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How to re-integrate our senses in a digital environment?

Comment réhabiliter les sens dans un environnement numérique ?
Published on
24 May 2019

Lighting, perfume, music… The 90s brought sensoriel elements to physical sales environments. With the development of the internet and digital sales environments, how can we enrich the consumer experience and integrate physical senses in virtual environments?

More than 70% of people currently own a smartphone, a fact that is transforming our shopping habits. Consumers can track prices on their phones and check reviews by specialists and other consumers. The growth of e-commerce has led to dematerialized sales environments in which it's harder to imagine how to integrate physical, sensorial experiences that will enhance the customer experience.

A scientific framework: embodied cognition

"The embodied cognition approach offers a scientific framework for sensorial marketing. It helps spark sensorial experiences in digital environments. One approach is to rely on the mechanism of mental simulations of sensorial experiences. A mental simulation is the reconstruction of a previously experienced sensorial package. The benefit of this approach is that you no longer need to physically touch a cloth, smell a perfume or taste a product directly. Instead the idea is to reconstruct the experience using previously stored information," explains Mathieu Pinelli, associate researcher at the Talent of the Digital Transformation Chair, at Grenoble Ecole de Management.

(Re)constructing sensorial experiences


How can you re-create the sense of touch in a digital environment that doesn't allow us to physically touch something? "Touching a tactile screen instead of a mouse can help improve preferences for a product. How? Interactive images can react to a consumer touching the screen… Clothing might for example ripple and fold according to touch," says Mathieu.


"Imagining the smell of a chocolate cookie will produce the same result as actually smelling it, in other words, it will produce salivation. Simply presenting a cookie image along with the ability to imagine the smell will create the desire to satisfy a craving."


"When thinking about taste, we think about a product touching our tongue. However, taste is not only created by our tongue sensors. It's also a combination of vision, touch, sound and smell. Thus a product seems even better when all senses are stimulated."


"When you present a right-handed consumer with a product image, you can stimulate a maximum sense of interaction with the product if for example you place a fork to the right side of a plate. This simulation doesn't require actual physical interaction. Instead, it relies on a mental simulation of the interaction. That's the strength of embodied cognition."

"embodied cognition offers a scientific basis (with numerous psychological studies) to better understand how we think, decide and act. It's application is independent of future technology, so it's a framework that will not become obsolete with the evolution of technology," concludes Mathieu.

Building on senses in a digital context

How can you find the right balance between sensorial experiences and digital environments? What types of connection are individuals ready to accept? How can you enhance the sensorial experience without tricking consumers? To answer these questions, the Grenoble Ecole de Management Chair for Talent of the Digital Transformation launched major research work in 2018 in order to better understand sensorial marketing in digital environments (research led by Caroline Cuny, Lucie Revoux and Mathieu Pinelli). The results of this research are summarized in a publication available for download (Quels sens dans le numérique ? Les méthodes pour réinventer le marketing sensoriel en contexte digital »). The publication offers a means to question sensorial issues in digital environments thanks to recent research in psychology. The booklet covers the five senses and illustrates means of stimulating them to create specific sensorial experiences that will enhance the customer experience in physical and digital environments.

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