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Research Impact: Sensory Marketing and Professor Aradhna Krishna

Professor Aradhna Krishna explores sensory marketing at Michigan Ross

The research of Aradhna Krishna, Dwight F. Benton Professor of Marketing, has significant implications for academia and business, creating a new field of marketing scholarship and providing research-backed op-eds and case studies for practitioners in the field.

At the forefront of sensory marketing, Krishna's research delves into the profound yet often overlooked non-conscious effects of sensory stimuli on consumer behavior and perception. Krishna defines sensory marketing as “marketing that engages the consumers’ senses and affects their perception, judgment, and behavior.” Her work illuminates how the design of products and services can be used to project meaning. In her sensory perception research, she has worked on all five senses. Her work on memory retention of product information has been particularly influential.

“What I have been able to show is that smells in products help you both encode and retrieve information about that product in a more stable manner, so the information stays with you for longer,” shared Krishna. “Whenever we learn new information, there is decay over time; we forget. However, if that information has been presented to you along with a unique smell that is associated with that information, then the forgetting rate, the decay rate, becomes slower.”

Krishna's research, encapsulated in her two books, Sensory Marketing: Research on the Sensuality of Consumers (2009) and Customer Sense: How the 5 Senses Influence Buying Behavior (2013), is not just theoretical but highly practical. For instance, in the hospitality sector, hotels are using her insights to create memorable customer experiences through signature scents. Similarly, political campaigns are employing scent to reinforce messaging, a strategy influenced by Krishna's work. These applications underscore how her research is reshaping brand-consumer interactions on a multi-sensory level.

Outside of olfactory sense marketing, Krishna’s work has explored many interactions between sense and our everyday lives. For example, her work on visual dynamic imagery has had an impact on traffic sign design. In her research, she shows that subtle changes in the sign used – for instance, in a school crossing sign, the two children crossing the road appear to be moving – can make drivers notice the sign faster, react sooner, and stop earlier. Since her suggestions do not require animation in the sign, the research got much attention from bodies that govern traffic movement.

Krishna also considers product packaging to have immense sensory marketing implications for firms and society. She has researched how the look and feel of packaging affects consumer behavior. For example, in a popular paper, Krishna delineates the distinct roles of purchase and consumption packaging. She explains that the consumer experience is influenced at multiple levels: the outer packaging sways the purchasing decision, while the actual product and its immediate container affect consumption behavior.

Recently, Krishna has dedicated a significant portion of her research to exploring socially relevant causes. For example, in a research article for which she also wrote a Harvard Business Review op-ed, she delved into how the use of excess paper packaging often creates the illusion of sustainability without actually reducing plastic waste. She also uses her understanding of human perception and behavior to address various other industries and topics, including public health and consumption, political decision-making, sustainability, corporate responsibility, environmental activism, DEI, and more. Her work not only advances marketing but also addresses pressing issues, instilling a sense of ethics and responsibility.

In addition to her groundbreaking research, Krishna has also taken on the role of a mentor for a number of PhD students at Michigan Ross and beyond. Her commitment to supporting their research fosters the next generation of marketing scholars and ensures the field of marketing continues to thrive with robust and diverse research projects. Her research lab, which regularly brings in collaborators from around the world, is dedicated to creating an environment for the next generation of research excellence in the field of sensory perception and behavior.

She is regularly listed among the world’s most productive researchers in marketing as ranked by the American Marketing Association. In the 2024 count, she was placed in the top 10 and was the #1 woman in the world

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