Could you recognize the unique smell of Crayola, or Play-Doh? Each is as instantly identifiable as are their brands’ names and logos. They both use the addition of scent to round out the typical verbal and visual experience. This adds an extra dimension of sensory engagement that helps to differentiate each in the marketplace. From automobiles and airlines to hotels and consumer products, scent is being used to engage and persuade consumers.
The idea of using a signature scent as a marketing device is nothing new. Religions have been engaging our olfactory receptors with burning incense since the beginning of time and retailers have been known to leverage atmospheric scent as a motivator: Bloomingdale’s bathes its infant department in the scent of baby powder and Exxon uses the aroma of coffee to persuade customers in their convenience stores.
Engaging all the senses creates a completely immersive customer experience that helps to foster deeper emotional bonds between brand and consumer. While vision is unquestionably our most powerful sense, when it comes to garnering an emotional response, scent may be the more powerful. We don’t process scent the same way we do sounds or images because the receptors that allow us to smell are directly connected to the limbic system, the region of the brain responsible for emotions, behavior, decision-making and long term memory.
Studies have shown that ambient aroma can impact consumer behavior. Noted neurologist and psychiatrist, Dr. Alan R. Hirsch, studied the effects of fragrance on human behavior and found scent to be a highly effective motivator. Dr. Hirsch’s study at the Las Vegas Hilton resulted in gamblers inserting 45.1% more coins into slot machines within the presence of a pleasant fragrance. At first, it would seem that the gamblers might have been attracted to the pleasant aroma and chosen the machines in those areas over the control group. However, when the Hilton provided the final figures to Hirsch, the results showed that, not only did the scented areas receive more traffic, the slot machines in the fragrance-free areas showed zero decrease in revenues.
Perhaps no one knows this more than automobile manufacturers who have long recognized that the intoxicating scent of a new car is key to linking their marque and new owners. As a result, many have optimized this scent, bottled it and sprayed into new vehicles. Take for instance Cadillac, who infuses interiors with a custom scent called Nuance to ensure that their models smell distinct from other vehicles.
Scent design permeates other markets as well. As part of their sensory environment, Westin Hotels infuses a white tea fragrance throughout its lobbies (The signature fragrance was chosen for “it’s simplicity and its ability to both relax and energize”). SONYstyle infuses the scent of mandarin orange and vanilla in their stores and showrooms and is exploring methods to radiate the scent from store windows to entice shoppers with a whiff of a new flat screen, camera or laptop. While Singapore Airlines began distributing brand scented towels more than 30 years ago.
Testing has shown that scented products are to be considered both of higher value and better quality than “unscented” alternatives. However, before you go scenting your own product and environments, remember you can’t just use a pleasant scent and expect it to work.
For emotional communication to be effective, the fragrance has to be congruent with the brand and product or environment it’s supposed to enhance. On top of that, many fragrances considered to be intoxicating in one market may be repulsive in another. Developing a scent that has international appeal and reflects the values and image that the brand is trying to present can make scenting global brands very tricky business.