The signature scent of a Williams Sonoma store is as much a part of the brand’s retail experience as the font on their signage. In fact, scent has a powerful ability to trigger memory and emotion, and smart retailers are using it to influence buying decisions. Let’s learn more about scent marketing and commercial fragrances.
The Influence of Scent
A growing body of behavioral research is exploring how scent and fragrance drives behaviors, and their findings may be surprising. The presence of aromas in a commercial environment:
- Influences perceptions of quality. Studies indicate that a pleasant ambient odor creates pleasant feelings, which are then attributed to the product being evaluated.
- Inspires purchasing of luxury products. An interesting study shows that in warm-scented environments, people are more likely to purchase premium products and brands.
- Triggers memory. A pleasant scent improves attention and memory, making people more likely to remember unfamiliar products and brand names, and to ascribe positive qualities to them.
- Increases patience. A 1996 study showed that consumers in a neutrally scented environment felt that they spent less time in a retail environment waiting for help, evaluating products, and standing in line than consumers in an unscented environment, even though both groups spent the same amount of time in the store.
We already know that consumer behavior and purchase decisions can be driven by seemingly insignificant factors like lighting, ambient temperature, music, and color, so it’s no surprise that we are influenced by fragrance as well. Scent is part of the holistic environment of a retail store, and part of the brand identity.
The Most Influential Scent Factors
In a comprehensive review of the literature, researchers have identified the following key factors consumers consider when reacting to an ambient scent:
- Scent presence. Research indicates that simply having an ambient fragrance (or not) can affect behavioral responses.
- Scent pleasantness. Perhaps it doesn’t take a scientist to note that people react more favorably to scents they enjoy than to scents they find unpleasant.
- Scent congruity. Consumers expect an ambient fragrance to be congruent with the retail atmosphere and the products on display. For example, while people typically enjoy the fragrance of flowers, they find it incongruent in a motorcycle shop.
In the case of food or flowers, scent congruity is easy to achieve. However, as any perfume expert will tell you, fragrance is much more complicated than that. Humans perceive over 10,000 unique smells, and our sense of smell is directly connected to the limbic center of the brain. We perceive scents as being “warm” or “cold”, “wet” or “dry”, “masculine” or “feminine”, etc. in ways that are often culturally influenced and can be difficult to describe. That’s where scent marketing begins.
Scent Marketing in Practice
Because it is so effective and powerful, scent marketing is becoming more and more important in retail spaces. Researchers at Nike found that adding scent to their stores increased purchase intent by 80%, and more brands want to take advantage of those kinds of numbers. Companies are working with fragrance experts to create “scent logos” that are unique to their atmosphere.
A range of scent marketing firms are crafting custom fragrances for their commercial customers, along with high-tech devices that deliver ambient aromas in a wide range of environments. The biggest of these fragrance firms, US-based ScentAir, has served customers in 119 countries and developed scents for brands like Paul Mitchell, Hugo Boss, BMW, and Under Armour.
Australian competitor Air Aroma’s scent logos are handcrafted to account for audience, emotion, and touch points, to create unique brand fragrances. Signature scents are copy-protected and become part of a brand identity.
Because scent is so powerfully tied to memory, a scent logo can create a completely unique brand experience, triggering positive feelings and memories that are specific to that environment and that company. On the other hand, when a consumer has a negative brand experience, a signature scent is more likely to embed negative associations for much longer periods of time.
When we think of fragrance, we typically think of perfumes and the unique smell that each of us creates and curates for ourselves. But scent marketing will soon become as pervasive and atmospheric as background music, and part of the daily consumer experience. We look forward to a more sweetly-scented world.
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