Check this out:
“You’re sitting in the creaky black mesh-backed ergonomic desk chair you bought at a discount from Amazon – hunched over, eyes reluctantly wide, staring intently at a dimly lit laptop screen with a blank document.
It’s 4:45 p.m. For most of the day, you barely heard anything other than the occasional click of buttons to add fruitless inspiration to your blog post and the intermittent spells that came up after erasing everything you wrote down.
The lingering taste of the coffee you drank about two hours earlier has turned sour but is still covering your tongue and the roof of your mouth. And you can feel the effects of the caffeine slowly wear off. A slight muscle fatigue sets in. Your eyelids are heavy and it is a struggle in and of itself to keep them from covering your aching, tired eyes.
Your mind is stagnant – trapped in the clutches of what is most commonly known as writer’s block. “
Well, I like to think that the passage was alive and haunted and that is largely due to the type of language I used and the personal sensations I played with – especially how it affects the sensory experiences of the subject has described.
Most commonly known as sensory language, this language is a powerful resource any writer can understand and use. Here we are going to dive into sensory language, review some of the data surrounding it, and explain how you can use it in your blog posts.
What is sensory language?
Sensory language is exactly what it sounds like – a descriptive language that plays on the five senses. It is tailored to evoke mental images in readers. While it is widely used in literature, sensory language can also have a place in copywriting and marketing in general.
Sensory language is used to describe the five primary senses – touch, sight, sound, smell, and taste. They are most commonly used to convey the specific details of scenes or to add a more imaginative element to concept descriptions.
Sensory language is most commonly associated with literature. It’s a central part of most fiction and poetry, but that doesn’t mean that this type of vocabulary is used exclusively artistically. Marketers can get a lot out of it if they understand how to use it, too.
Let’s look at some data on sensory language to get a better picture of why it’s effective and how it’s applied.
What data say about sensory language
Our daily experiences are multi-sensory, but difficult to grasp linguistically.
A study by Charles Spence published in Science Direct in 2012 found that “most of our everyday experiences are multisensory”. Very rarely, if ever, do our senses become silent when we perceive the world around us.
However, the English language has limited ability to grasp this phenomenon and the general sensory overlap. In his book Sensory linguistics: language, perception and metaphorLinguist Bodo Winter explains these limitations by describing the experience of eating kimchi.
He says: “The experience includes the salty and tangy blend of pepper and garlic notes that excite the taste buds in addition to the fermented smell, the tingly mouthfeel and the crispy chewing sound.”
Although his description is vivid and engaging, he states that “the conveyance of this experience forces the use of decoupled sensory adjectives such as salty and crispy. The compression inherent in these words, each emphasizing one aspect of the experience, means that the simultaneity of that multisensory taste experience cannot be conveyed. “
This passage helps illustrate what could be the most challenging part of using sensory language. Ultimately, the goal is to capture a seamless multi-sensory experience, but the language that is available to you is mostly categorized according to individual senses.
Taste and smell are the most difficult senses to describe.
The five senses are essentially graduated when it comes to expressing them verbally. Certain senses are more indescribable – or difficult to put into words – than others.
A 2014 study by Stephen Levinson and Asifa Majid, published in Mind and Language magazine, found that “in general, at least in English, it seems easier to verbally encode colors than (non-musical) sounds, sounds than Tastes, tastes as smells. “
Each person’s sensory perception is different, but how we experience taste and smell individually – also known as the “chemical senses” – is particularly unique.
A landmark 1990 study in the journal Physiology and Behavior found that the number of taste buds people have on their tongues can vary radically from person to person. It was also found that taste and smell vary depending on factors such as age, gender, and culture.
In short, it is difficult to grasp the essence of the senses, which are so personal and, in turn, indescribable. And the English language’s limited vocabulary for the senses doesn’t exactly make things any easier.
As Winter puts it: “Detailed descriptive properties of smells are not coded in the English lexicon.” Instead, odor is often described as a perceived pleasure using words such as aromatic and pungent.
It may seem like taste and smell have less of a practical application in marketing – especially when it comes to items like blog copies – but don’t count them out. You can get a lot of miles out of these senses if you can convey them articulately and convincingly.
The perception of taste and smell is more emotional than other senses.
Although these senses are harder to grasp, it is in your best interest to try them if necessary. Sensory language is used to evoke meaningful images and feelings. And research shows that a language that describes taste and smell carries more emotional weight than other types of sense language.
As Winter puts it: “Taste and smell [as senses] are more emotional in perception, and the associated words are also more emotional compared to words from the other senses … There is now a wealth of converging evidence of the emotionality of taste and smell language. “
This point can mean a lot in the context of certain marketing schools. If you can believe it, emotionally charged and persuasive language can be an asset to a company’s emotional marketing efforts.
And if you are interested in using sensory language in your copy for the sake of this cause, it is worth having an impulse as to which aspects of the concept are most emotional.
Multi-sensory language makes for better marketing.
As I mentioned earlier, our perception of the world around us is always multi-sensory. Hence, it is intuitive to assume that we are naturally more receptive to marketing that reflects these types of experiences. And the data on this topic is consistent with this idea.
A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research in 2009 looked at the effects of multi-sensory advertising on the taste perception of test subjects. It has been found that multi-sensory displays lead to higher taste perception than displays that focus solely on taste.
While the study primarily focused on the effects of multisensory advertising on a single sense, other researchers extrapolated their results and assumed that they apply to the other senses as well.
What does that tell us? Well, this means that multisensory marketing – supported by the tactful use of sensory language – is more engaging and enriching than marketing that focuses exclusively on conventionally touched senses such as image or sound. It shows that using a robust sensory vocabulary in your copy has tremendous value.
How to Use Sensory Language in Your Blog Posts
Understand when it is appropriate to use it.
First and foremost, you need to understand that sensory language can be uncomfortable and uncomfortable when you force it in certain contexts that don’t necessarily justify it.
For example, if you’re writing a factual, professional post about a business concept, you probably don’t want to use sensory language to define it.
Take this definition from a HubSpot blog about strategy consulting:
“Strategy consulting is when business people – usually executives, boards of directors, or executives – consult a third party to provide an outside expert perspective on their business challenges. Strategy consultants typically have significant industry knowledge and need to objectively assess high-level business issues holistic view of specific problems companies are dealing with and advice on how to deal with them. “
It is more appropriate to make this aspect of the article simpler and more professional. Overloading it with sensory language can undermine your ability to clearly define the concept. However, there are ways to incorporate sensory language to bring this dry concept to life and make it engaging.
Add a narrative element to the post.
While sensory language may not be the best way to convey the stricter, more objective aspects of your post, you can still use it to qualify and illustrate certain concepts. One of the best ways to do this is to add a narrative flair to your piece.
This method gives you space to use sensory language and make concepts more engaging and fun. Here is an example of how you can do this when dealing with the concept of strategy consulting outlined above:
Imagine this: A CEO is sitting in a high-backed leather armchair at the top of a wood-based conference table, closing his eyes to a group of stuffy, sharply adjusted board members flanking the sides of the table. They are watching attentively – expressions somewhere between frustration and despair trapped.
The smell of stale coffee and the special kind of silence that only comes after about an hour of consultation are in the air. The floor-to-ceiling windows turned day into night with no solution found to change the company’s recent marketing campaign – which is trending on social media for all the wrong reasons.
The CEO finally opens his eyes and says, in a tone that is equally stern and exhausted, “We have to bring someone in.”
Enter the strategy advisor. “
With this type of description, I was able to set the stage, grab the reader’s attention, and pave the way for a more thorough description of a strategy advisor’s activities.
Use metaphors or similes.
This point ties in with the above to some extent. Sometimes the subject you are writing about is too dry to get a narrative out of without looking desperate to impose sensory language on a concept with which it, of course, does not fit.
In these cases it can be helpful to use metaphors or similes – full of sensory language and vivid description – to involve and inform the reader at the same time. For example, let’s imagine you’re writing a piece about quote graphics. You might want to include something like this:
“Think of your quote as a starter to a Michelin-starred menu – a flawless piece of filet mignon that tastes like heaven and cuts like butter.
It’s the heart of the dish, and it’s delicious in itself, but some side dishes and an eye-first-eaten presentation would take it to another level. If you fill the plate with crispy, golden-fried potatoes and perfectly charred, still sizzling Brussels sprouts, you can take the dish from “fascinating à la carte” to “bonafide five-star”.
That is the basic principle of quote graphics. The engaging background, distinctive font, and other intriguing visual elements you use can enhance your content and make it compelling. “
While this isn’t always obvious, you can often find ways to incorporate sensory language into your blog content. And when done tastefully and effectively, it can pay off in spades. So if you’re looking for ways to add some pizzazz to your blog copy, take some time to better understand sensory language.