One Spicy Meatball

How Sensory Words Can Make Your Marketing the Most Mouth-Watering Item on the Menu

  • The lick of a melty ice cream cone.
  • The tomatoey tang of spaghetti bolognese.
  • A slick, sharp papercut.
  • Salty ocean droplets near the cove.
  • An unexpected magenta and golden sunset.
  • The soft, silky fur of your dog’s nose.

Words like “melty” and “salty” are commonly known as sensory words because they’re derived from the senses.

These words are superpowers.

Not only do they make you want a scoop of mint-chip, but science says the things we touch, taste, feel, smell, and hear are the ones we remember the most.

For example:

The brain recognizes tangible words more quickly because our conceptual processing abilities lie in the senses. Sensory experience helps shape the metaphors our brain processes. “Abstract concepts and metaphors are grounded in our sensory motor experience,” explains neuroscientist Dr. Krishnankutty Sathian.

Is it any surprise, then, that sensory words will leave more lasting impressions? 

Take moist, mucus, and dollop. 🤢

A study by Oberlin College and Trinity University revealed these universally-hated words were despised not necessarily for the words themselves, but for the association with a gross substance or feeling. 

Ointment, for example?

“[It] definitely has a sort of wet, or dare I say moist, sound to it, which isn’t pleasant,” says Bustle. “It also requires you to wrinkle your nose when saying it, which lessens its appeal even further. Add in a few nasty medical associations—you put ointment on oozing cuts, rashes, infections—and you’ve really got yourself a winner.” 

The word laughter, on the other hand, is quite scientifically the world’s happiest word—for the same reason. It associates the reader or writer with memories and feelings of times they’ve had to catch their breath, shift their lips into a grin, and have a good chuckle.

Many other sensory words have the same power of positivity:

  • Sparkling
  • Dreamy
  • Savory
  • Cinnamony
  • Velvety

Are you feelin’ all the holiday hygge now? Words that evoke positive physical reactions are also more likely to stick in your mind.

So, what does this have to do with your marketing? 

It’s all about making yourself memorable.

In these days of information overload, it’s easy to spend hours on a campaign or social media post or email just to have it go completely unread.

For all time.

Think about it: How many of those promotional emails do you actually open?

If you’ve been following along with our blog, you’ll know that connecting with your customers is key to marketing during a crisis. One of the best ways to connect is through that very human experience: the senses. Connection leads to attention, which—you guessed it—leads to opened emails and sales.

For people to remember you and your brand, you need to catch their attention–and then make it stick. Sensory words can help you do that.

As Kevin Duncan from Smart Blogger puts it: “When you paint a strong scene in your audience’s mind, you make it easier for them to pull it back up from their memory. You’ve essentially bookmarked it for them so they can easily find it when something — a sight, a smell, a sound — reminds them of it.”

Ann Handley of Total Annarchy suggests this approach: Tell me without telling me. Aka…play Taboo with your marketing copy. These are the examples she shares:

Example 1:

Tell Me: New limited-edition face mask designs are here!

Tell Me Without Telling Me: Make Covid fight through skulls and switchblades to get to your face.

Example 2:

If you’re thinking to yourself, halp, I’m not a copywriter–we’ve got your lightweight linen-shirted, well-postured back. 

It’s all about swapping in or adding sensory words.

Some easy-cheesy swaps you can make:
SightThe man with the glasses and shirt in Zoom meetingThe man with the grimey glasses and starched, crunchy shirt in the Zoom meeting
TasteIt left her with a bad feeling in her stomachIt left her with an acidic feeling in her stomach
SmellThe flowers in the gardenThe fragrant jasmine in the garden
TouchHe had a mad expressionHe had a stony expression
HearHe had a bad day.He had a rough day.

Fun fact: Researchers actually studied the brain responses to that last example. When the participants heard the word “rough,” the part of the brain that recognizes texture was activated. Science is cool!

Want more examples? Here are three marketing-related examples we re-did from email subject lines that hit our inboxes this morning:

From snoring……to soaring
Your AT&T wireless bill is ready to viewRing, ring! You can see your tree-free online bill with just a few clicks of your keyboard. 
1 new job in Chico, CAWe sniffed out one new job in Chico, CA
Reschedule your order to get your groceries conveniently delivered!Reschedule your order to get your crunchy carrots and buttery bread conveniently delivered.

Sensory words are a refreshing way to quickly and easily capture attention with your audience and connect them to your message. 

Ready to make yourself more memorable (dare we say bold)? 

Stand out from the yellows of the world with lip-smacking linguistic choices like “banana runt” or “highlighter neon.” Here and here are luxurious lists of sensory words for each sense to get you started.

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Blue Flamingo is a creative messaging, communications, and PR firm known for helping organizations stand out and get noticed.

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