Can you smell the marketing?

It may not seem intuitive to think about smells as a way for marketers to reach audiences, but "scent marketing" is as old as time. Think of the enticing smell of popcorn at the movie theater or the calming aromas of a spa. Those are ways that companies are sending a signal to consumers about what they may like to consume or experience.

Aroma360 works with companies like Ritz Carlton and Orange Theory to help companies create a "scent identity" by understanding the relationship between scent and mood. In this interview, founder Farah Abassi explains how this technique works and how brands across industries can use it to enhance their marketing efforts:

Scent marketing may not be the first tactic a marketer considers when allocating an ad budget, but certain industries have long used scent marketing, from perfumeries and spas to Cinnabon and donut shops. How is scent marketing expanding into new and unexpected categories?
Hotels and spas have used signature scents and scent marketing for years with tremendous success. It’s has been so successful that many different industries are now incorporating olfactory branding into overall marketing strategy. For example:

  • Retail stores use scent to increase linger time, enhance perceived value of their products and strengthen brand loyalty.
  • Banks use scent to reduce perceived wait time, increase employee satisfaction
  • Casinos use it to increase gambling revenues
  • Fitness centers use it to keep a fresh atmosphere and enhance performance
  • Car dealerships use scent to put clients at ease, increase linger time, enhance the brand and evoke feelings of luxury
  • Restaurants and bars use scent to stimulate food and drink sales
  • Assisted living centers use scent to put patients and visitors at ease
  • Offices use it to increase productivity and employee satisfaction
  • Medical and dental offices use it to put patients at ease, reduce anxiety and increase the frequency of visits

What are some of the most unexpected uses of effective scent marketing?
The way signature scents have been incorporated into the customer/brand experience has been evolving. Marketers have gotten very creative about different ways to implement signature scents. Some fun/interesting applications of scent marketing include online retailers adding scent to their packaging, bank ATMs that scent cash and scented signage including billboards, mailers and even business cards.

You mentioned that Nike increased customers' willingness to purchase sneakers and pay more for the same product based on the scent in their environment. Does it matter if the product being sold is sneakers or car parts? How does a brand determine what kind of scent would put customers in the mood to purchase their products?
Any type of buying experience can be enhanced by using scent. A study was done at a home-and garden-store that showed that customers perceived employees as being more helpful and knowledgeable in a scented store versus an unscented store.

The scent should be consistent with the brand, the experience and can even be tailored to the type of customer. For example, one might use a more masculine scent for a store that caters to men; something tropical for a bathing suit shop; or a light, delicate and powdery for a store that caters to newborn babies.  

What about using scent to reduce anxiety in stressful situations? How can businesses take advantage of that knowledge?
Studies have shown that certain scents can be calming and are great for reducing anxiety. Purchasing a car can be a nerve-racking experience. Consumers worry whether they are making the right choice, if the car is safe for their families, if it will be reliable and if the price is right. Putting customers at ease encourages them to trust the salesperson, the car so the buying process can be a much smoother experience for all parties.

Describe the process for determining what scent a brand should use. What sort of research is available to guide marketers? Do you use testing to see what is most effective?
When working with a brand to develop a signature scent, it’s a matter of learning as much about the brand, its history, its story, and its customers -- and then translating that into a fragrance. Dissecting the brand message and understanding the emotional undertone of the brand is very important. Is it an established/sophisticated brand, is it fun/exhilarating, is it passionate and seductive, is it simple and refined? We definitely do testing to get feedback from guests and employees.

With more and more purchasing moving online and onto mobile devices, what role will scent marketing play down the road?
With the transition from brick-and-mortar stores towards online shopping, marketers will get more creative about ways to introduce scent into the buying experience.

As mentioned before, scented packaging and marketing collateral is a great touchpoint. Every time a customer opens their package, there’s an opportunity to reinforce the brand and shopping experience.

The signature scent will become associated with feelings of excitement, happiness and positivity. Incorporating scent into customer loyalty gifts (such as pillow sprays) and seasonal products/gift ideas such as candles is another way to use one’s olfactory logo in a less traditional way.

This interview has been edited and condensed.