Marketing Strategy Blog

Overcome Sensory Adaptation Through Effective Marketing

overcoming sensory adaptation

What if I told you that, despite all your best efforts, a fair amount of your audience simply doesn’t see or hear you? Your product or service may be amazing. Your customer service may be stellar.

But if your marketing lacks surprise, deviation, or uniqueness, you may be screaming into the digital void. Your prospects may be tuning you out.

Why?

Because of sensory adaptation.

What is Sensory Adaptation?

Sensory adaptation (also called “neural adaptation”) is a psychological phenomenon in which we block out things that we are exposed to repeatedly. According to the American Psychological Association, it is “a phenomenon in which receptor cells lose their power to respond after a period of unchanged stimulation.” In other words, the more you are exposed to a certain stimulus, the more you tune it out.

Sensory adaptation is why we don’t constantly feel our clothes on our skin, or smell the same scent after being in a room for a while, or hear every conversation happening within earshot of a crowded room. If our brains weren’t able to tune certain sensory stimulation out, we would go crazy with sensory responses, and we wouldn’t be able to focus on what matters.

Sensory adaptation occurs to help people tune out distractions and focus on the most relevant or important stimuli around them.

Kendra Cherry, MSEd, at VeryWell Mind

Sensory Systems You Can Affect

In the context of B2B marketing, understanding sensory adaptation is crucial for creating effective and engaging marketing strategies. Here’s how sensory information and adaptation affect B2B marketing:

Visual Stimuli

In B2B marketing, visual elements play a significant role, whether in website design, branding, advertising, you name it.

For example, if your blog is loaded with walls of text, with no breaks, no images, etc., your target audience may experience visual adaptation, leading to page abandonment.

Simply try adding infographics or italicizing, bolding or underlining text for emphasis. Updating your blog with visual content that breaks up the monotony will help maintain audience engagement.

Auditory Stimuli

For B2B marketers using auditory elements, such as webinars, podcasts, or video content, is essential to avoid monotony. If the auditory experience remains monotone, individuals may adapt, leading to reduced responsiveness. Introducing variations in tone, pace, and format can help sustain attention.

Somatosensory Stimuli

white index card over officeHave you ever touched someone’s business card and felt surprised at how high-quality it feels compared to the typical card? Consider the sense of touch and tactile elements of your marketing, too.

In some B2B marketing contexts, physical touch or interactive experiences can be part of the strategy, such as product demonstrations or experiential marketing. If these elements become predictable, there is a risk of sensory adaptation. Introducing new interactive features or engagement methods helps to counter this effect.

Olfactory & Gustatory Stimuli

While less common in B2B marketing, certain industries may involve sense of smell or taste experiences (e.g., food and beverage or product manufacturing), and if you get creative, you can likely use this stimuli in your favor.

The connection between memory and smell is a powerful and well-documented phenomenon. Smell is closely linked to the brain’s limbic system, which includes the hippocampus and amygdala—regions associated with memory and emotions. Smells evoke strong emotional responses and trigger memories more powerfully than other senses.

Say you have a meeting in your office and you’re trying to impress some business colleagues. If your office smells the same as the rest of the building, it’s likely your colleagues have adapted to the smell and don’t notice it.

But if you light a candle with a scent often associated with positive and productive environments (such as citrus, peppermint, or cinnamon), this can help put your colleague in the headspace you were hoping for.

What is Perceptual Adaptation?

Perceptual adaptation and sensory adaptation are similar, and they affect marketing in similar ways. While sensory adaptation is the process of filtering out, or getting used to, certain sensory information that our brains deem to be irrelevant, perceptual adaptation is the process in which we take in that sensory information, and our minds “fill in the blanks” with memories.

B2B marketers often rely on various types of content to engage their audience. If content formats become too repetitive, perceptual or sensory adaptation may occur.

Diversifying content types, such as articles, videos, webinars, podcasts, research reports, infographics, and interactive content, can help maintain audience interest.

Adaptation vs. Habituation

Adaptation and habituation are similar but also have key differences. Adaptation is automatic, meaning it happens without conscious effort. Habituation also involves becoming less sensitive to stimuli, but there is a conscious element to it. For example, consciously ordering the same meal over and over at a restaurant can lead to you enjoying it less over time.

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BREAK THROUGH THE NOISE

Causes of Perceptual & Sensory Adaptation in B2B Marketing

Sensory adaptation can happen in B2B marketing as well. It’s why your marketing efforts become less effective over time if you continue running the same campaign with the same messaging and visuals without any changes or modifications. It’s why your click-through rates fall and your conversion rates slump with the same CTAs over time. It’s why your audience becomes less responsive to your advertisements and emails if they are too repetitive and predictable.

But what causes sensory adaptation in B2B marketing? There are a few key factors:

  1. Repetitive messaging – One of the main reasons for sensory adaptation is repetitive messaging. If you keep using the same messaging, visuals, and tactics over and over again, your audience will eventually tune it out. They’ve seen it before, and it’s no longer novel or interesting to them.
  2. Lack of differentiation – If you essentially say the same thing as everybody else, using the same value propositions and marketing hooks, B2B decision-makers have no reason to listen to you. They’ve heard it all before. Nothing you’re saying is new.
  3. Content fatigue – We’re big fans of B2B content marketing. Your content needs to be really good if it’s going to stand out from the crowd. Everyone is blogging. Everyone is producing whitepapers and webinars. If you want to break through the noise and overcome perceptual adaptation, publish content that’s not only great but also delivers unique value in some way.
  4. Ineffective personalization – In the B2B context, personalization is crucial. If marketing efforts lack personalization and fail to address the specific needs and pain points of individual businesses, decision-makers are less likely to engage with the content.
  5. Information overload – Decision makers in B2B are constantly exposed to a stream of marketing materials (literally thousands of messages each day). This constant exposure can lead them to eventually start tuning out marketing messages. Only the most creative, striking information gets their attention.
  6. Lack of emotional appeal – Information that lacks emotional appeal will most likely be overlooked. In order to overcome sensory adaptation, marketers should create an emotional connection with their audience through compelling storytelling, relatable messaging, or the element of surprise.
  7. Lack of innovation – If you’re still using the same marketing techniques and messaging that you’ve been using for years, you’re probably going to experience the impact of sensory adaptation. Your marketing won’t feel new and fresh and appealing. It will feel like…well, it will feel like marketing.

At the bottom of much sensory adaptation in B2B marketing is best practices. Marketers are always looking for best practices. The problem with best practices is that everybody does them. In other words, they produce a lot of copycats. To achieve outsized success in B2B marketing, move beyond best practices.

As Stratabeat CEO Tom Shapiro says in his book Rethink Lead Generation:

Sure, the best practices may have worked for a few companies initially, but eventually everyone and your second cousin is conducting their marketing in line with the best practices, and innovation and creativity then grind to a halt.

Tom Shapiro, CEO at Stratabeat

How Sensory Adaptation May Be Killing Your Marketing Efforts

Now let’s look at some specific ways that sensory adaptation may be hurting your marketing and the steps you can take to improve your marketing effectiveness.

Website Design & Sensory Adaptation

Given your brain’s inclination towards tuning out stimuli that go unchanged, consider how to improve your website design to grab your site visitors’ attention and shake them out of their current state. Your design should make them stop and take notice.

Your website should be easy to navigate, the experience should feel intuitive, and their time on site should feel good on a subconscious level. However, it shouldn’t feel like a template. It shouldn’t appear stale or boring or the same as many other sites they’ve visited.

Deviation is highly effective in breaking the brain’s predictive inclinations, and in causing a person to experience a website much differently than a me-too design. Understand the competitive landscape. Document their journey. Realize what they are seeing when experiencing your competitors’ websites.

Then, be sure you are delivering a site experience that breaks through all the noise and prevents any type of sensory adaptation.

Messaging & Sensory Adaptation

It’s the same with the messaging in your website, ads, and other marketing. Yes, make it clear. Make it easy to understand. But no need to be boring and use the same tired language the rest of the industry uses.

How many times have you visited a website, and the main messaging feels like an encyclopedia description of what the company does? In looking at the home page of a variety of coworking spaces, for example, you’ll see the following language at the top of the page:

  • Community-Driven Office Space
  • Take a Tour of ABC Company
  • Welcome to ABC Company
  • Office Coworking and Suites in [City Name]
  • Join Us
  • ABC Company is Expanding
  • Join the Coworking Movement
  • Coworking spaces designed for people who would rather work in a community than at a company.

b2b marketer sleeping at deskAre you still awake?

All of this may be factually accurate. From a marketing perspective, though, this type of messaging is precisely what causes “banner blindness” to a company’s marketing efforts. (It also causes intense boredom.) Your audience is so attuned to hearing this type of bland messaging that they will automatically tune it out.

Be more creative and wake them up!

Other Examples of Sensory Adaptation

Adaptation impacts your marketing in other ways too. In fact, if you’re not careful it can become an epidemic in your business.

For example, consider your email marketing efforts. Are your open rates falling? Could it be because your subject lines are all starting to sound the same? Are you using the same templates and designs for your email campaigns, causing them to blend into each other? These are all signs of adaptation.

If this is the case, it’s time to start A/B testing different elements of your emails. Try multiple subject lines, different calls-to-action, different imagery, and different body copy throughout your emails. Also, consider testing different lengths of emails – some short and snappy, some a little longer and more detailed.

Test one element at a time so you can gain a clear understanding of what is working and what doesn’t seem to break through sensory adaptation.

Your social media posts can also suffer from adaptation. If you’re constantly sharing similar content or using the same messaging, your audience may start to tune out and scroll past your posts without even registering what you’re saying.

Consider ways you might shake things up and capture people’s attention. Share different types of content, such as images, videos, and plain text content. On some posts, include calls to action. On others, invite your audience to engage in the comments. Try long posts versus short ones. Evaluate the performance of different types of content and then double down on what works best.

Or what about your landing pages? Are you starting to see less-than-stellar conversion rates? Again, it might be because of adaptation. Are your landing pages interesting? Do they give users compelling reasons to click, sign up, or download? Or do they all look the same and use the same boring, templatized language?

The point is that there’s always the potential for sensory adaptation in your B2B business. That’s not to say that all of your marketing efforts are doomed, but rather that you need to be constantly vigilant and innovative in order to keep your audience engaged.

Cut through the Noise

How to Craft Messaging that Cuts Right through the Noise

Want to cut through the noise and reach your audience with perfectly crafted messaging? Learn how in this guide. Read the Post

Deviate from the Norm

If you want to overcome perceptual and sensory adaptation, deviate from the norm. “Interrupt” their thought patterns and capture their attention. Let’s look at some specific ways to do that.

The Power of Surprise

Few things overcome perceptual adaptation more effectively than the element of surprise. If you can surprise your audience in some way, it’s likely they’ll pay more attention to what you’re putting out there. You’ll break through their numbness and capture their attention.

Remember the movie Sixth Sense? The ending of the movie was a total shock, a surprise to top all surprises. It caught people totally off-guard and captured their attention in a way that few movies could. People talked about the movie for months after its’ release.

The reality is that the human brain is wired to be delighted by surprises. Emory University neuroscientist Gregory Burns and his team performed a test that proved the human brain loves the element of surprise more than almost anything else.

His study showed that when the brain encounters something new and surprising, it enjoys that experience even more than when it encounters something familiar it enjoys.
So, how can you use surprise in your marketing? Obviously, you need to use common sense when deploying surprise. But most B2B marketers don’t use it enough.

Can you get creative with your email subject lines? Can you use an image in a blog post that (appropriately) catches people off guard? Can you break through the thousands of LinkedIn posts in your audience’s feed? Can you do something in your website design that makes people stop in their tracks and take notice?

Get creative with the use of surprise.

Evoke an Emotional Response

child running through a sprinkler
Action is almost always preceded by emotion. In fact, without emotion, people often find it difficult to make decisions. Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio found that people who had lost their ability to experience emotions due to brain damage also lost their ability to make decisions. They didn’t feel strongly about anything and thus had extreme difficulty taking action.

Again, to quote Tom Shapiro in Rethink Lead Generation:

Through this study, Damasio uncovered an interesting reality: humans make decisions based on emotion and only then rationalize that decision. In other words, if your marketing is not evoking an emotional response from your audience, you’re missing out on conversions, leads, discovery meetings, new customers, and sales.

Tom Shapiro, CEO at Stratabeat

Are you employing emotional marketing? What emotional response does your marketing evoke?

Does it make your audience smile? Do they feel specific pain points more acutely? Do they feel inspired to take action?

Consider using storytelling to inspire emotion in your audience. Share relatable stories that evoke empathy or create a sense of urgency. Use powerful visuals to capture attention and elicit an emotional response.

By connecting with your audience on an emotional level, you break through perceptual adaptation and create a lasting impression.

Contrast and Colors

Using color psychology and contrast also helps you to overcome sensory adaptation. Colors have the ability to evoke emotions and associations. You can use specific colors to create emotional connections with your audience.

For example, warm colors like red and orange evoke feelings of excitement or passion, while cool colors like blue and green convey calmness or trustworthiness.

Consistent use of colors in branding leads to strong brand recognition. When customers consistently see a particular color associated with a brand, they are more likely to remember and trust that brand. This recognition can cut through sensory adaptation and maintain brand awareness.

Use contrast to guide the viewer’s eye to specific elements in marketing materials. Vibrant or contrasting colors draw attention to key messages or calls to action, ensuring that important information is not overlooked.

Contrast also enhances the readability of text and makes content more accessible. When text stands out from the background, it’s easier for viewers to read and comprehend, reducing the chances of sensory adaptation due to difficulty in processing information.

When designing a website page or laying out a new piece of content, think about how to use color psychology and contrast to grab the reader’s attention, direct their attention to important items, and evoke an emotional response.

Show Faces

girl showing her face smiling
Studies show that our brains respond strongly to faces. Additionally, a UCLA study about communication found that facial expressions are responsible for 55% of what is communicated.

Using real faces in marketing materials can help to break through sensory adaptation. Faces evoke emotions and create a personal connection with the viewer, making the message more memorable.

Additionally, our brains often mirror what we see in other’s faces. A team of scientists in Parma, Italy implanted electrodes in the brain of a monkey so that they could map the neurons that were controlling the monkey’s movements.

At one point, a research student entered the lab while eating an ice cream cone. When the student brought the cone to her mouth, the monkey’s brain lit up in the same way as it would if he had eaten the ice cream himself.

This phenomenon, called “mirroring,” shows how powerful faces can be in capturing our attention and eliciting emotional responses. We feel happiness when we see a happy face. We feel surprised when we see someone with their mouth wide in surprise.

If you want to overcome perceptual sensory adaptation, consider how you might incorporate human faces into your marketing. If possible, go beyond bland stock photos. Use photos of your team, showing them laughing, smiling, and talking. Your audience will respond emotionally to these photos more than they would just text.

Integrate Interactive Elements

Integrating interactive elements into your B2B marketing can also help you overcome the bane of perceptual and sensory adaptation. Elements such as quizzes and polls, can increase engagement and prevent your audience from simply scrolling past your content.

Interactive elements not only grab attention but also allow for a personalized experience. By allowing the viewer to actively engage with the content, they become more involved in the message and are less likely to mentally tune it out.

For example, say that you sell CRM software for small businesses. An interactive poll/tool in which you gather information about the size of their business, what industry they’re in, and their current CRM system can provide valuable insights. Based on the data gathered, you can then tailor your marketing message to better target potential customers.

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DRIVE THEM TO ACTION

Give Your Audience the Space to Think Clearly

Perceptual and sensory adaptation in B2B marketing occurs when your audience doesn’t have the space to think clearly. They’re overwhelmed by information, choices, and data points, and don’t have the time or mental energy to process it all.

To overcome this, give your audience the space and time to think clearly. Here are some concrete ways to do that.

Whitespace

paintbrushes in front of white background
When it comes to design, less is almost always more. When a design is cluttered, users can quickly become visually overwhelmed, and adaptation can set in. Key pieces of information and calls to action get lost in the mix, and your message isn’t relayed effectively.

Utilizing whitespace in your design can give the eyes a place to rest and reduce cognitive load. This makes it easier for your audience to process information and take action.

You can also use whitespace to guide the eye to the most important parts of a page. If everything on a page occupies large amounts of space, it’s hard for anything to stand out, regardless of how important it is. Through the strategic use of whitespace, you can guide your audience through a page and ultimately move them to take action at the appropriate time.

Chunk Information

When you visit a web page and encounter a large wall of text, what do you do?

If you’re like most people, you instinctively skip over large chunks of information or abandon the page. This is because our brains are wired to process information in smaller, more manageable chunks.

To overcome perceptual and sensory adaptation in marketing, break up your content into smaller pieces. Use headings, subheadings, bullet points, callouts, and other formatting tools to make the information easier for your audience to consume.

While there are no hard and fast rules, try to keep paragraphs to no more than 3 – 4 sentences. If you’re listing items, put them into bullet format.

Generally speaking, you want to make it easy for people to skim a page and get a good idea of what the page is about.

Short Loading Times

Do you want to drive users away from your website? Have your pages load slowly. Few things frustrate website visitors more than long loading times. And on top of this, Google hates slow load times as well. Not only do you frustrate your users, but you also send negative signals to Google, indicating that they should not send people to your website.

Your website needs to load fast. Really fast, both on mobile and desktop. This is especially important for mobile, as more and more people are accessing the internet on their phones. So do everything in your power to optimize your website’s loading speed.

Some ways to do that include:

  • Utilizing lazy loading to only load images and videos as they are needed, instead of all at once
  • Compressing images to reduce file size without sacrificing quality
  • Minimizing the use of plugins and scripts that can slow down page loading times
  • Using a content delivery network (CDN) to serve your website’s files from multiple servers around the world, reducing the distance between your website and users

To determine if your site is loading fast enough, go to Google Search Console and click on Core Web Vitals. This will give you detailed information about every page on your site, as well as recommendations for how to improve the page load time.

Limit Choices

Choice overload is a phenomenon that occurs when users are confronted with too many choices. The result of having too many choices is that users are often overwhelmed and end up making no choice at all.

This principle applies just as much to marketing as it does to everyday life. If you bombard your audience with too many options on a landing page or email or website, they’ll often end up making no choice.

To avoid overwhelming your audience with choices, limit the number of options available to them. Have one or two clear calls to action on a page or email. Keep your website navigation simple and streamlined. This will help prevent adaptation and keep your audience engaged with your marketing efforts.

Clear CTA

If you want your audience to take a specific action on a particular page, it should be abundantly clear to them exactly what action you want them to take. Call-to-action buttons should be clear and compelling, easily noticeable, and not hidden among other elements on the page.

Using strong, action-oriented language and creating a sense of urgency can also help overcome any adaptation. This not only grabs attention but also creates a sense of importance and encourages immediate action from your audience.

What You’re Doing Right (When You’re Doing It Sparingly)

You might think that the principle of perceptual and sensory adaptation means you always need to be doing something completely new. But this isn’t the case. Yes, you should shock their nervous systems every once in a while to wake your audience to your new ideas.

However, there are elements of tried-and-true marketing strategies that work well to reduce their sensory processing time and inhibitions and help them remember you.

Familiarity Principle

The reality is that when you’re familiar with a brand, you trust them more. You understand their messaging, product, and key differentiators. As a brand, you need to walk the fine line between sensory adaptation and building familiarity.

So how can you strengthen your relationship with your audience without running the risk of them tuning you out? Ultimately, it’s by delivering value to them over and over while delivering a positive, compelling experience. When a user knows that everything they get from you will be valuable, they’re more likely to pay attention to your messaging and not fall victim to sensory adaptation.

For example, say you have a blog on your website. If you want your website visitors to stay engaged with your blog, each post needs to add value that they can’t get anywhere else. Don’t publish just to publish. Rather, ensure that each post has a unique perspective, data, examples, expert voices, or other types of content that they’ll find valuable. Over time, as you consistently deliver value, your website visitors will come to expect it and tune in for your content rather than ignore it.

The same goes for your social media posts, email marketing, webinars, and every other way that you interact with your audience. Be overwhelmingly valuable and your audience won’t tune you out.

Repetition

There is a principle in art called, among other things, “repetition and variation”. For example, a musical composer might repeat a three-note motif over and over throughout a piece of music. However, to prevent the listener from getting bored, they present variations of that three-note motif. The listener is able to identify the pattern without losing interest in the overall piece of music.

Marketers should adopt a similar principle. Your core brand messages should be repeated again and again throughout brand assets. If a person visits your website, they should quickly be able to identify what is most important to your brand.

However, to prevent sensory adaptation, consider how you can vary the presentation of your core messages. This could be through different mediums, such as using video or images instead of just text, or by saying essentially the same thing from a different angle.

For example, at Stratabeat, we believe that mediocre marketing should be destroyed. But we don’t just repeat that phrase ad nauseam. We vary it up by also saying “Let’s destroy mediocre webinars” and “Let’s destroy mediocre content” and “Let’s destroy mediocre thinking.” We also say things like, “Amplify your awesomeness.” Our goal is to convey similar messages, but in a way that keeps our audience engaged and interested.

By varying your core brand messages, you can prevent your audience from falling into a state of sensory adaptation and continue to capture and hold their attention.

Just Don’t Be(2B) Boring

B2B marketing shouldn’t be boring. After all, you’re still marketing to people who feel emotions and like being surprised and delighted. Just because you’re in B2B doesn’t mean your marketing should be bland and boring. B2B users experience things like being overwhelmed by choices and decision fatigue.

By striving to overcome sensory adaptation, you can create marketing campaigns that are memorable, emotional, and effective. Don’t fall into the trap of relying on tired clichés or repeating the same message over and over again. Instead, find creative ways to convey your brand’s messages while keeping your audience engaged and intrigued.