Smell sells. Have you ever sniffed the subtle aroma of coffee or buttery popcorn, and suddenly wanted some? Smell makes people want to buy. It’s just how our brains are wired. That’s why smelly marketing works.
While all the other senses have to be processed first, smells go directly to the brain’s emotional control center. You sniff something, and bam – it triggers an emotion or memory. You’re hooked.
In his book, How Customers Think, Harvard professor Gerald Zaltman notes that: “Olfactory and other sensory cues are hardwired into the brain’s limbic system, and stimulate vivid recollections. Once a scent is embedded in an individual’s brain, even visual cues can cause it to be resurrected and even experienced.”
Your customers shop with their eyes, yes, but it’s their noses you should be targeting.
Using Scents Makes Sense
Scent marketing allows you to tap into people’s subconscious. Just think of Cinnabon. As soon as you’re within scent distance of a store, the tempting aroma of gooey cinnamon rolls is dancing around in your nose, and the next thing you know, you’re elbow deep in a Caramel Pecanbon.
Cinnabon is among the best of literal scent advertisers. It uses the scent of its actual products to lure customers in and ratchet up sales.
It’s certainly not the only one, though.
KFC has wafted the aroma of its world-famous fried chicken to hungry lunch crowds. Hershey’s has added chocolate fragrances to vending machines. Exxon On The Run stores have added coffee scents to their brewing systems, helping to increase sales by 55%.
But what about brands that don’t have a literal smell like cinnamon rolls or fried chicken? And what about the brands that don’t have a pleasant smell in general? Can scent marketing work for them?
Yes. The best examples are casinos.
All the glitzy megaresorts on the Las Vegas Strip don’t reek of cigarette smoke and liquor. Instead, unique scents are pumped through the casinos’ air ventilation systems, creating pleasant-smelling environments that have a huge impact on brand recognition.
The Venetian’s proprietary scent, Seduction, is described by the company that created the scent as “strong, soothing and sensuous.” The MGM Grand smells of jasmine and rose, the Mirage has the scent of Polynesia, and the Bellagio smells of Northern Italy. If you were blindfolded and led into the lobby of each resort, your nose could tell you where you were. The aromas aren’t just appealing – they aid in brand recall.
Scent also impacts the amount of time gamblers are willing to spend on the casino floor. Research shows that spending increased 44% at Vegas slot machines scented with a fruity, floral aroma over those without a sweet scent.
Smells Become Tangible With Promotional Products
Scent marketing comes in another form, too: promotional products. Promotional air fresheners are tried-and-true marketing tools, but there are all sorts of ways to put your logo (and your scent) into the world: highlighters, pencils, candles, lotions, stress balls.
Swag that smells is swag that gets your brand remembered.
Stress balls create an aromatherapy experience when they diffuse the fragrance of lavender or vanilla. Pencils are suddenly sniff-worthy and different when they smell of strawberries or bubble gum. Scent adds another layer to your promotion. You’re touching on the most powerful sense – smell – which helps embed your brand into customers’ minds.
Want to infuse scent into your promotional campaigns? Read on for five real-world tips from marketers with experience targeting customers’ noses.
1. Have a strategy.
Using scent isn’t as simple as spritzing some air freshener or lighting a candle – you must have a plan in place when approaching scent marketing. Adam Leary, President of Encite Marketing, says too few marketers have a well-thought-out approach.
“When a smell keys in on an emotion, it can considerably impact purchasing behavior as a happy memory can impact consumers’ state of mind, which leads to a more positive outlook,” he says. “A simple strategy put in place in a retail environment could really change an experience for a consumer for the better.”
2. Select the right scent.
Brands must consider what scents are appropriate for the demographics that make up its customer base. Different people find different scents appealing, and you have to think about what smells appeal to your customers the most.
“You have to be careful – if you don’t match the scent to the demographic, you might get hurt,” warns Collin Payne, PhD, an Associate Professor of Marketing at New Mexico State University. “Some stores that cater to women have tested smells to make customers linger in the store so they’re more willing to purchase. When you ask people if they’re influenced by these things, they say absolutely not, but studies show that they are.”
3. Don’t go overboard.
When it comes to smell, subtle is best. You don’t want to bombard customers with an overpowering scent or, worse yet, introduce scents that compete against each other.
“Avoid the urge to employ too many scents in different departments – keep them to a minimum,” advises Carly Fauth, Head of Marketing at Money Crashers. “If you don’t, you may end up confusing your customers or the marketing of the scent gets diluted.”
4. Try a scratch-and-sniff approach.
If flavors and scents are natural to your business – maybe you sell cupcakes or a line of organic lotions – giving customers a whiff of your products entices them to buy. This is especially true with food items.
“The power of smell is important to seasoning products, and we always encourage retailers to have sample bottles available for customers to smell and taste,” says Terri Toner, co-owner of Pirate Jonny’s. “Smelling, tasting and sampling makes a huge difference for people to experience [the product].”
5. Aim to surprise.
If you’re in the food business, olfactory marketing is easy – and expected. But it’s not the only sector that can benefit by appealing to customers’ noses.
“Businesses where the customer is not expecting a good smell – an auto repair shop, for example – can stake out a huge psychological advantage if they smell good,” notes Shel Horowitz, a consultant, copywriter and author. “It might be as simple as having really good coffee brewed a few times a day.”
Scent is a powerful yet often overlooked way to appeal to your customers. Smells motivate them to buy while firmly planting your brand into their minds. The key to scent marketing is finding the right aroma for your brand and using it in creative ways.
Take a whiff. Is your marketing smelly? Your brand shouldn’t just have a look and feel – it should have a smell, too. Appeal to your customers’ noses and breathe in the sweet smell of business success.