Scent: New Frontiers in Branding

Scent is known to create an emotional connection, and savvy marketers in a variety of industries are discovering the power of using that connection to strengthen a bond with a brand. Scents have been shown to foster more pleasurable retail experiences, and there is a commonality across markets and regions to consumer reaction to scents and the corresponding mood response.

Whether you’re plugging in, misting or infusing fragrance into large areas via electronic systems or more traditional delivery systems, innovative technologies are providing more ways to create ambiance that promotes an experience or brand. The air care market has seen growth in the areas of alternative dispensing, and while candles, sachets, potpourris, oils and scented resins remain popular, there are numerous new options on the market today. Euromonitor forecasts the world air care market growth to reach $7.2 billion by 2010. In the U.S. alone, the growth is expected to reach $2.8 billion. The figure encompasses spray and aerosol use, electric air fresheners, gels, liquids, candles, car air fresheners and other household air care.

One of the distinguishing factors in the air care market continues to be the increasing use of scent as a method of branding used by retailers, hotels and spas to convey a mood or evoke an emotion for individuals in a particular place or setting.

Smelling is Believing

Of the five senses, smell is undoubtedly the strongest. “The role of scent is a new frontier in branding,” said Joe Faranda, chief marketing officer, International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF). “The connection between the sense of smell and the limbic system of the brain is strong, ultimately affecting the power of different scents to evoke different emotions. Scent can be used to create an emotional connection.”

Samsung approached IFF seeking to create a scent that would evoke a mood in their New York City retail space. “In a study commissioned by Samsung, the consumer shopping experience was enhanced when the fragrance was diffused, and indicated that consumers visited other parts of the store,” said Faranda. “Retailers know that a more desirable and pleasant experience can occur.” Faranda noted that it was a scent consumers across multiple countries have responded to, and that the emotion or mood evoked indicated a commonality in terms of shared emotional response.

In addition, IFF notes that it has been working with Hyatt Place Hotels to create a customized signature scent, ultimately to reinforce the branding of the company and the consumer experience. Faranda noted that there has been a change in the perception of subliminal scenting as compared to scent that is easily detected by consumers or visitors to a particular area. “The scent no longer has to be working subliminally to be effective,” says Faranda. “Consumers notice it, and we believe it doesn’t have to be subliminal. In fact, the consumer who recognized the smell was found to have a more positive shopping experience.”

A Technical Perspective

From a technical standpoint, Steve Semoff, vice president and director of technical services for IFF, noted the three factors essential to dispensing environmental fragrance. The fragrance is first, the hardware second and the air turnover rate (i.e., how often air is exchanged in a given environment) is third.

“You want to make sure that the fragrance concentration is at least at threshold level,” said Semoff. “If you have a powerful device and low turnover rate, then you’ll saturate the venue with scent and it will become unpleasant, so it’s important to find a critical balance. The air exchange rate is a fixed value determined by the engineering of the facility, so the two variables are the fragrance and the hardware. Ideally, you don’t want to manipulate the scent, or you want to do that as minimally as possible—as signature scents may have taken a perfumer up to a year and a half to create.”

In discussing the methods utilized for fragrance dispensing, he described the various processes—including the spray, evaporating fragrance from a solid substrate or gel, nebulizing the fragrance and electrostatic charge—which, in the method used by AromaSys, utilizes a device that works with a building’s own ventilating system. According to Semoff, however, micro-nebulization seems to be the most popular available method. “(Micro-nebulization is) introducing a very fine flow of perfume oil into a jet air stream, which produces a very dry fragrance delivery,” said Semoff. “This gives you the truest rendition and, in most cases, allows you to work with the perfume oil in its purest form.”

The chemistry of fragrance also plays a role with respect to the volatility of the mixture, specifically the vapor pressure. “In terms of validating the overall process, there are two methods,” said Semoff. “The first is a sensory evaluation by a trained panel of expert noses, who go into the facility and smell.”

This gives a qualitative assessment. The second approach is a quantitative validation, which takes into account the nanograms per liter of perfume oil being diffused into the air.

POP Branding

Chosen as the featured company to represent this year’s theme of Environmental Scenting at the Las Vegas Global Shop event held in March 2007, EnviroScent is a scent solutions provider that analyzes the needs of those seeking ways to add scent to their businesses, stores, products and brands. Sharon Sherwood, vice president and cofounder of Ball Ground, Georgia-based EnviroScent, noted that scent has become one of the strongest elements of branding for retailers, citing point-of-purchase branding enhanced by scent memory associations as the new wave in retail and hospitality.

“Envirodine Studios, Inc. started in 2001 and began as an environmental dynamics company,” said Sherwood. “With the assistance of IBM and Sony, we successfully presented a proof of concept of an integrated multimedia environmental system that demonstrated how retail space could be electronically remodeled at a moment’s notice. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and we were positioned to launch a truly unique and bold direction for retail marketing.”

Unfortunately, Sept. 11 happened two weeks later, changing the investment atmosphere significantly. “At that time we determined to singularly focus on the one ‘effect’ that universally excited everyone who attended the proof of concept presentation. Since then, the company’s line of equipment and products have grown and developed as a response to their customer’s needs, and the company rapidly carved out a niche as a scent solutions provider.

“For about 20 years, we’ve been very aware of the power of smell to add that additional dimension that would make an experience not only more sensational but memorable,” said Sherwood. The areas Sherwood believes are the most frequently requested to be fragranced include hotel lobbies, retail entrances and POP displays, restaurants, entryways, market bakeries and floral departments, convenience stores, furniture galleries, and theme and amusement parks.

“We also work with the leading virtual reality researchers in the country to add another layer of real life to their research work, training and rehabilitation for patients with addictions and war related post-traumatic stress disorders,” said Sherwood. “We have a growing clientele that uses specific scents for odor elimination—not simply control or masking, but true elimination.”

Sherwood noted that a client’s goals are integral to determining which scent dispersion system or combination of systems will be utilized. The company offers systems that can fragrance virtually any size area—from a closet to a football stadium. Applications determine the scent, according to Sherwood, and scent is typically used in the following ways:

  • Branding
  • Product promotion
  • To support a theme
  • Ambiance and creation/re-creation of memories
  • Aromatherapy/aromachology
  • Remediation

Ultimately, there are many perceived benefits found in environmental scenting. It has also been shown that customers perceive the space as having more upscale merchandise when certain scents are present.

“Customers stay longer in spaces that have pleasant scents, which translates into more time to purchase goods,” said Sherwood. “Scent can also become a silent salesperson to promote products that have the same scent that the machines are emitting, which takes an expense and instead creates a profit center.” Clearly, there are many ways to create a distinction in a given space, environment, room or hospitality center, and scent continues to play an increasingly strong part of the environmental equation.

Regardless of how scent is dispensed, it has come to be appreciated for its form, function and, of course, simply for its fragrance. Whether it enhances a blissful spa experience, stimulates thought or enriches a shopping or hospitality experience, the art of fragrance continues to touch the lives of consumers at their emotional core.

Anthropologists have long considered the greatest commonality of humankind to be found beyond language, culture and geography, concluding that there exists an emotional center that unites people. Perfumers have divined and practiced this knowledge for centuries, tapping into the sense that communicates emotion most directly with the art of fragrance.

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