Is Scent Branding the Next Hot Marketing Trend?

You already rock on social media and have solid brand recognition. Is scent marketing the next step for your strategy?
May 19, 2014

Marketing experts say that consumers actually do follow their noses, which leads them to buy more. As companies try to stand out from the everyday advertising clutter, some are jumping on the “olfactory marketing” trend—using scent as a way to strengthen their brands and bring in more money.

Jennifer Dublino, vice president of development at ScentWorld Events, the industry's trade group, says the scent-marketing industry grossed $200 million last year and is rising at 10 percent annually. The right scent has been shown to make people more comfortable (at hotels), shorten the time they think they are waiting (at banks) or improve their sense of performance (at the gym).

There's Science Behind the Scents

Scent marketing is typically divided into two broad categories: first, ambient scenting that fills a space with a targeted smell; second, scent branding, which identifies a company’s signature scent for a particular brand.

This is not just marketing conjecture, since there is science behind all this. Pamela Dalton, an olfactory scientist and member of the Monell Chemical Senses Center, says that people sense smell first and send that information to the very primitive brain centers of emotion and memory. This works well for marketers since they're always trying to connect emotionally with customers. According to Dalton, smell is developed before birth, so babies have been found to prefer fragrances that their mothers wore late in the pregnancy. She says businesses that expose pregnant women to their scent "are already grooming their customers before they are born."

Small Businesses Using Scent Marketing

Plenty of small-business owners are using this technique. Michael Stajer, who owns five Roosters Men's Grooming Centers in Northern California, uses scent marketing to help set the atmosphere of an authentic barbershop experience. The shops use a scent warmer to diffuse the smell of their Aveda aftershave cologne.

Brett Bastello at Dannecker & Associates, a real estate agency located in San Diego, says they have been using scent marketing for about three years. Thirty minutes prior to an open house or a meeting with a potential buyer, their agent will burn an ocean scented candle to evoke the full experience of living by the beach. For families and couples relocating to California, it's been overwhelming positive.


burn an ocean scented candle to evoke the full experience of living by the beach

A Canadian book publisher, Oblonsky Editions, used car air fresheners as a promotional item for its new book, Bay Street. It placed these air fresheners on windshields of high-end vehicles parked in Toronto’s financial district, and saw a sharp increase in website traffic.

Something Stinks

Scent marketing is not without its problems. In 2001, iSmell created a USB device that emitted smells for a particular website or product when it was shown on the screen. It failed miserably.

For the 10 percent of the adult population who are asthmatic or the 30 to 35 percent who suffer from allergies, a particular scent could trigger throat closure, burning eyes or headaches, according to Dr. Karin Pacheco, associate professor of occupational and environmental medicine at National Jewish Health.

Choosing the Right Scent

Thinking of creating a scent for your small business? Decide on the one thing you want buyers to emotionally feel. Choosing the wrong scent, or one that is too complicated, can turn customers off.

Researchers at Washington State University advise to keep it very simple. A group of consumers sampled a pure orange scent and then smelled a more complex blend of orange, basil and green tea. The consumers exposed to the single orange scent spent 20 percent more than those when exposed to more complex one. Eric Spangenberg, a co-author of the study, said that a one-ingredient scent “did not distract” shoppers “from the task at hand.”

How does your business use scent marketing?

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