Don't Turn Up Your Nose at Scent Marketing

Target the Sense of Smell to Create Emotions, Stand Out From the Competition

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Harald H. Vogt
Harald H. Vogt
The recent resurgence of "multisensory marketing" and "neuromarketing" strategies (with Martin Lindstrom's "buyology" being the main catalyst) is obviously shaking the trees in the CMO forest. And it's about time.

Judy Shapiro recently wrote that Lindstrom's "news" has been applied by marketers all along. We politely disagree. While the objective here is not to endorse Lindstrom, we'd rather like to ask the provocative question: Are brand builders really using all the tools in their box?

Sure, our organization provides information about the application of scent for marketing and branding purposes. Still, we do not recommend scent for scent's sake. Because of the way the human brain is wired, an incongruent or inconsistent application would confuse the consumer rather than help her make a decision.

The principle and benefits of olfactory stimulation have been known for ages. Cleopatra reportedly rode up the river Nile in a boat filled knee-deep with rose petals, announcing to her constituents "Here I come" as well as appeasing (and ultimately seducing) her then adversary Marc Anthony. With their profound knowledge of the link between scent and sexuality, the ancient Egyptians must have been high-fiving each other behind the pyramids.

The Catholic Church, counting one-sixth of the world's population as their "customers," has appealed to all five senses for more than 2,000 years. But where is the fragrant experience of Apple, the Port Authority of New York, Delta Airlines, IKEA? They would not only have the need but also the outlets to leave their own scented mark. Any reputable perfumer would have a field day in developing their signature scent. Too far-fetched? Why don't you ask the brand builders at Samsung, Singapore Airlines or the airport in Atlanta what their own signature scents are doing for their brands?

CMOs are looking for innovation. But does innovation necessarily mean "invented from scratch?" Or can it be a new application of something already known? Scent marketing has worked for the fine-fragrance industry for decades, disguised as a sampling opportunity. Westin, a true pioneer of scent marketing, ran scented ads for their hotels in Wired magazine -- two innovations right there. It would work for any food marketer or for beverages. After all, 80% of taste is smell. The opportunity here is provide the anticipation of something positive to happen, of an experience. Who would want to wait until he comes home to open a new toothpaste only to be disappointed by its taste? Using existing scent marketing technology, both retailer and manufacturer could let you have a preview in the store, something that flashy type and packaging design can never convey by themselves.

In our day's work we often catch marketers, brand owners and their agencies on the defensive (sorry, Judy!). We spend a lot of time providing internal "sales support" for their rank and file to explain the concept of scent marketing to their higher-ups -- borderline demanding a guarantee that it will work and that they won't look foolish by bringing it up. Sometimes we believe they are looking for a reason to dismiss the whole idea rather than pushing it forward with the supposed lack of proof of ROI being the final blow.

There is more than enough scientific research and published papers in place to satisfy the need of any creative genius looking for the next good idea or the missing filler for that one empty slide on the next client presentation -- if he's open to listening. There are perfumers looking for work as the fragrance manufacturers are taking a nosedive in their traditional markets. There is plenty of technology out there to deliver scent in print, via point-of-sale devices or in a large scale as demonstrated at Tropicana field during the World Series. You want nano-technolgy? It's out there, too. Sales results can be measured via bar code and visitors can be polled by a bunch of college students with a clipboard. So what gives?

When invited to present about scent marketing, we frequently see e-mail trails with the CEO demanding information from marketing about "what that is," marketing passing it along to the agency, the agency recommending to ask a scent or flavor supplier (who may or may not know --and as a "vendor" with a sales interest is not to be trusted anyway), ending up with us. It shows that the interest is there but with nobody being "in the know," it reaches a dead end quickly and an opportunity is missed. That's why we advocate the placement of a scent marketing expert in every agency, with every major brand.

Many traditional marketing tools have become rusty and are sitting in the bottom of the box. Twitter, the poster child of Marketing 2.0 -- or Facebook, MySpace or any social network -- cannot deliver in 140 characters what scent can provide in a simple whiff of air. In targeting the sense of smell for your marketing and branding purposes, you create emotions, recall memories (hopefully only good) associated with your brand and distinguish yourself from your competition. Use it to introduce and promote new products and increase their quality and value perception. It's proven that scent can do that.

Harald H. Vogt is the founder and chief marketer of the Scent Marketing Institute, an independent organization that provides education and information about the use of scent for marketing and branding purposes.
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