Hears Why Sensory Branding Makes Scents!

Wouldn’t it be weird to enter a Starbucks store that didn’t smell of coffee?

The industry of sensory branding is a quiet yet powerful industry. Branding and marketing is everywhere. We are constantly encompassed by countless advertisements, some of them so subtle that we do not even pick up on them. Sensory branding caters exactly to this; it targets our feelings and markets for our senses such that it creates a strong effect on the subconscious. This article focuses mainly on scent and auditory or sound marketing because of their far-reaching impact. Such forms of marketing result in creating subliminal positive feelings that evoke certain emotions in consumers that only add to the whole experience. Behavioural economics studies and monitors behavioural patterns and questions economists’ assumptions of utility as good approximations of real people’s behaviour. Consequently, sensory branding provides a very suitable ground for experimentation and analysing consumption patterns not governed by homogenous rationality; but influenced by scents and sounds. Therefore, sensory branding has become an integral part of the study of behavioural economics.

Scent marketing has been defined as the idea of using scent and incorporating all the touch points of a customer experience. In fact, 75% of our emotions are generated by what we smell.(Lindström, 2005) 74% consumers are drawn into a store because of the smell. 80% of consumers with high emotional engagement will promote a brand they are loyal to among friends and family and 70% of them will spend twice as much on the brand. In one study, two identical pairs of shoes were placed in two identical rooms (one scented with a floral fragrance); customers preferred the shoes in the scented room by an 84% margin, and estimated their value to be on average $10.33 higher than the identical shoes in the unscented room.

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Companies have been employing scent marketing strategies to lure in consumers and boost profits and growth. Abercrombie and Fitch was the first store to monopolise the idea of using a pleasant smell in all its outlets to create brand identification among customers. Cinnabon is infamous for luring customers in with their trademark scent. This scent is a deliberate and methodical strategy to convince consumers to buy more. Cinnabon places ovens near the front of the stores so that the smell “travels” when the doors are opened. The president of Cinnabon, Kat Kole, revealed that sales dropped significantly when ovens were put in the back at a test location.The impact of their marketing has been so strong that people associate cinnamon smells to Cinnabon and this is how sensory branding essentially targets its market – by using one scent for the whole experience of being in a particular brand or store. The scents are often so overpowering that anywhere you go, it instantly reminds you of the brand that uses the smell.

Mitsubishi’s ad agency placed a fragrance ad in two major newspapers that stimulated the “leathery new car smell” and the results were phenomenal – the company’s Lancer Evo X sold out in two weeks and their sales increased by 16%, even during recession. Panera Bread Co., H&M clothing stores, Forest Essentials stores, Hasbro’s scent for its Play-Doh are among many examples of successful sensory branding.

However, scent marketing can also prove to be fatal if not launched properly. Competing scents can create serious problems for brands. 90% of consumers will speed up their shopping if met with a smell they don’t like. For example, in 2008, Starbucks stores stopped selling breakfast sandwiches for six months due to the smell of cooking cheese overpowering the coffee aroma. The scent of the warm sandwiches interfered with the coffee aroma in their stores leading to a decline in sales and more importantly, customer loyalty; sales were down by 1% and traffic was down was by 3%.  

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It is interesting to note that scent branding is often coupled with other forms of sensory marketing, particularly sound branding. Brands prefer to integrate the two into their overall marketing strategy due to its highly complementary nature. While audio advertisements are well ‘heard’ of, sound branding is more complex. It incorporates music, instrumental pieces, the classics, dialogues from movies, original sounds and many more. Sound marketing is, in its fundamentals, extremely similar to scent marketing although not as powerful as the latter.

Sound marketing is especially essential in  instrument stores to encourage purchase of instruments and increase overall customer satisfaction. Victoria’s Secret plays classical music in their stores, which creates an exclusive atmosphere and lends an air of prestige to the merchandise.

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Screen Shot 2018-12-07 at 5.44.59 PM       Image source:    Uncovering The Music Myths Survey

Moreover, departmental stores that play good music tend to enjoy a good customer base as opposed to those stores that play bad or conflicting music. Shoppers feel like less time has passed if they are listening to music they perceive as pleasant. This is particularly useful when lines are long or for customer retention.

In the Indian context, Le Meridien hotel branded itself as a hotel for guests that “seek out a new perspective and cultural discovery in their travel experience” and to support this, the first thing a person smells when they enter the hotel lobby in India is a peculiar scent of old books and parchment in a library.

Sound marketing in India experienced a paradigm shift when Yahoo! secured trademark registration for its famous and highly unique “three-note” yodel, in 2008.

Palladium caters to it’s basket of consumers by playing pieces on the piano and integrates a floral fragrance that enhances the luxury feel and adds to the overall satisfaction and experience.

Marketing is reinventing itself as a discipline in contemporary society and drawing on the conceptual accomplishments of the past in order to create a renewed focus on customers as individuals with human senses. At the same time, one can only wonder if such practices are ethical. Such marketing strategies challenge the concept of  economic principle of rational choice theory. The theory assumes that individuals always make prudent and logical decisions that provide them with the highest amount of personal utility within their financial constraints while keeping in mind the opportunity costs. However, with the advent of sensory branding, consumers are tending towards impulsive and spontaneous decisions, without taking into account necessary factors such as purchasing power. Companies make use of these circumstances and take advantage of such behaviour patterns. Such practices deceive the consumers into higher consumption, which the companies greatly benefit from. It is proven that certain scents can change the perception of stores. For example, the smell of lemon is associated with cleanliness and hygiene and a messy store can be perceived to be cleaner due to the scent used; thereby deceiving the consumer’s senses. Companies have realised the control they have and leave  the consumers unaware of the fuel behind their actions as their impact is so subtle. While most consumers are unaware of the allures, it is not as alarming as it seems. Almost all our entire understanding of the world is experienced through our senses and although companies propose to capitalise on this, the strategy results in an enhanced and most enjoyable and pleasant experience for the consumers who have perfect information. On a personal note, I believe that giving in to sensory branding while being aware of its impact can only enhance one’s overall experience all the while still retaining rationality at the actual point of consumption. At the end of the day, no one wants to visit a store that smells unpleasant or irks the nerves with disagreeable sounds and music; it retracts from the general feel and makes you leave immediately and may also convince you to never return. I suggest visiting a store and taking in the feel created by sensory branding. This leaves you with an intensified experience – who wouldn’t want to be in a fragrant atmosphere while simultaneously listening to The Beatles; and you also manage to hold on to your wallet!

– Anjali Kini

Sources for further reading:

  1. How marketers target your nose. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P81i66_tLlU
  2. RV, R., & R, N. (2015). A Study on the Influence of Senses and the Effectiveness of Sensory Branding. Retrieved from https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/a-study-on-the-influence-of-senses-and-the-effectiveness-of-sensory-branding-Psychiatry-1000236.php?aid=41284
  3. Strategic deployment of scent marketing to boost sales. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.initial.ie/blog/strategic-deployment-of-scents-in-retail-space-to-boost-sales/
  4. Archer, J. (2013). Let them sniff, customers will buy more. Retrieved from https://www.inc.com/james-archer/let-them-sniff-customers-will-buy-more.html
  5. P, P. (2018). DOLLARS AND SCENTS: FACTS ON HOW SCENT MARKETING INCREASES SALES. Retrieved from https://aromatechsystems.com/blogs/business-scenting-essentials-blog/dollars-and-scents-facts-on-how-scent-marketing-increases-sales
  6. Scent Marketing: 11 Research-Backed Benefits To Bottom Line Profits. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.airscent.com/scent-marketing-11-research-backed-benefits-to-bottom-line-profits/
  7. Nassauer, S. (2014). Using Scent as a Marketing Tool, Stores Hope It–and Shoppers–Will Linger. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/using-scent-as-a-marketing-tool-stores-hope-it-and-shoppers-will-linger-1400627455

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