Catch a whiff of coconut and suddenly you’re transported to a beach somewhere with palm trees and children laughing and playing around you. This is how Bloomingdales see it anyway. Their aim is to use the power of scent to transport you to your dream vacation. Once there and in holiday mood you’ll focus on holiday things, like buying swimming costumes. Or so do they believe.
Supermarket operators have known for years that to compete with specialist stores they need to overcome the sanitisation of food that goes hand-in-hand with pre-prepared and packaged products. They’ve demonstrated how injecting the smell of fresh bread into a bakery department can add authenticity to their offer and boost sales of products baked off-site. They’ve done the same with coffee and spices, even baby products – No, don’t even go there!
These days though the idea has been taken up and refined on a strategic level. Brand builders who recognised that brand development is about creating a community where its members (employees, customers etc.) feel at home latched onto the power of smell a while ago.
What we are talking about here is the “Proust Phenomenon” – spontaneous memory triggered by smell. Companies like Bloomingdales and Abercrombie & Fitch have realised brands are a multi-sensory experience and have extended their strategic communications from sight, sound and touch to embrace fragrance.
Brand scents create emotional triggers that lead to a connection that prompts (hopefully) pleasant memories and become powerful motivators. Sight and sound are senses that are both located in the left side of the brain (The rational side) where voluntary memory is at play. Smell on the other hand finds itself in the limbic system and without getting too bio-technical; this part is the emotional core of the brain. Smell works on your involuntary memory, so whether you like it or not connects you with an experience or a memory and the feelings that were previously associated with it. These memories tend to be deeper and more intense and create stronger emotions. And as we all now know, purchase decisions are mostly emotional. (see our whitepaper on this point).
Brand building is about creating a total experience that is consistent across all touch-points. The more consistent and complete you are the more successful you will be at attracting and retaining customers. This is why brands like Abercrombie & Fitch, Zara, Sofitel and Mercedes Benz (yes, it so happens that a lot of thought and money was invested in that-new car smell) have all developed distinctive smells for their products and/or stores.
Perhaps one of the best examples of applying Ambient Scenting to improve brand perception is Singapore Airlines with Stefan Floridian Waters, a scent used as perfume for cabin crewmembers and sprayed on the hot towels given to passengers before takeoff. If you’ve flown with this airline before, the smell will stimulate emotions of comfort, safety and a familiar experience, but the fragrance is also created to match the personality of the brand (which is always shared by its customers)
According to Times Magazine, a New York consulting firm predicted recently that US expenditure on scent marketing will be between $50-$80m in the next 10 years.
Retailers know that when they smell right customers linger for longer, browsing through items with a more positive outlook. In a study by the Smell & Taste Research Foundation, customers who tried on Nike shoes in a scented environment claimed they would pay up to $10 more for a pair of sneakers compared to those who tried the same shoes in an unscented room. The smell gives the impression of quality that customers are willing to pay more for.
Crafting the perfect smell is a complicated task though. Challenges such as gender and cultural preferences as well as age have to be taken into account. Smell is subjective and only with extensive research can a company know which smell will relate to their target customers. Thankfully there are experts to guide brand-builders through this potential minefield. It’s hardly something for an untrained nose. Just think what could happen if people think your business smells fishy!?