Inside the Invisible but Influential World of Scent Branding



Scented environments have been shown to reduce typos made by office workers; improve the perception of product quality; increase purchase intent, average unit sales, and duration of a retail visit or stay among consumers; and boost the willingness of consumers to pay more for a product.

But from offices and trade show booths to retail environments and the products themselves, the true power of olfactory branding (also known as scent branding) is in its unique ability to form immediate, powerful, and differentiated emotional connections with customers, particularly within a category of functionally similar offerings. That’s because a unique scent can spark the memory of the associated products or events, even for an incident dating back to one’s childhood. And olfactory recall can extend to 10,000 different odors, if not more.

The employment of scent branding is a strategy that Hyatt Place has been using since its inception, in 2007. Its unique “Seamless” signature scent delivers the sensation of welcoming elegance and calm through a blend of fresh blueberries and light florals on a base of warm vanilla and musk. The effort began with a small pilot test that aimed to enhance brand perceptions. Regular internal surveys and public online comments reveal that the scent has enhanced the visit experience and increased brand memorability for thousands of guests.

Today, Hyatt Place’s signature scent can be found in almost 300 hotels across the U.S. The scent is such a proven brand asset that it has been codified as a brand standard that defines the company’s experience and brand personality, just as background music, color scheme, décor, and advertising do. And to ensure that Hyatt Place is living up to its intended experience, the company regularly examines its properties to confirm that the Seamless signature scent is being accurately diffused.

While packaged goods, hospitality, retail, medicine, real estate, and fitness are some of the obvious industries for employing scent branding, many brands in other industries have benefited from this approach. Ad agency J. Walter Thompson is currently developing its own signature scent, and Nelson Plant Food, too, uses scent branding to enhance the aroma of its product used by landscapers in upscale neighborhoods — fertilizer — with a floral scent.

Regardless of the industry, the process and considerations for developing an olfactory brand are the same.

Fully understand your entity’s brand DNA. Just as in visual or audio branding, the signature scent needs to convey and support the brand foundation. For this process, you will need to define your unique promise, brand personality, tone of voice, values, and the overall emotions that you’d like associated with your brand experience. Put these thoughts into a cohesive brand statement that can guide you through the next steps.

Translate your statement into a scent. Work with a scent branding strategist and a perfumer trained in ambient aroma development to create your signature scent. As in audio branding, where a marketer should avoid going directly to a musician but rather work with a strategic agency that understands the use of sound as a branding avenue, marketers should rarely go directly to a perfumer. Instead, marketers should work through a scent branding firm, as signature scent development and diffusion is an art and a science. You need the combination of a scent strategist’s skill to interpret a brand through the olfactory lens and the creativity of a specialized perfumer to create the right composition.

During this process, which is different from that of traditional fragrance creation, scents are selected to represent emotional triggers. The feeling of cleanliness and order can be transmitted, for example, through green citrus, or a sense of dynamism and energy through spicy olfactory notes

Consider this example: The core idea behind 1 Hotels is organic living, with respect for the natural resources and indigenous flora of each locale. The values and feelings the company wanted to convey were simplicity, luxury, transparency, and ease. To turn these values into a signature scent with sensuous overlay, it worked with the scent branding firm’s strategist and perfumer to create a bouquet of earthy moss, herbal greens, and sultry woods — olfactory notes shown to communicate these values in extensive, multiplatform research.

Run some tests. Pilot the signature scent before exposing it to prospects and customers. Testing can be as simple as deploying it in your offices to see the reaction of your employees. With 1 Hotel South Beach, for instance, the signature scent was first tested in the offices of the New York–based management team. After getting initial reactions, it was then shared in employee spaces, and finally, it was released to guest environments. Alternatively, you can test it with customers in focus group settings, one-on-one interviews, or other market research environments that enable researchers to gauge the prospect’s reaction to it and their interpretation of its meaning.

Decide your points for diffusion. Look back at the statement you want to convey about your brand’s values and personality and the overall experience you want to create, and answer a few questions: Do you want the scent to act as a form of greeting, so it’s centered on main entrances? Would you like a scent that envelops your entire space or only highly trafficked areas? Would you like your scent to be at play around the clock or only during certain hours? Are you looking for scent to act as a backdrop or a more obvious and identifiable statement? Once you have your answers, you can determine the ideal location for the diffuser to suit your needs and calibrate the on/off timer and velocity units.

The results of developing and diffusing a signature scent can be increased brand loyalty, product confidence, sales volume, price/value perception, and more. Your scent might even create an opportunity for productization, giving you an additional revenue source. For example, the three 1 Hotels have shipped more than 20,000 candles infused with its signature scent, and are now expanding its offering to include two additional candle sizes and a room spray.

In an age where it’s becoming more and more difficult to stand out in a crowded market, you must differentiate your brand emotionally and memorably. Think about your brand in a new way by considering how scent can play a role in making a more powerful impression on your customers.