Using Scent Marketing to Create Unforgettable Experiences

Warm cinnamon buns at the mall. White tea in the lobby of an upscale hotel. Gingerbread in a gift shop at Christmas time. Whether or not we realize it, many of the smells that we encounter during a typical day are not random. It's called scent marketing. Smells are carefully chosen by savvy marketers capitalizing on the powerful link between smell and emotion.

Scent is our most emotional sense according to studies by Nobel Prize winners Richard Axel and Linda Buck. More than sight or sound, particular smells evoke specific feelings and memories. Scents of fresh-cut grass or your favorite home-cooked meal might subconsciously prompt a happy memory while others are complete turn-offs. 

Aromas can also affect overall mood.
Cinnamon promotes concentration and focus, lavender is soothing and therapeutic, and peppermint boosts energy. "Adding the right scent can take your customers' experience from what they expect to what they consider truly exceptional," says Roel Ventura, a designer at Ambius, a company that specializes in creating workplace ambiance. In short, when creating a guest experience, scents make sense.

Gemma Calvert and Dr. Abhishek Pathak of the Institute on Asian Consumer Insight estimate that the average adult is exposed to 200 or more visual advertising messages on an average day. Retailers and trade show exhibitors that incorporate scent marketing into their presence break free from the pack. By tapping into a sensory experience, Calvert and Pathak explain, "Marketers can cut through the morass of explicit (typically visual) advertising messages to provoke more effective positive brand associations in the minds of their consumers."

But what scent is right for your brand?

Choosing an aroma to associate with your brand is both an art and a science. Marketers must draw upon their data about customers' preferences and behavior, their vision for their own brand, and the physiology of how smells affect the brain. "Scent is the most powerful of the five senses and the only sense directly connected to the brain's limbic system which is responsible for memories and emotions," says Ventura. "As a result, scenting strategies offer an excellent vehicle for establishing and reinforcing a brand's identity with potential customers."

Companies like ScentAir and Air Aroma specialize in helping marketers choose a brand's signature scent. “Your brain reacts to smell before anything else,” says Jennifer Dublino, vice president of development at Scent World Events, a scent marketing conference.

Take Cinnabon, for example. In airports and malls across the country, before a patron even sees a Cinnabon storefront, his nose tells him that these gooey treats aren't far away. As potential customers approach the store, they are bombarded with the sweet, familiar smell of cinnamon buns, drawing them in and thus increasing sales.

According to Calvert and Pathak, moving forward, brands that want to connect with their customers' most primal senses will embrace scent marketing. "In the future, if brand owners wish to engage consumers at a much deeper emotional level, build loyalty and differentiate themselves from the competition, they will need to embrace the multisensory opportunities now afforded to them."

Posted by Kristy Elisano | Request as a Speaker

Caffeine dependent Jersey girl. Inspired by creative risk takers and underdogs. Chief Marketing Officer, Doodle owner and lover of all things chocolate.