Marketing Through Ambiance

Holiday storefronts, painted windows, cozy restaurants—this time of year brings out the best in ambiance. From red coffee cups to snowflake-printed grocery bags, Q4 challenges visual merchandisers to find innovative ways to welcome guests and create experiences worth visiting.

Ambiance is defined as the character and atmosphere of a place. The atmosphere includes any sensory elements, such as design, lighting, fixtures, smells, sound level, temperature, and wall coverings. As a marketing tool, ambiance is ultimately a play on mood, and marketers know mood has major bearing on transactions.

How does ambiance open customers’ wallets? Here’s what consumer behavior research has found.

Sleigh bells in the air

Our buzzword for the day is “atmospherics.” This term was first coined by Northwestern University professor, Philip Kotler, back in 1973. Kotler explored this phenomenon when studying factors that drive purchase decisions, identifying buyers’ affinity toward the place and atmosphere in which they make a purchase. In his research, Kotler discovered that the atmosphere of a retail establishment is sometimes more influential on a purchase decision than the product itself, claiming the atmosphere is essentially the primary product. The actual purchased product is only one piece of the buyer’s total consumption.

Today we see atmospherics used as a powerful differentiator in the realm of experiential marketing. As retail and restaurant patrons, we feel drawn to places that are warm, welcoming, and fitting for the product we’re purchasing. However, atmospherics isn’t limited to retail and restaurant establishments. The same principles apply to fitness centers, salons, spas—any B2C business where the product or service is purchased and/or experienced. One could also argue atmospherics plays a quieter but present role in B2B marketing, exhibited through interior design of office space, the tone and disposition of customer service, and any packaging elements.

Maybe I’ll buy that chair

Following Kotler’s work, psychology researchers, Robert Donovan and John R. Rossiter, found that the pleasantness of an in-store environment was a significant predictor of time spent in a store and intentions of spending more money than originally planned. In their study, customers’ emotions were heavily influenced by their perceptions of the environment, informing their overall shopping experience. As one might anticipate, further research on mood and purchasing behavior has found that the same merchandise sold in two different stores will perform better in the store with more favorable atmosphere.

What does this research mean for marketers? The setting of purchases has heavy influence on the time and money customers will spend. By designing and creating spaces that appeal to our audience, we invoke an emotional response that informs customers’ cognitive evaluations of quality and value.

Or order mine by fireside

The principles behind atmospherics aren’t lost on ecommerce. Brick-and-mortar’s digital counterpart is user interface and user experience. Attractive design, ease of navigation, and stunning visuals are all elements that appeal to our digital “senses,” encouraging us to engage with a platform and migrate over to checkout.

And pour some scotch to share

How does the atmosphere of your brand feel? What tactics are you using to appeal to your audience? What is the proverbial wrapping around your prospective buyer’s decision-making process? Whether tangible or digital—is your packaging enhancing your product?

While you ponder these questions, feel free to turn on the virtual fireplace to set the mood. Cheers!