Ask anybody to describe something “smelly” and you will find that there are many names for it: Stink, stench, smell, odor, scent, fragrance or (very scientific) olfactive experience. The use of any of those descriptors mainly depends on that person’s liking or disliking of anything scented.
What is the relevance to branding you may ask? Well, some marketers believe that adding a scent to a brand’s image creates a deeper connection with the consumer. It’s called “Scent Marketing”. It is a fact that our olfactory receptors directly connect to the limbic system, the portion of the brain responsible for emotions and decision-making. Sounds like a marketer’s goldmine to me…
Let’s go back to the time when a caveman would roast a piece of meat and attract others with the smell. Truth be told, most would have fought with him over his meal but some would have traded other stuff or favors just for having a bite – and you have early Scent Marketing. Fast forward to the streets of Louis XV’s Paris, filled with a stench that needed to be covered up to make the environment (including it’s inhabitants) tolerable. On a big holiday most major religions roll out their multi-sensory arsenal: the ornate garments and decorated places of worship (sight), the powerful organ (sound), the blessings (touch), various offerings of food or wine (taste) and burning incense (smell). In today’s environment basically everything and everybody smells. It is just a matter of how you use and control it to meet the idea of “pleasant” and “appropriate” du jour.
Advertisers and marketers are facing another problem: 80% of all brand communication is audio or visual. For most brands and products, taste and touch do not even apply. That leaves scent, the only sense we cannot block out permanently. The average adult breathes 18,000- 30,000 times a day – no threat here from TiVo or the iPod. How’s that for “number of impressions”?
Scent Marketing has leaders and followers: Singapore Airlines introduced a branded scent over 15 years ago along with a slew of other branding initiatives, making it the poster child of multi-sensory marketing. If not battered by problems such as high kerosene prices other airlines would have followed suit by now. SONYstyle infused scent in their stores and showrooms, Samsung followed just recently. Starwood Hotel’s Westin brand started a scenting frenzy in the hospitality industry. Their advantage is that they own or control the space where they release their fragrance. Coca-Cola has been playing with prototypes of scented Point-of-Sale installations for over 10 years, only they need the cooperation of the stores they are in.
So why don’t we see more “Scent Marketing” efforts? For one, because it’s ROI is so difficult to define. Detailed numbers and success stories are hard to come by or highly anecdotal or just not publicly shared. Also, nobody wants to be accused of “stinking up the place” and of a lack of compassion towards those with chemical hypersensitivities, medical conditions or other scent-induced problems.
The solution is – again – “control”. Of the appropriateness, the intensity of a scent and if a customer wants to be exposed to the experience or not. Once these basic rules are observed you are in good shape and you can scent have go to work for you: In consumer testing, scented products have routinely been considered of higher value (the sneaker offered in scented versus an unscented store) and better quality (scented versus unscented toilet paper). Scent impacts the perception of time passing (gamblers linger longer at the slot machines) and space, which does not turn a smallish hotel room into a suite but at least makes it feel like it’s worth the money.
In my next post on this topic I will focus on designing the right scent for your brand and on how to convince a manufacturer to actually make it for you.
Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Harald Vogt
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