Techno-cocktails of the senses

When technology enables multi-sensorial experiences

You know that we are already well into the 4th Industrial Revolution of cyber-physical reality when you can enjoy a ‘virtual cocktail’. An article published by Futurity outlines how the Vocktail is a 3D-printed glass with electronic control modules and micro-air pumps, which uses a mobile application to release the scent and colour of your favourite cocktail into the glass and provide a rich virtual flavor experience. So you could be simply drinking water, while thinking you are enjoying a zingy Margarita.

Researchers at Futurity explain:

Two silver electrodes on the rim of the glass provide controlled electrical currents of different magnitudes and frequencies to the tip of the tongue in order to simulate salty or sour sensations while drinking, which affect the taste of the beverage. To alter smell, the air-pumps release molecules from the chosen scent cartridges directly onto the surface of the beverage, which is close to the user’s nose when drinking. Users can add or change cartridges depending on the desired smell… Lastly, since visual stimuli form pre-taste perceptions, users can select their preferred color with the mobile application which projects an LED light onto the beverage.
Image: Futurity

Image: Futurity

Some skeptics continue to insist that virtual reality, artificial intelligence and other technological developments cannot stretch effectively into the realm of emotions and physical sensations. However, this is yet another example that this is not true. Even if I would still prefer drinking a real Margarita, the Vocktail is meant to digitally stimulate distinct tastes, smells and colours to create rich physical sensations and augment reality - providing the same type of pleasure and enjoyment as the real thing.

It is easy to understand that, by reducing the intake of alcohol, these developments can have numerous applications in medicine and social care, delivering the sensory pleasure without the health drawbacks, or possibly compensating for any chronical lack of one or more senses.

However, what I find interesting is the fact that these innovative technologies focus on creating sensorial stimuli to enrich the experience and influence the mind.

The power of multi-sensorial experiences

Increasingly organisations aim to engage their customers and users at a deeper level, tapping into their emotions and stimulating their senses. These dimensions can go over and beyond the functional interactions and benefits of transactional value exchanges, and create stronger and longer-lasting relationships.

Think of Lush, who has turned the humble soap into an iconic high-value product simply by creating immersive store experiences. They embrace all the senses and engage customers at a deeper level, stimulating a feeling of wellbeing and self-fulfillment which influences their buying decisions.

Think of the developments of televisions, which from two-dimensional black and white devices, have progressively evolved into colour, then surround sound, high definition, all the way to testing 4D home environments which involve movement and smell, in a continuous attempt to engage all the senses. These draw the viewer into an immersive and emotional experience and augment their physical reality.

Fashion is also adopting multi-sensory technology in order to display different moods while becoming wearable art. E-dresses are made with emotion-sensing fabric which responds to the wearer’s mood, and replies with aromas aimed at enhancing good ones and altering bad ones.

Multi-sensorial technology

Despite senses and emotions are the prerogative of the human body, increasingly technology is becoming the enabler of these multi-sensorial experiences. 

Large numbers of innovative uses are being tested all around the world, from furniture that treats mental health with light and aromatherapy, to music audio devices that mix sounds to reflect the meal you are cooking; from iPhone apps that produce different food or air-freshener scents, to VR technology which uses heart rate monitors to make videogames more intense by increasing in-game emotions and physical reactions. Many more examples of these amazing innovations are available in the Trendhunter website.  

This is when the Experience Economy coincides with the 4th Industrial Revolution and technology becomes the enabler of these powerful multi-sensorial experiences. 

Designing meaningful multi-sensorial experiences

Many product and service brands are already exploring and adopting innovative ways to engage their customers at a deeper level. Many have come to the realisation that smell, taste, sound, feel, texture, visual image and packaging all combine in the brain to create indelible impressions and enhance the customer experience. Optimising and integrating them in a meaningful customer journey can lead to stronger emotional and sensorial reactions and make the experience more memorable and powerful. These solutions not only can influence the buying decision, but also after-purchase satisfaction and engagement with the brand – e.g. when retailers use scents in their stores and also imbibe their product wrapping materials with them, so that customers can continue to smell it also when they are at home.

Technological innovation is increasingly being used to create these multi-sensorial experiences. However, the risk is going too far (e.g. I am still a skeptic about the ethics of AI-powered dolls) or falling into the trap of introducing ‘gimmicky solutions’ that are not in line with the brand objectives and positioning. Also multi-sensorial experience design needs to be progressed as part of a carefully defined brand and experience strategy. Customer Labs or Innovation departments are very effective at exploring customer needs and developing and testing these solutions as part of their experience design activities – removing the risk of falling into ‘random innovation in isolation’.

Get in touch to discuss how I can help you design your customer experience.  




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