When Scents Make Business Sense

18/09/2015

Gareth Cowmeadow

At a time when well-known companies and products have already fine-tuned key aspects of their brand to appeal to a variety of senses, scent could be the final frontier for marketers. We all know that smell can affect our feelings, whether it’s a loved one’s favourite perfume or the smell of a pastry in our favourite bakery. Humans are able to recall smells with an impressive 65% accuracy a year after smelling them, compared to just 50% of visuals after only three months, making it all the more important to use this additional sensory tool when trying to engage with customers.

Smell is becoming an increasing area of focus for marketers. From gel cartridges which emit smells from the TV while you’re watching a cookery programme, to iPhone scent cartridges that release scents when certain apps are switched on, smell is becoming a prominent field of innovation. Estate agents have been using this tactic for many years by encouraging vendors to fill their home with the scent of freshly baked bread or coffee in advance of property viewings, thereby creating a homely feel for potential buyers.

Smell can have a number of uses in shops, hotels and offices, by creating a positive ambience and an added connection with the customer. In a world where visual and aural stimuli have been exploited to the max, businesses should be aware of how to capture the power of smell to influence customer behaviour and create an enhanced experience.

‘Smell memory’ is the most powerful part of our memory, with humans able to recognise 10,000 different odours. When you first perceive a scent, you connect it to an event, person or object. When you smell the scent again, it often triggers a memory in the form of a conditioned response. Incredibly, it is believed that 75% of the emotions we generate on a daily basis are affected by smell, and no two people experience an odour in the same way - making this sense a very personal one1. Research has indicated that 40% of customers stay longer in pleasantly scented environments, and the longer people stay, the more likely they are to make a purchase or form a connection with a brand2.

Various scents can encourage different behaviours and emotions and it is worth taking the time to choose the right scent for your business carefully depending on what you want to achieve. Fresh, crisp, citrus scents such as mandarin, work well in office environments and fitness centres, as they create an invigorating and energetic atmosphere. Whereas smells such as leather or woody ones, are bold and mature in nature and therefore work well in more sophisticated environments. Also popular are fruity fragrances, such as apple and pomegranate, as they create a youthful and uplifting vibe, befitting casinos and hotel lobbies.

Even though there are hundreds of scents available, having a bespoke scent for your brand is recommended. A signature scent can take weeks of consultation, design and testing to get right, and specialists work hard to create the right smell for the brand. But the benefit of creating something new, is that the association with the brand will be even more unique and therefore, more distinct.

Scenting makes good financial sense. According to research by Eric Spangenberg, Dean of the Washington State University College of Business, an experiment within a retail environment showed that in a group of approximately 100 people who had shopped in the presence of a simple scent, they typically spent 20% more money, and bought more items. Fifteen seconds is all it takes for a customer to decide whether they stay in a store or not, so it’s vital that a pleasant scent attracts and entices customers in that short period of time. Separate research also found that, in an environment scented with a relevant fragrance, every single person questioned estimated the value of a pair of shoes to be more than £6 higher than their actual value3.

Experiments have also been carried out in casinos on cruise ships to directly gauge the effect of scent on spend. In a 2006 study by Holland America Cruise Lines two identical cruise ships, one scented and one non-scented, were measured on the amount of money that was spent in the casino and at the bar. The scented ship showed an increase in the bar spend of 17.5%, while spend in the casino increased by 8%.

The use of scent also applies to hotels, but this time it’s more about the guest experience. Frequent travellers often cite the smell of a hotel as being associated with “home”. Hotels like the MontCalm in London, have taken scenting a step further, by launching a personal scent offering in each of their guest bedrooms. Guests are able to choose an aroma for their room from a ‘scent menu’, which includes Saw Grass, Lotus Flower and Marine Fresh.

Hotel Bloom! has gone one step further still by using scent at the core of its offering to differentiate itself as a modern hotel where every room is decorated with a unique feel. The hotel’s tagline is “Stay away from the ordinary” as they wanted to provide a full sensory experience across all public areas of the hotel using the bespoke scent BLOOM!

Scent marketing is still a relatively niche pursuit in the UK in comparison to the US and Europe, where it is used more widely. Part of the reason for the slower uptake in Britain is that previous scenting techniques and products used heavy air droplets. These produced over-powering smells, which could be unpleasant in large quantities. Advances have since been made where micro particles are now used to distribute fragrance evenly, creating a more subtle and sophisticated aroma that’s lighter and lasts longer.

In today’s competitive climate, the retail and hospitality sectors need to work even harder to drive customer satisfaction and encourage spending. Scenting is another tool to help businesses achieve this, and should be considered alongside visual marketing as an effective and subtle way of making positive changes to the perception of a brand. Scent and sensory marketing have the potential to increase sales, boost brand loyalty, spur brand advocacy and create a strong lasting emotional connection with customers. Customer experience goes far beyond simply what meets the eye, or the ear, so try and create a lasting impression for your customers which appeals to all their senses.

1 http://www.ambius.com/scenting/why-scenting/index.html
2 http://www.ambius.com/scenting/why-scenting/index.html
3 Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation, Chicago, Illinois, USA

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