Brand Scents and the Retail Environment

brandaromaAs retailers we are always mindful of finding anything that may help our understanding of, and relationship with, our customers. Understanding the role senses play in a person’s buying behaviour is one such area. So what do we know about how senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch) affect consumer behaviour?

Sensory stimuli

Environmental stimuli, particularly visual stimuli, such as graphic design, ambient art, packaging, product and store design, visual merchandising, architecture, interiors design, lighting and colour usage have long been recognised as unwritten forms of communication with the power to affect consumer perception and behaviour. Knowledge now of how the brain interprets sensory cues and the effect of visual stimuli on consumer behaviour can be applied in retail environments and elsewhere, not only to communicate particular messages – think luxury, friendly, masculine, fun, serious and so on – but also to stimulate certain behaviours, such as staying and browsing (evaluation), purchasing (decision making), or returning (repeat visitation and loyalty).

Reliance on the power of visual cues is understandable. The visual world in its many guises is enticing and seductive; however, all sensory stimuli carry meaning and it is possible to conjecture that designers underestimate, perhaps undervalue, the power of other senses to enhance the consumer experience. By utilising only visual cues the experience for consumers is less rich and thus less effective. Consideration must also be given to the reaction consumers have to an overexposure to visual cues. A highly visual environment appears increasingly busy and is one from which consumers seek respite. It goes without saying that a customer’s experience is always multi-sensory. Until the mid twentieth century, the influence of other sensory stimuli on consumer behaviour, apart perhaps from sound (music), has had little or no attention. Creating specific music for a given space to enhance mood and improve experience is accepted consumer marketing practice. What is less common is the alignment of scented spaces and products that also aim to personalise and distinguish the brand experience.

Odours are intangible, highly elusive, and difficult to define and articulate, yet are known to affect people on ‘a physical, psychological and social level’. Research conducted into how smell/ scents affect consumer behaviour has found that odour-based recall is stronger than sight-based recall. While vision remains our most powerful sense, when it comes to an emotional response, scent is a much more powerful trigger. Researchers Philippa Ward, Barry Davies and Dion Kooijman proposed that where ambient scent and environmental stimuli are congruent, ‘consumers are able to develop a stronger brand image, and will respond more clearly, either positively or negatively to the proposition’. The possibility of exploiting scents to increase or maximise brand potential, where appropriate, is very real. There is a potential for scents to add uniqueness to experience, personal brand and desirability.

In the same way that a perception of homeliness, induced by brewing coffee or baking bread just before an inspection, is said to expedite a house sale, experiments conducted by Dr. Alan Hirsch show that individuals who were exposed to ‘special odours in certain regions of a department store were more likely to linger, make purchases, and even spend more than non-exposed shoppers’. Packaging holistic sensory experiences (multiconnectedness) is more than a gimmick. There is considerable scope for linking brand memories with signature scents particularly when linked to lifestyle indicators and image marketing, and provides organisations with the opportunity to reposition their brand by offering an experience. As Brandaroma can attest, the growth in organisations wishing to align their brand with an olfactory experience has been phenomenal in the last ten years.

The reasons to consider sensory branding can range from enhancing the ambience of an environment to connecting and communicating more with customers in order to provide a deeper, better experience that will inevitably contribute to emotional connection with the brand. Above all, to create an effective sensory offer, a brand must have a clear sense of itself, know who the customer is, and a passion for consistency. Not every brand is suitable.

The effectiveness of scented branding initiatives can best be measured by customer feedback and repeat visitation. Olfactory sensory branding now offers a compelling final chapter for brands – appeal to the emotions. Sensory branding whilst complex and multi-layered reinforces the totality of a brand experience and offers another opportunity to improve the customer experience – a win-win for both brand and customer. It just makes brand scents!

This year Brandaroma is sponsoring The Personalisation Excellence Award at the inaugural Retail Customer Excellence Awards. This Award reflects organisations that are using key insights and data to create a personalised customer experience with strong attention to detail to create a memorable experience that creates strong loyalty between the customer and brand.

In an environment swamped with sights and sounds, Brandaroma, an Australian-owned world leader in fragrance branding , understands only too well the power of scents to affect consumers and differentiate brands. The company creates and markets bespoke scented trademark experiences, environments and products for commercial organisations, international, national and local hotel and resort groups, retail outlets and department stores, banks and even singers who use fragrance to distinguish the concert experience for their fans.

Annie Harper is a marketing & communications strategist at Idea Nation. This article is based on writing Harper has contributed to a soon to be published book by Ken Cato called Recognise Me – Collected thoughts about corporate identity and brand.’

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