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Sensory Branding

Scent Delivery Sense


In my previous posts I shared why you should use scent in your marketing efforts and how to find and make the right fragrance to represent your brand. Today my focus is on scent delivery.

About 10 years ago, the first commercial scent delivery systems entered the market – for use at the point of sale. What better way to identify a fragrance in a cluttered environment (such as a “Parfumerie” in Europe or a department store in the U.S.) than pushing a button and having an “intimate” scent experience that would not involve a sharp-dressed associate ambushing the consumer as she enters the floor or testers on shelves that get messy or are stolen altogether within a week.

The technology most frequently used (by companies such as the now defunct aerome GmbH from Germany) is “dry air delivery”, meaning that purified air is run over or through a scented substance, picks up the fragrance and delivers it via a whiff of scented air to the potential shopper. No residue, no liquid, no alcohol, no cooling sensation on the skin. However, like so may good ideas that sound like a no-brainer it was way ahead of its time at the point of sale. With a few installations, too far spread out geographically, it attracted interest but never turned a profit.

As early as 1993, Dr. Alan Hirsch conducted experiments in casinos where he found out that revenue from slot machines went up by 45% as soon as scent was introduced in the environment. This confirmed that a scent’s properties such as its influence on the perception of time and the benefit of gamblers feeling “well” had substantial commercial value. Today, not a single casino in Las Vegas and elsewhere is without a signature scent.

Those large spaces required powerful delivery systems since the desired experience no longer was “intimate” but had to be all encompassing. AromaSys emerged as the leader in the category with sophisticated equipment that basically vaporizes fragrance oils by applying high voltage (how it works exactly is a company secret). The resulting vapor is then infused into the HVAC system where it travels via the appropriate ducts and saturates even the largest spaces over time. The casino and hospitality business has become one of the most profitable and, subsequently, most fought over category – sometimes with multiple scent delivery units per location.

Currently, most systems are equipped with a nebulizer enclosed in a shoe-box size housing from providers such as Prolitec and Air Aroma, that disperses fragrance oils as mist of micron-sized particles that – again – either travel via HVAC system or via any ambient airflow. Since they work with the original fragrance oils, they provide the truest representation of what the brand marketer had in mind – and paid for.

However, dry air delivery systems – such as ScentAir’s – maintain a strong presence in the marketplace due to their low cost and simple maintenance. Since they store scent in a solid form it wears off with the top note going first, the middle note next until only the base note remains – unless the scent cartridge is replaced as recommended by the manufacturer.

In all cases the business model is “razor & blade” with the “razor” being fairly inexpensive at $100-150/month and the refills not only generating the repeat business but also the bigger profit margins.

“Whatever happened at the point of sale”” you may ask. Well, here’s where you can measure the immediate reward from scent marketing. How many customers bought a different brand of pizza because they could experience the scent of the finished product?  How many customers switched to a new brand of toothpaste because they could experience a new aroma via scented packaging or a scented display? There are objections from the retailers: What will our store smell like if we let every brand do their “smelly thing”? Would our customers find such marketing too intrusive? Would it disturb our store management and replenishing system? Who installs, maintains and removes the devices? Once WalMart or a Target invites them in, the economy of scale that will make point of sale systems affordable.  This will lead to the resurgence of simpler dry air delivery systems There is already great progress made in printable scents that can use coupons or cardboard packaging as carriers.

One caveat remains: ALWAYS, allow the customer control over the exposure to scent. Some of us do not like it; some of us have allergies or worse. As long as brand marketers respect these concerns and limitations, scent marketing is a great way to educate and entertain the consumer.

And by the way, the SCENTworld CONFERENCE & EXPO 2008 in New York will discuss and present the latest trends in scent marketing as they apply for a variety of industries. It is an exciting and widely unexplored field that yields tremendous opportunities.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Harald Vogt

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Bonnie on April 14th, 2009 said

I have a small clothing boutique and I would like to learn more about scent marketing. I would like to offer a fresh, clean, different & exciting shopping experience. I want to sell more and entice my customers to come back. What scents will help me accomplish this?

Harald H. Vogt on April 15th, 2009 said


There is no scent “Silver Bullet” that entices a customer to react. Scent Marketing is all about creating a pleasant environment which will be associated with your store and the products that you sell. The key is “congruency”. If a customer walks in and recognizes (and I exaggerate) the scent of old books that may be appropriate for a book store but not for yours. It will confuse the customer – we are all wired in a certain way – and she will try to get out. A pleasant scent, however, will make her linger and as such you have an opportunity to sell more. If there were a hypnotic scent “Arrrgh, need to buy clothes” I wouldn’t have to run the Scent Marketing Institute 😉
Anyway, start with a scent that you would like and spray it in the store. Watch your customers and even ask them if they notice the scent and if they like it. So you can fine tune your fragrance. Then invest in a small professional scent delivery system.

Good luck!

Harald H. Vogt

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