Have you noticed foot traffic around your storefront flagging? If so, you may be neglecting a potentially critical element to your marketing strategy: scent marketing. Many people underestimate the sense of smell, but it has the power to strongly influence buying decisions. Effectively harnessing the power of scent can help you entice people to enter the top of the purchase funnel rather than just walking on by.
What Is Scent Marketing?
The goal of scent marketing is to associate your business with a pleasant aroma. It may be something that your customers are already familiar with, such as baking bread or brewing coffee, or it may be a fragrance distinctive to your business, such as a perfume that you sell. The theory is that when your store smells good, it will encourage customers to linger longer and buy more.
Though many people are not aware of it, scent marketing dates back centuries. Ancient Egyptian queen Cleopatra used scent to announce her approach by perfuming the sails of her royal barge. In the 1920s, Parisian tobacco vendors marketed cigarettes for women by spraying them with a blend of alluring fragrances. Bakery chain Cinnabon, deliberately sets up its shops in enclosed areas where scents tend to linger and places its ovens near the front of the store so the smell of baking pastries wafts out of the store into the subway tunnel, airport concourse, or mall food court. One store saw a decrease in sales when the ovens were moved to the back of the store, attesting to the effect of scents on customer behavior.
Advances in scent technology have made it possible for stores to take a more controlled approach to scent marketing. Many establishments now use diffusers incorporated within HVAC systems to deliver the desired scents throughout the store. Because the diffusers are hidden in the ducts, many customers are not aware of them. They might notice the smells but not realize where they are coming from.
What Are the Potential Benefits of Scent Marketing?
If your shop area has an unpleasant odor at baseline because of the work that you do, incorporating more agreeable aromas may help to counteract the effect. However, even if your business smells neutral at baseline, you may still be able to influence customer behavior in a positive way by using scent as a marketing tool. Research has shown that customers exposed to pleasing odors while shopping tend to:
- Stay longer in the store
- Spend more money
- Be nicer to employees and other customers
- Return to the store for subsequent shopping
- Develop loyalty to a particular brand
Overall, scent marketing can contribute to a better overall customer experience.
Incorporating scent into your strategy doesn’t only affect your customers. The same smells that elevate your customers’ moods also work on your employees. When employees are in a good mood, they are likely to be more creative and productive at going about their tasks. This has been shown to translate into higher sales.
What Is the Science Behind Scent Marketing?
The sense of smell was one of the first to develop way back in the early days of human evolution. As a result, it is processed by the brain differently than the other senses. For example, visual and auditory data goes to a central relay system in the brain before traveling to other areas for processing. Smells, on the other hand, travel directly from the olfactory receptors in the nasal passages to the limbic system, which is the area of the brain that interprets them.
Perceiving a familiar smell can bring back a flood of memories that you may not have thought about for years. Smell is the sense most closely associated with memory and emotions because the limbic system in the brain is also responsible for regulating feelings and recalling experiences.
This association of the sense of smell with emotions and memories is not coincidental. Today, many people take the ability to perceive odors for granted, but to the early human ancestors, it was necessary for survival. Smell was the means by which they found food, identified danger, and even located potential mates.
What Are the Psychological Effects of Smells?
Smell not only evokes existing memories but also helps to encode memories for faster recall later. Thus, if you smell something that reminds you of a dangerous or traumatic experience, you may immediately feel a rush of fear and start looking for the nearest exit. On the other hand, if you smell something that reminds you of your home life as a child, you are more likely to feel calm and happy, assuming that your childhood was so.
When you incorporate scent marketing into your overall strategy, obviously your goal is to choose those with which your customers are more likely to have a positive association. However, because the feelings evoked by particular smells are shaped by individual experiences, not every smell will have a universally positive association for everyone. For example, smells associated with the ballpark are likely to have positive associations for people who enjoyed attending baseball games with family as a child. However, someone who was once severely injured from getting hit by a foul ball is more like to have a negative reaction to the same smells.
The association that a majority of people have with certain odors tends to fall along a spectrum, with some generally received more positively and others generally perceived more negatively. You want to choose aromas with general positive associations for most people for your scent marketing, but just realize that not every scent is going to be perceived positively by every customer.
How Can You Incorporate Scent Marketing Effectively?
As with most marketing techniques, this one must be applied in a strategic way to be most effective. It’s not enough just to pick a scent that you like so that your store smells good. Here are some principles to keep in mind when implementing a scent marketing strategy:
Keep the Scents Subtle
Some retailers use a strategy of billboard scents. In other words, they purposely make their signature fragrance extremely intense within the store so that it can’t be ignored, similar to the way that a large, garish billboard draws your eye as you travel along the highway.
One company that is notorious for applying the billboard technique of scent marketing is Abercrombie. For years, it attempted to create an atmosphere similar to that of a trendy nightclub within its clothing stores with loud music, low lighting, and the strong scents of its trademark fragrances wafting through the air of its enclosed spaces. However, Abercrombie has seen a significant decline in value over the last couple of decades, and while its strategy of marketing billboard scents may not be solely responsible, research shows that strong aromas can be overwhelming, even evoking feelings of claustrophobia and anxiety in some people.
Billboard scent marketing is a bold strategy with questionable results. Most businesses find more success with a more subtle strategy using ambient fragrances that customers may not even be consciously aware of.
Choose Scents That Make Sense
The scents that you choose for marketing purposes should match what you sell in the store. In other words, if you sell leather goods, you don’t want to pump your store full of the smells of baking bread, and if you run a bakery you don’t want it to smell like tanned cowhide. By themselves, these odors are perceived as pleasant by most people, but if they don’t make sense with what you’re selling, people may be more likely to turn away. For example, bread smells may evoke hunger, making people more likely to leave your leather goods store to go find something to eat.
The gender of the customer for whom the products are intended also affects the context of the scents used in your strategy. While there is nothing inherently masculine or feminine about most smells, people have formed associations between certain odors and one gender or the other over the years. For example, floral scents are typically associated with women because of their use in perfumes, while scents used in cologne for men are considered more masculine. For this reason, if your store has several different departments selling products for different consumers, you may want to consider a scent marketing strategy that involves a different smell for each department.
Keep in mind that scents don’t have to smell like something you sell to be contextual. For example, a hardware store might smell like freshly cut wood even if it doesn’t actually sell lumber. It does sell tools used in woodworking, and that’s close enough to make contextual sense.
Incorporate Seasonal Scents Into Your Strategy
Certain scents are associated with certain seasons. For example, the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays are times when people tend to prepare certain traditional dishes. Therefore, incorporating scents such as nutmeg, rosemary, ginger, or peppermint into your overall strategy during this time of the year is likely to have a positive effect because most people associate these smells with home, family, and happy childhood memories. When nostalgic smells are combined with seasonally appropriate music, each can enhance the effects of the other.
Seasonal scent marketing doesn’t have to be confined to the winter holidays, however. Certain smells are associated with all times of the year. For example, during the spring and summer, the weather warms up and more people want to be outside. A fragrance evoking mown grass and other green smells may encourage people to stay inside and keep shopping.
What Are Some Examples of Scents That May Be Effective?
Because successful scent marketing depends on choosing contextual aromas, the type of business you run informs the fragrances you should choose. In some cases, certain smells lend themselves to particular businesses automatically because there is already a strong connection between a certain smell and a specific type of establishment. For example, there is a reason why you only seem to smell popcorn in a movie theater and coffee in a Starbucks even though both establishments sell other types of food and drink.
In many cases, the choice may not be obvious or intuitive. To help you figure out which scents to choose, here are some examples of common aromas and the business settings in which they can be most effective.
Vanilla is a good choice for the entertainment industry because of its ability to elevate moods. However, it can also suppress appetite, so it should not be used in a restaurant unless it is an ice cream parlor.
The zesty smell of lemongrass promotes energy. Therefore, it would be a good choice in a casino, sports arena, or concert venue.
Lavender is known for having a calming effect on the body. Therefore, it is a good choice for places such as day spas or salons where the goal is to promote relaxation.
Leather is a good fragrance for stores that sell high-end goods, such as furniture, certainly, but also jewelry, clothing, etc. It is a smell that evokes ostentatious luxury.
5. Fresh Linens
In this case, the name of the scent is a description of the effect it produces rather than the name of a primary ingredient. A lot of different chemical fragrances may be combined to produce a scent of fresh linens. The result is an aroma that is crisp and clean-smelling.
The scent of fresh linens is a good choice for businesses in the hospitality industry, such as hotels, that want to give an impression of cleanliness. It can also be beneficial for fitness centers that want to project an aura of good health and hygiene.
See How Effective Scent Marketing Can Be
If your business isn’t performing up to expectations despite a sound business plan, scent marketing may be the missing ingredient in your overall strategy. Whole Home Scenting diffusers work with your HVAC system to disperse fragrances evenly throughout the premises, giving you control over the intensity level. Shop our wide selection of products to find your fragrance.