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The Science Of Scent: How Smell Affects Buying Decisions



Humans have over 300 active olfactory receptor genes devoted to detecting thousands of different fragrances. Smells can trigger a host of brain activities and cognitive functions like mood and social behavior.

So, it wasn’t long before marketers started to think, ‘What smells encourage buying behavior in customers?’

During 1990, the first studies into the science of scent marketing got underway, and it’s been a key marketing tactic for major brands ever since.

Let’s delve a little deeper into this phenomenon and its power over the human psyche.

What is Scent Marketing?

Strategic placements of influential scents to create pleasant environments define scent marketing. Yet, there’s more to it than that.

Scent marketing’s deeply rooted in psychology. It appeals to consumers at an instinctual level.

Smells trigger memories. So, the trick with scent marketing is to create associations between your brand and positive experiences.

In this way, customers automatically think happy thoughts when they come across your products.

Remember, smells are equally good at triggering negative associations. For example, someone could associate the fragrance of a certain flower with the funeral of a loved one.

Studies suggest that smell does a better job of jolting our memories than sight does.

The first study of this phenomenon was an overwhelming success. During this trial, researchers used two identical displays of Nike shoes to discover the impact of smell on buying decisions.

The one was on display in a room infused with a pleasant floral smell. At the end of the test, customers bought 84% more shoes from the scented display. Importantly, the customers perceived these shoes as more valuable than the unscented ones.

Since then, many major brands have latched onto the power of positive olfactory associations. For instance, Disney has a signature scent that pervades all its properties, and the Weston group infuses all its hotel lobbies with their distinctive White Tea scent.

Not everybody can afford these designer aromas, but everyone can benefit from strategic scent marketing.

Harnessing the Science of Scent

Cinnabon stores are a good example of using what you’ve got as a means of marketing. The chain carefully researches the location of all their stores beforehand, choosing to place their outlets in places where smells are easily trapped.

What’s more, they place their ovens close to the center of the store to attract passers-by with the sweet smell of baked goods. They also bake small batches every 30 minutes to ensure that the wonderful aromas hang thick in the air all day long.

One last tactic used by this brand is sprinkling their ovens with sugar and cinnamon so that the smells start up as soon as the ovens start to heat up.

It’s relatively easy to create positive scent associations when you’re baking delicious treats for a living. What if your business centers on products that don’t smell pleasant on their own?

For instance, many people associate a visit to the dentist with fear and anxiety. If you own a dental practice you can help alleviate these negative feelings with scent marketing too.

The trick is to infuse your practice with smells that create a sense of calm and well-being. Provided your service is up to scratch, your patients will soon start to associate your practice with positive experiences rather than dread a visit to your rooms.

The Benefits of Scent Marketing

It may take a few tries to find the scent that works best for your business, but you can guarantee that you’ll see results when you discover the right one.

Here’s what you stand to gain by making a conscious effort to use scent marketing in your business endeavors.

  • Enhanced brand image
  • Better customer experiences
  • Increased sales
  • More customer foot traffic
  • Longer visits from customers
  • Enhance employee happiness

Not only do scents create positive vibes in your store, but you can also use them to increase customer alertness and induce hunger.

The trick is to find the best scent for your particular target market. You can chat with an expert in the field of scent marketing when working on your brand marketing plan.

Making the Most of Scent Marketing

There are several different types of scent marketing tactics you can use in your business. It all starts with a clean slate, i.e., a scrupulously clean and sanitary environment.

These are the main ones:

Aroma Billboards

This is when a company creates associates its brand with a strong, noticeable smell. This aroma saturates its outlets, creating instant recognition in customers’ minds.

Cinnabon’s strategy is a type of scent billboard, you’ll know you’re approaching a Cinnabon store before you see their shopfront.

Thematic Scents

These scents aren’t unique to a particular business. Rather, they’re typical of a particular industry.

For instance, spas normally use cool, fresh scents to create a sense of renewal and relaxation inside their rooms and set the mood for relaxed pampering.

Ambient Smells

These scents cover up other unpleasant aromas. For instance, the scent delivery systems used in public bathrooms can cover up any bad smells that arise as well as mask the strong odor of cleaning chemicals.

Usually, these smells are universally pleasant ones like flowers or fruit scents.

Signature Smells

This is the pinnacle of scent marketing, where marketers choose a particular scent for a business and stick to it. Often these scents are a custom-made perfume that’s proven to create specific emotions in customers and also hint at what the brand stands for.

This scent’s infused into every location associated with the brand and is the one thing consumers smell throughout their customer journey.

In this way, customers create a strong positive association between this wonderful scent and a particular business.

Find Out More

The science of scent reveals fascinating insights into human behavior and is something most businesses can put to good use. After all, there’s no harm in making sure your stores and offices smell pleasant and inviting.

If you’d like to enjoy a host of fascinating information and inspirational quotes about life and business keep browsing our blog.

I'm Nikos Alepidis, blogger at motivirus. I'm passioned for all things related to motivation & personal development. My goal is to help and inspire people to become better.

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