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Connecting the Intangible to the Tangible

By: Valerie Jacobs
Posted: July 12, 2011, from the July 2011 issue of GCI Magazine.

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Scents are the newest frontier of immersive, multisensory experiences that engage consumers emotionally and, in time, build loyalty.

Fragrance can be an enhancer or delivery device for a brand story, helping brands connect the intangible to the tangible and providing the thing that resonates with consumers beyond the look and feel of a product. Across categories, brands from Samsung and Cadillac to Westin Hotel & Resorts are leveraging fragrance as a point of difference to transform and elevate an experience.

Also known as ambient scenting, scent branding has become an $80–100 million business globally, a figure that is expected to increase dramatically as more and more companies adopt this subtle yet powerful sensory identifier. First adopted by the casino industry in the early 2000s, the hospitality industry soon followed, with major hotel chains creating scents to evoke engaging, emotional responses to the environment.

Westin Hotels boasts a “mood-enhancing lobby” that includes Jane Parker botanicals, a White Tea by Westin signature scent and atmospheric lighting. This “sensory welcome” is a key trait across Westin brands, with its sister chain W Hotels scenting its public spaces with its own signature scent, Sicilian Fig. In 2009, both of Westin’s signature scents, White Tea and Sicilian Fig, became available as candles for customer purchase.

Ambient scenting is gaining respect in retail, as well. Pascal Gaurin, a French perfumer achieving prominence as an ambient scent marketer, recently helped to develop Samsung’s signature fragrance. In testing, Gaurin’s fragrance did well among consumers who, when exposed to the fragrance, spent an average of 20–30% more time browsing in-store offerings. Even more interestingly, these consumers also associated the scent with characteristics sought by the Samsung brand, including innovation and excellence. This trend is growing more all the time. According to Bloomberg’ Businessweek, companies leveraging ambient scent in retail now include Credit Suisse, De Beers and Sony, and retailers are beginning to include scent within advertising campaigns, as the first scented billboard was erected in summer 2010.

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