What’s does your brand smell like? The scent of a brand may not be something that readily comes to mind, but it’s far more prevalent than most of us perceive. All big hotel chains have a scent strategy for their brands. So do major airlines. Many automakers have distinctive scents for some or all of their models. BMW and Mercedes have both built scent diffusers into their higher end options.
These scents are distinctive, carefully planned and meticulously disseminated. Yet the level of scent can be so subtle that it isn’t even consciously detected by the customer. Daniel Zimmon is founder and partner at Natscent, a scent branding firm focused on the B2B market. He explains that people’s sense of smell is very connected to emotions. “Scent can be often unconscious. It goes to the limbic and emotional side first, then to the cognitive part of the brain,” he says, “but your brain notices it all the time.” If you can think of the smell of chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven and how that associates, perhaps, with a childhood memory, you can understand what Zimmon is describing.
In fact, while most brand scent strategies have been conceived with the customer in mind, more and more businesses are seeing it as a workplace strategy for their employees as well. These companies want their workplace culture to be associated with a scent that helps provide positive reinforcement. Employees will associate a certain scent with an enjoyable workplace experience and vice versa.
“In workplaces, a lot of our clients are using fragrance as a memory trigger,” says Zimmon, “For instance, for one law firm client it is used to remind the lawyers that their emotional energy is part of their value proposition to each other and their clients.”
So how does a company go about developing a scent for its brand? Zimmon explains that it can be very simple to very customized. “Usually we take examples from different families of scents and let them choose. There are some standards. Citrus is uplifting and lavender is calming. But I could use a really calming smell for an electric go-kart company, and the customer still might associate it with excitement. The context matters as well. They are connected.”
Some hotel brands use a group of fragrances in their strategy, one for the lobby, another for the rooms, maybe a special scent for the most luxurious suites. Airlines will use a scent for the airport lounges. In most cases the fragrance is certified and introduced through the HVAC system to spread it across the space it’s intended for. Natscent charges by the month to supply the fragrance and the equipment needed to disseminate it. The cost is about $140 per month, per HVAC zone.
Scent branding is moving from the hospitality and travel industry into much broader markets. Retirement communities and assisted living facilities use scents to calm and soothe their residents. Dental and medical offices have as well, for similar reasons. And while scent branding is new to many industries, twenty years ago Rolls Royce discovered that customers were complaining about the smell of plastic in their cars and missed the old scent of natural wood. Rolls hired a firm to create a scent that would compensate for this missing smell and it helped improve sales. Certainly, this was an ironic, but effective twist on new car smell, but it’s also further proof of the value of scent to a brand.