Use smell to build a brand experience

Philippine Daily Inquirer Business Features Section, January 17, 2003

WHEN marketing professionals develop a blueprint that describes the kind of brand experience they wish their target market to enjoy, much of the brand’s promise is anchored on the sense of sight, taste, touch and hearing. Rarely is it linked to the most powerful sense of them all – the sense of smell.

Excluding fragrance and cosmetic manufacturers, using smell to sell the brand is largely an unexplored direction for many service, retail and manufacturing industries. Then, most advertising agencies fail to counsel their valued clients on the potential brand differentiation that can be achieved using the sense of smell.

This, despite the following facts:

Smell is a chemical sense. Smell, along with taste, allows us to recognize chemicals without ingesting. This insight can help brand builders drive demand for their product or service. The wafting aroma of freshly brewed coffee or the minty scent of fresh tea can lure passerby a few meters away to impulse buying. The smell of mint and spice, rose and cedar induces customers to stay longer hours in a store encouraging unscheduled purchases.

A link exists between odor, memory, mood and emotion. According to olfaction research, the odor memory bank rests in the same area of the brain that is the repository of a person’s emotions and sexual response, memory and creativity. Because of this, odors can be used to evoke feelings of relaxation, pleasure and happiness.

Odor memory lasts a longer time and is easy to smell. The Proust Effect named after its discoverer Marcel Proust, reveals that the sense of smell, compared to other senses, is able to prompt much faster recall of an experience along with the person’s original emotions.

This tells us that the odor a person experiences in an undesirable situation, regardless if this were the result of the incident or not, is likely to be associated with the negative experience. Thus, if a person smells the same odor in the future, negative memories arise.

Marketers can do much brand building capitalizing on this discovery by creating a brand of smell uniquely identified with a positive experience.

Singapore Airlines enhances its sensory experience with distinctly scented hot towels distributed before and after take-off. Asian Hospital and Medical Center’s fresh whiff of light pine and lemon and scent reinforces a unique patient centered healing environment message. The scent of freshly cut-grass and sea air at British Airways lounges worldwide signals a calm, peaceful trip ahead.

Olfaction research reveals that there are no less than 400,000 odors and scents in the world that can influence mood and behavior. Brand managers have a limitless opportunity ahead of them to develop a smell unique to their brand and use this as basis for their brand’s differentiating positioning.

Here are some ways by which smell can be used to differentiate a brand:

Integrate odor in your brand’s personality. Include in your brand character statement a description of the kind of smell you would like your brand to be associated with. This includes the images you would like your brand’s smell to evoke. For example, the scent of sea air, spice, fresh cut grass in an SUV dealer showroom is a classic reminder of adventure that fits the lifestyle of a carefree, upwardly mobile professional target market.

Match the scent with your target market’s profile and aspirations. An odor becomes memorable if recognizable and evokes pleasant memories among your target market. The smell of freshly brewed coffee can never fail to relax and calm the frayed nerves of impatient and restless executives waiting in line to complete a bank transaction.

Use odor to complete the sensory and brand experience. Visual design, subdued lighting, comfortable furniture and solicitous staff are common to salons that aim to pamper clients. But the right ventilation system that circulates apple, lavender or vanilla fragrance instead of the smell of chemical dyes sends a stronger message of indulgence.

The direction to capitalize on the sense of smell as a basis for brand positioning holds much promise. But along with others, it requires the same commitment in time, effort and resources to integrate it into a full sensory experience that leaves the customer delighted.