Tapping into the senses for the holidays

November 23, 2020
5 min read

As brands and consumers prepare for a holiday season unlike any other, US-based Trends Analyst Diana Kelter and Canadian Lifestyle Analyst Carol Wong-Li explore how the ultimate heart of an experience can be found in prioritizing the senses.

Consumers Seek Calm and Joy

Over the past few years, there has been a very clear shift towards the prioritizing of experiences over things in North America and three-quarters of American consumers and seven in 10 Canadian consumers say that experiences are more important to them than material possessions (Mintel Globalized 35 country data – Wave 3, July 2020). Holiday celebrations have always centered around the notion of sharing experiences and being physically together. For example, nearly two-thirds of Canadians say that they celebrate holidays by attending a meal or gathering at someone’s home, according to Mintel research on gifting in Canada.

This year, however, it is clear that consumers must find new ways to recreate many of these in-person holiday traditions so that they can still safely share bonding moments with loved ones. There is another added layer of complexity: while much of the focus will inherently be on figuring out how holidays will be celebrated with others, it must be acknowledged that spending energy on finding and coordinating new logistics adds an additional layer of stress onto already anxious times – the stress of the holiday season itself as well as the months of worry the pandemic. As such, in addition to providing ways to make holiday traditions safe and viable for group celebrations, attention must also be given to addressing the emotional wellbeing of individuals themselves.

There is a silver lining as the pandemic has forced a shift into the way holidays are approached. It’s become a cliché in 2020, but these are unprecedented times: holiday traditions tend to be entrenched and based very much on habits. This is the shakeup where marketers have a unique opportunity to help consumers create new habits as routines related to the holidays. In this regard, tapping into the senses has never been more important as consumers turn to tactile experiences to relieve stress. This is seen in Canada where nearly half of consumers eat comfort foods to relieve stress and in the US where two in five American Millennials take relaxing baths/showers to manage stress. Similarly, consumers will need avenues to replace traditional in-person tactile experiences with other sensory ones to share meaningful and memorable interactions with loved ones.

Brands engage the senses

Sensory experiences have been growing in importance prior to the pandemic and Mintel has tracked that evolution within the Mintel Trend, ‘Sense of The Intense.’ Prior to the pandemic, the sensory experiences were largely occurring outside of the home, specifically in restaurants, travel and retail. While the pandemic disrupted where experiences take place it didn’t disrupt the fundamental motivation – a desire for sensory stimulation.

As consumers have largely been required to spend more time at home this year, brands have responded by enhancing the sensory components of everyday objects. Candles have been utilized as a vessel for recreating scents that remind consumers about specific experiences or occasions. In the US, BABE Wine and personalized jewelry brand Ryan Porter released a cheeky football-inspired candle collection, featuring scents like turf or stadium snacks. Powell’s Books, known as the World’s Largest Independent Bookstore in Portland, Oregon, recently announced it would start selling a bookstore scented fragrance. The website description notes the fragrance as transporting, “the wearer to a place of wonder, discovery, and magic heretofore only known in literature.” The key takeaway for these offerings is that they provide a sense of accessibility. The purchase of a candle or fragrance isn’t a huge splurge, but the ultimate experience it provides transports the user beyond the physical limitations in place across the globe.

Brands also have the opportunity to partner and collaborate to bring traditional out-of-home celebrations directly into the home. With Octoberfest events canceled across the globe this season, Auntie Anne’s and Samuel Adams teamed up to create an at-home celebratory Oktoberfest Kit, featuring a playlist of authentic Octoberfest tunes to listen to.

An important takeaway for brands is that prioritizing the senses can provide its own unique comfort during a challenging year. Viewing the senses as a primary foundation for an experience creates a framework for brands and consumers alike that can withstand changes to circumstances.

Deciphering Mintel’s signature scent

Like so many companies, Mintel has been remote for the majority of this year. Even with the distance, the collective spirit of Mintel has not been disrupted. Carol and Diana took a moment to end this post on a note of what they imagine as Mintel’s Signature Scent.

Carol Wong-Li:
For me, Mintel’s Signature Scent would elicit thoughts of freshness yet be rooted. Freshness is important as it represents the new ideas and insights of our analysts, yet roots are also important as these ideas are grown from our data. So I would imagine a scent that is of subtle fir or pine tree.

Diana Kelter:
I imagine a bold base as the foundational scent, such as a strong dark coffee scent, representing the bold approach to insights. Beyond that foundation there are warm, softer scents, such as a cardamon or vanilla, that represent the warmth of conversations big and small that occur at Mintel both globally and locally; personally and professionally.

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