Maureen (Mimi) Morrin’s research path started with something many don’t like to think about: odors.
“As weird as it may sound,” says Morrin, “when I was in the doctoral program, I knew I wanted to do some scent research.” At the time, sensory marketing was not a term in research vernacular. In the last decade, however, Morrin has witnessed the growth of this field.
Understanding the Senses
What is it about holding a Starbucks cup that keeps customers coming back? How does the smell of a luxury car elicit an emotion? These are the types of questions Morrin and her associates explore as they determine how the senses drive consumers.
As founder and director of the Consumer Sensory Innovation Lab at the Fox School of Business, Morrin has established a collaborative setting for doctoral students, professors, and corporate managers to research the world of sight, sound, scent, taste, and touch as they relate to consumer influences. “I think that humans on some basic level need sensory input,” says Morrin. “It helps you make sense of your world—the senses tell you what’s what.”
Today, corporations want a deeper understanding of what exactly can attract customers to their stores—and what keeps them coming back. Her work with various retailers and consumer packaged goods companies has fostered growth within the center, which is funded in part by external grants. While Amazon and Jet.com are consuming more of the retail pie, Morrin says brick-and-mortar retailers have an edge when it comes to the shopping experience.
“Companies may ask, what is my competitive advantage when people can just buy my product on Amazon?” says Morrin. “But, they have the ability to impact all of our five senses—to delight us sensorially speaking.”
A Sense of Community
At the Fox School, Morrin works closely with a number of doctoral students and undergraduates. The Lab provides a venue for those who self-identify as sensory researchers and allows for information- and resource-sharing. Through projects that determine if a store’s messiness has an affect on sales or if mint-flavored snacks allay the guilt a dieter may feel on a cheat day; Morrin sees her collaborative lab as a safe zone.
“Being a doctoral student can be very stressful and you often feel isolated, because you’re essentially learning how to be an independent researcher,” says Morrin. “Those who have been in the program longer are able to help junior students—it makes them feel like they’re a part of something.”
Across All Boards
On days Morrin is not running sensory experiments or encouraging questions on consumer decisions in her class lectures, she is deeply involved in the research community. Earlier this year, Morrin was invited to join the editorial review boards of the Journal of Consumer Research and Journal of Consumer Affairs, and became an associate editor at the Journal of Consumer Psychology.
“I benefit from being a reviewer because I am able to see where the field is moving,” says Morrin. “The more reviewing you do, the better you get at detecting the bigger picture as a researcher.”
With a behind-the-scenes look at the evolution of marketing, Morrin has seen her unique interest in sensory inputs become a mainstream trend. Though she is excited that more people are studying the field, Morrin’s passion for sensory research is not a fad.
“Whether it’s in or out, I’m here to stay.”
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