia.edu.

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