I want you to recall the last time you visited a temple, or your preferred place of worship.
Right at the entrance, you saw a huge and magnificent structure that made you feel small.
Before you entered, you had to remove your footwear. Your feet touched the ground and as you walked, the soles of your feet immediately let you know that you were in a different space with different norms of behaviour. You were probably wearing different attire to respect the sanctity and dignity of the space.
As you walked in, you heard sounds that were familiar, but quite distinct from the profane world. You heard bells ringing, or prayers being chanted, or hymns being sung, or perhaps a recitation of the Holy Quran.
Even the air was different. You could smell incense that reminded you of being in a sacred space. Temples have their diyas and agarbattis, mosques have their bukhur, churches have their frankincense.
Once inside, depending on your cultural background and religious tradition, you probably humbly bowed before God by touching the floor with one knee, two knees, the forehead, or prostrating with the whole body.
At the place, you were offered something to eat or drink which was quite distinct from food you had anywhere else. Temple prasadam or naivedyam has its own unique personality, texture, and flavour profile.
In short, all your senses were engaged in the experience — sight, touch, sound, smell, and taste.
Historically, whether Hindu, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, or Muslim, religious occasions have always been sensorial experiences.
And it is by engaging all your senses and seeping into all parts of your life that major world religions maintained their stronghold on the culture. They employed multi-sensorial experiences to maintain stickiness and create experiences that got carved into your memory.
A paper I recently read on religion and the senses states:
"Touch was particularly important in medieval Christianity. The faithful, entering a wealthy church, were invited to make the sign of the cross on their body, kneel or prostrate on marble floors, kiss an icon, or light a candle.
There is no doubt that touch played a central role in personal devotions, but the sensory experience of a Christian entering a church is best described under the concept of synaisthesis, “joint perception.” The eyes and the sense of smell were the first to be engaged, with the sense of hearing, but touch and to a lesser extent taste were involved too.
Christian thinkers and designers of church interiors were aware of that combined sensory effect. They usually chose to create a space filled with colors and lights, where very rich sensory experiences would take place.
Similarly, in synagogues and mosques the artistic designs around the Ark or Torah niche or around the mihrab (indicating the qibla, the direction to pray towards Mecca) drew the eyes to the focal points of attention.
The quality of religious buildings and the care taken to beautify specific areas or important artifacts, such as books, underlined their religious significance. The same could be said about medieval pulpits in churches and synagogues or the minbar in mosques, which emphasized the importance of hearing the Word of God and preaching."
Perceptive marketers from all ages have turned to religions as a source of inspiration in creating sticky brands.
They intuitively understood that a brand is not just its logo or its tagline: it is the set of all sensations, memes, associations, and images it invokes within its audience. Hence, the more associations the brand could build in the minds of the consumer, the more its stickiness and recall would be.
Let me put this into perspective by discussing each sense and how brands leverage it today:
Sight or vision is the most commonly leveraged sense in an age of screens. People today spend most of their waking hours looking at some kind of a screen, be it their smartphone, laptop, outdoor billboards while driving... heck, even watches today have screens.
Naturally, brands have tried to create differentiation and recall here by having distinct brand identities, design systems, faces and typefaces that are associated with the brand.
The motive is to make the brand immediately recognizable visually, even if the consumer is just walking or scrolling by it and glances at it momentarily.
The best-demonstrated example perhaps of an instantly recognizable brand identity is McDonald's. In fact, the brand was so sure about its visual dominance that it ran an entire advertisement campaign where only different parts of the McDonald's logo were cropped out and put on outdoor billboards to direct costumers to the nearest McDonald's joint.
In the offline world, sight can take the form of lighting, artwork on the walls, heritage buildings or architecture (hello, Starbucks!)... basically anything that creates visual distinction from other spaces.
But in a world dominated by everyone trying to pull your attention using shocking imagery like YouTube thumbnails, a brand cannot rely on just sight to maintain stickiness. It has to leverage other senses as well.
Next to sight, sound is the most commonly used brand association in the digital world. It is also where the reach of the digital world ends.
Remember the last time you chose a restaurant playing soothing jazz music over a restaurant playing garish desi beats? Or how you decided that a restaurant playing Bob Marley was a better fit for you than a restaurant playing The Weeknd?
That was a brand using sounds to not only build perception and attract the right kind of audience, but to also build associations with the place.
And since the era of the CRT television, brands have used catch ad jingles that used to act like earworms and helped create lasting recall for the brand.In fact, even small but distinct sounds like the Paytm Soundbox's payment received message or Netflix's trademark sound before the start of any show help people create associations and improve recall.
Even at Stoa, we've been asked often by folks attending our events to share our music playlist with them!
Speaking of religion, sound has conventionally been used to demarcate space.
In Muslim cities, the building of tall minarets next to mosques allowed the call to prayer to resonate five times a day. The sound of voices calling for prayer spread in the air above urban areas, creating a very specific acoustic environment that made travelers know immediately that Islam controlled the public space.
But this demarcation does not work in a place like Tito's Lane in Goa or Baga Beach during the New Year season, where diverse tracks from neighbouring restaurants only mix to create an unpleasant and unharmonious cacophony.
This is where we start moving away from the digital world into the physical.
Currently, it is impossible to convey smell over a screen. But olfaction is one of the primary senses that trigger nostalgia and memories in people. You can close your eyes, shut your ears, but you cannot stop smelling.
Interestingly, I'm now reminded of one instance in my own life that made me appreciate the role of creativity in offline marketing.
I was once in Mumbai, standing at the bus stop right opposite Sandhurst Road railway station. While waiting for the bus, I couldn't help but notice a delicious aroma wafting in the whole vicinity. When I turned around, I saw that the cake shop had smartly routed its kitchen exhaust to the front of the store, where people passing by could smell the sweet vanilla fragrance and be tempted to buy a cupcake or two.
For 22-year-old me, that was an enlightening experience in multi-sensorial marketing.
Later on, I found out that even Starbucks and a lot of other high-end retail stores use this distinct aroma strategy to create a strong association with the space. And the best way to test if a brand has successfully leveraged smell is by asking yourself this question:
"If a friend were to put a blindfold on me and walk me into a Starbucks, would I recognize that I was in a Starbucks?"
Experienced designers have tried to simulate touching of physical buttons using haptic feedback and skeuomorphic design in apps. CRED is a good example of an app that tried to imitate physical button presses using thier Neumorphic design system. Their intention: to make the product feel "more real."
But in the digital world, touch largely remains out of touch. Screens are finally the only thing users are touching and they all feel the same.In such cases, brands are more motivated to focus on creating physical brand collaterals that convey a sense of refinement and luxury.
I'm reminded of Oriflame's catalogues: how premium they felt in the hand with excellent paper and print quality, along with a distinct smell. Later on, they even introduced physical catalogues that allowed you to smell their premium perfumes by sniffing the catalogue itself.
But catalogues are not the only brand "touch"point.
Packaging, physical merchandise, or even the product itself (say Apple's devices or OneCard's Metallic Card) can themselves convey the brand's values and premium-ness.
And people long for such tactile experiences. The distinct tactile experience of typing on a typewriter now makes people buy expensive mechanical keyboards. The satisfying experience of rotating the number dial on a rotary telephone, or the satisfaction one felt while inserting that cassette in a cassette player or a floppy in a floppy drive... these were unique tactile experiences that aided the creation of memories and are now lost to screens.
Consequently, brands are now figuring out how to introduce the element of touch back to the experience. For most digital brands though, skeuomorphic design still remains the only way.
Taste is the farthest sense from the digital world, although I heard they were making screens you could taste. Not very sure what's happening there, though.
But everyone remembers grandma's cookies or "maa ke haath ka khana" which have a distinct taste and quality to them and bring up all sorts of happy memories.
Millennials will recognize this toffee and many of you might also be able to taste it:
Do you think about Stoa everytime you have a chikki? Hmmm...
But the point is:
The next time someone tells you people will stop going to theatres or stop going out for dinners, think about the experience in its totality, not just its utilitarian outcome.
It's very hard to create stickiness and religiosity when you can only appeal to one or two senses. Creating better brand recall needs you to help the consumer build positive associations with you over more sensory touchpoints.
Hence, a lot of digital-first brands today have started spreading their wings in the offline world — be it D2C brands opening retail stores to create a distinct brand and customer experience, or startups sponsoring offline events like music festivals, hackathons, meetups, and other tactics that allow them to design experiences that go beyond screens.
They're slowly starting to realize that no matter how good their online presence, they're ultimately restricted to engaging with the consumer through a screen, and that is not enough.
So, to answer the question posed in the title of this essay:
How do you make sure your lover never forgets you?
To make sure your lover never forgets you and to make moving on extremely difficult for them, experience as many things, events, and places with them as possible.
Make sure you take them to every restaurant, every beach, every pub and public space. So, no matter where they go, they are forced to recall the time they spent with you there.
Every song they listen to should remind them of you. Every dish they eat, every piece of clothing they wear, every thing they use on a daily basis — create associations with all of them.
Everything and experience should trigger nostalgia around the lovely times you spent together.
In a world of Instagram, Bumble, Tinder, and Twitter (in case she's a sapiosexual), this is how you create attachment and brand stickiness.