There’s Nothing more ‘Human’ and ‘Multicultural’ than Sensory Research

05 Jun 2023 | Research & Business Knowledge

Article by Clara Origlia

Doing Sensory research automatically means dealing with Multisensory and Multicultural dimensions.

The Sensory world is an immense and highly articulated area of ​​research. Research can go far beyond what is ‘essential’ or imaginable. From the definition of the physical-perceptive characteristics of a product,  its hedonic features, its functional properties and attributes, descriptors and benefits that characterize it, up to fine-tuning all the elements of the marketing mix. Sensory elements allow researchers to measure (on a cognitive/rational but also on a physical/emotional level) the appeal of single components that characterize a product, a brand, its promises and benefits. They also allow researchers to determine how effectively the product as a whole, as well as its specific components, address the users’ needs and desires; to what extent they express the product/brand’s full potential within a category, meeting specific objectives of the marketing strategy vs competing products and brands. Sensory research reveals the personality, but also the soul of a product or a brand and, most definitely, its potential.

The creation of verbal stimuli, questionnaires, item batteries, descriptors, and evaluations is a particularly delicate activity. Spoken language alone does not always succeed in conveying the depth and the subtleties of human perception. However, the use of a whole range of carefully selected sensory, perceptive, and emotional stimuli can definitely empower language and elicit the expression of precious material, present on an emotional or unconscious level. The use of rich set of stimuli allows researchers to enhance and exploit the multifaceted perceptive-descriptive dimension of ‘human’ language. In a multicultural project, translations shall convey and restore any nuance, enriching and stimulating all the interpretative possibilities, rather than simply guaranteeing understanding and dialogue between users, or facilitating the international outreach of research. This is unfortunately the case of English, which has always been the universal language of marketing and research, often being oversimplified and ‘universalized’.

Holistic approaches, especially in real life, allow a large variety of stimuli to be used in a flexible way, being adapted to the culture, context, characteristics of the consumer, product or idea being researched on. Stimuli can be adapted to the spirit, rhythm and natural logic that develops in an interview or in group work dynamics, thus stimulating insights that cannot be obtained with purely cognitive and rational methods.

The stimulus material shall be prepared ad hoc; it cannot be chosen or created on the basis of personal taste or in a disorganized manner, without a strategy. Stimulus material is not something optional, and should not be managed as an optional extra, a filler, an accessory; nor as an enlivening element of the speech or as a way to make the presentation more involving or visually attractive for the Client. Stimulus material is part and parcel of the research approach, and it should be used as such.

Stimulus material preparation requires sensitivity, expertise and attention. It cannot be randomly delegated, outsourced or created without any brief or coordination. The help of an expert researcher is valuable and could actually allow other researchers  or anyone else on the Client side to use the preparation phase, as a very useful moment of  reflection and teamwork.

Research approaches in a ‘human to human’ or ‘human-centred’ perspective.

The use of holistic, hybrid, multicultural, multidisciplinary, cross-generation approaches can truly enrich the work of professionals in the fields of research and communication, marketing, strategic consultancy, and innovation. Research and insights are brought back into an authentic, ‘human to human’ perspective of real life.

Sensory Analysis, Semiotics, Sensory Semiotics, Design Thinking, Ethnography, Storytelling, and Co-creation allow the best use of the uniquely and exquisitely human ability to establish, manage and describe complex sensory interweaving; to express evaluations, emotions and experiences in an analogical or metaphorical way. This can be achieved by overcoming cognitive and rational barriers and limits, making the most of the expressive potential of other “languages”, both verbal and non-verbal, while describing an experience. ‘Experience’ does not only refer to what can be sensed, felt, physically or emotionally experienced; it also includes what can be imagined, intuited, prefigured, projected, foretasted…. This level of processing requires the awareness of what an experience is, can, or could be. Such an awareness, at least for now, is only human.

Clara Origlia, Independent Research Consultant , Insight Expert and Coach, and ICG member, is a very experienced, trilingual qualitative researcher, moderator and consumer insights expert.

Clara Origlia