Taste the music

Why environment matters for marketing

Exposure Group, Benjamin Feltham

Does steak taste better just because it’s served on a fancy plate in a well-decorated dining room? According to food experts, the answer is yes, with studies showing that packaging, labels and surroundings can have a significant influence on how we experience taste.

This example of how factors change our perception drives home the importance of creating just the right environment at trade shows, exhibitions and other events.

More than just taste: How environment shapes our experience of food  

While we might like to think our taste buds are unbiased judges when it comes to how delicious (or not) a meal or drink is, our senses are actually a lot more complicated. In short, there’s a lot that goes on in our subconscious that affects the experience we end up with.

For example, recent research published in the Journal of Marketing Research explored the ‘placebo effect’ of advertisement messages, such as ‘cheap’ versus ‘expensive’ wine. In short, the actual flavour of the wine itself can have less of an impact on the sensory experience than the price tag. Assuming (perhaps subconsciously) that paying more will lead to finer vino, some consumers actually have a more positive experience drinking wine labelled as expensive than imbibing the same beverage with a cheaper label.

Research suggests the price and packaging of wine and other consumables influences our experience.
Would the same wine taste better with a French name?

It’s not all related to price, either. Neuroscientist Charles Spence, a professor at the Oxford University, explained how the appearance, smell, packaging and setting in which it’s consumed all influence the way it tastes, Food Navigator reported.

"If [food companies] change the colour of the product, it can change the taste; if they change the colour of the packaging, it can change the taste,” he said, according to the source.

“If the weight of the product or the container changes, it can change the impression of the quality or how expensive the product is.”

In addition to packaging, it’s important to keep in mind the power of the setting. Popular Science described the findings of a study which revealed that the environment shapes how people experience flavours. Specifically, this research had people sample Scotch whisky in three rooms, each with a different theme (grassy, sweet and woody). The themes were enhanced with scents and sounds, such as grassy smells and sheep noises. Participants described the beverage as grassy, sweet or woody in accordance with the room they were in.

A different study published in ScienceDirect discovered that background noise influenced how salty, sweet and crunchy diners believed their food was, and those who found the background sounds pleasant were more likely to enjoy their meals.

Finally, Popular Science noted that evoking a memory can lead to a more enjoyable culinary experience, while colour can make beverages seem more thirst-quenching.

The power of atmosphere at marketing events   

This is all to say that our experiences are formed by far more factors than we might think, shaping our perception of a product or brand accordingly. Whether you’re marketing food or non-edible products and services, keep in mind that by using colours, shapes, descriptions and settings to your advantage, you can appeal to all senses and tailor a space more conducive to leaving the impression you want on visitors and consumers.

Environment can affect brand perception at trade shows and other events or retail locations.
Establishing the right environment at a trade show can lead to fruitful conversations.

Mr Spence also emphasised that cross-cultural differences could impact the way certain factors affect experiences and perceptions, Food Navigator explained. This is essential to keep in mind for exhibitions as well, especially international shows where you’re appealing to audiences from different markets.

At a trade show or other branded environment, setting the stage with appropriate lighting, open space, seating and messaging gives you the opportunity to put an already-warm audience into an even more open mindset for what you’re offering. Honing in on the perfect music, for instance, could create a classy, sophisticated air, while a different soundtrack could generate excitement and anticipation. As a whole, impressions are made by whole symphonies, not solo instruments.