You experience a lot of life's "firsts" during your teenage years. Whether I liked it or not, my first scent branding experience was provided by Abercrombie & Fitch. Even before I saw the storied brands scantily clothed models or heard the loud music, I could smell the unique scent the brand was pumping out of what seemed like their entire AC system. I always thought their scent was overpowering, but since smell is one of the most powerful human senses, their scent conjures up so many memories even today.

Smell is different than other sense because it is most closely linked to memory and is the only sense with a direct connection to our brains limbic system. Neuroscientist Jordan Gaines Lewis Ph.D., wrote an article in Psychology Today, explaining how incoming smells are first processed by the olfactory bulb, which starts inside the nose and runs along the bottom of the brain.

The olfactory bulb has direct connections to two brain areas that are strongly implicated in emotion and memory: the amygdala and hippocampus. Interestingly, visual, auditory (sound), and tactile (touch) information do not pass through these brain areas. This may be why olfaction, more than any other sense, is so successful at triggering emotions and memories, and why it can have a big impact on your business.

The Opportunity

Brick and mortar brands have an unique opportunity to use scent branding as part of their overall customer experience. In retail, the beginning of every story starts with the first interaction we have with the brand, but other senses come into play at the same time. When I was in the hotel business, smell was one of the things we thought about the most. A lot of people would come hang out just in the lobby because of the scent, or ask where they could buy a candle that smelled the same way. We turned our lobbies into experiential platforms, regardless if the people were guests. 

There are plenty of brands that already use scent branding, in some cases, naturally. Think about the smell of a coffee shop, bakery, movie theater, and so on. But think about the opportunity for experiential brands like hotels, banks, retail locations, and even small businesses like doctors, accountants, lawyers to use scents to build their brand. Hey, even KFC made a chicken scented sunscreen (as a marketing stunt) but it worked.

Scents and Brand Storytelling

CJ Powers, a producer in Hollywood, CA who produces branded content for both television and digital understands the power of storytelling. He's built a successful career creating content that evokes emotions, but he's always been passionate about fragrance and the role it plays in a setting. His interest became an obsession when, six years ago, he stepped into the Institute for Art and Olfaction in Downtown Los Angeles, and completely fell in love with this art form. That lead him to launching Scenthouse LA, with the sole focus of lending creative intent to a space's fragrance.

"I've always been enamored by the beauty of a location's fragrance -- you can smell the history in an old apartment in Paris, the excitement of an opulent hotel, or the simple comfort in the air in a loved one's home. How thoughtful of a statement, I believe, to intentionally exhibit some creative influence over the fragrance of your space," said Mr. Powers, who also shared his method to finding the perfect scent for your space:

  1. A few sprays every few days. Into the center of a room, or closets and drawers.  The alcohol immediately evaporates in the air, leaving only fragrance. 
  2. Fans and vents. For a more balanced distribution, spray areas that air moves: fans, vents, and air filters.  
  3. Adjust as needed. You'll know how much is right for you in your space.  Over time, the fragrance will settle in and become yours. 

Dollars and Scents

Once you find the right scent, bottle it up, because the perfect scent can keep customers in your store longer, too. Research shows that customers stay as much as 44 percent longer in a business "surrounded by an attractive scent," according to research from the American Marketing Association.  

Citrus notes are energizing, jasmine is a mood enhancer and sandalwood is calming so it's a delicate balance of creating the right mood and emotional response that fits the store, brand and buying experience.? A well-known grocery store reported a three to five percent increase in same store sales after introducing scent into different parts of the store (fresh bread in the bakery, citrus in the produce department etc).

Just do me a favor, don't make it overpowering like the Abercrombie & Fitch scent, or on second thought, maybe their strategy worked. I'm still telling stories about it after all.