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Scent Marketing: The Power of Smell

As brands continue to search for innovative ways to distinguish themselves scent marketing is growing in importance.

The Power of Smell

Freshly baked bread, frying bacon, and cut grass: these are smells that have the ability to evoke powerful memories and incite an emotional response. This is because smell is the only sense directly connected to the brain’s limbic system, the area responsible for processing emotions, memories, and decisions, so smells are more quickly and strongly associated with memories than visual or auditory cues. In other words, scientifically, smell can instantly trigger an emotional response.

Smelling Money

Exposure to pleasant fragrances has been shown to influence memory, influence perception, make people more comfortable, shorten the time they think they are waiting, and significantly enhance performance on work-related tasks and creative tasks. But most importantly to brands, it has been shown to increase sales. A 2013 study by the Global Journal of Commerce and Management Perspective reports that ambient scent has the strongest impact when it comes to enhancing consumer behaviour in terms of emotion, evaluation, willingness to return to a store, and purchase intention. And a study run by Nike showed that adding scents to their stores increased intent to purchase by 80%, while another experiment at a petrol station saw pumping the smell of coffee increase purchases of drink by 300%. No wonder brands are starting to think about signature smells to define their brand and its identity.

In House Scents

There are already a number of brands working with the power of scent to create emotional connections. Abercrombie & Fitch was one of the earliest brands, developing a signature in-house perfume Fierce, which is now a central part of its identity. The JW Marriott hotel chain has also had its own in-house fragrance developed, and Subtle Sophistication, a soft and fresh fragrance with citrus, is now pumped out in hotels across the world. Children’s toy shop Hamleys have also been utilising the effects of scent on weary parents, with a piña colada smell.

A number of banks are also working with smell. Florida based Ocean Bank is exploring scented cheque books and pens following the success of its in-house scent. Helm Bank, National Australia Bank, China Merchant’s Bank, Bank Leumi, and Velocity Credit Union are all also playing on the emotions of smell. Helm Bank has seen branches that added the scent double their revenue and the number of new account openings, and seen bank’s customer satisfaction grow from 20% to 99%.

Ford Motor’s Lincoln brand has also created its own fragrance to reposition Lincoln back in the luxury market. Lincoln was a top-selling US luxury brands for decades, but was neglected as Ford’s other luxury brands like Jaguar stole attention. The new scent, a blend of Earl Grey tea, jasmine, and orange flowers created in partnership with SensoryMax and perfumer Rene Morgenthaler, aims to seduce younger buyers with the smell of luxury.

Eliciting the Right Emotions

Jennifer Dublino, VP of development at ScentWorld estimates the scent-marketing industry is growing at an annual rate of 15%, with revenue now reaching about $300 million worldwide. Five leading scent-marketing companies, including BrandAroma, ScentAir, and DMX, control around 80% of the world market and an estimated 10-20% of retailers in the US are already customers. AirQ by Prolitec is another leading company, with clients including Abercrombie & Fitch, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, and Giorgio Armani. These companies focus on creating specific scents to elicit the right emotions in each brand’s customers: to increase feelings of warmth and comfort, happiness, safety, elegance, or luxury or trust.

Just as the last two decades have seen sound marketing become increasingly important – as brand identity affirming music pumps out of doors along the high street – scent marketing is becoming equally important as the ambience. And this scalable form of marketing has only just begun.



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