How to differentiate your brand using your nose


Written by

Martin Sully

3 bottles of essential oil are held in a hand

Differentiating your Brand

I'm fascinated by how different stimuli affect people.

Optical illusions, logos that hide emotive signals, that sorta thing.

I use all this research to inspire identities – see Grey Matter Coffee Roasters for an example.

But smells are a new avenue to explore.

Brand strategists are looking for ways to differentiate the brands they work with. Whether that's by affecting customer emotions or influencing their behaviours without being intrusive.

We're used to logos. Taglines, circular logos. Identity systems. Canva templates. Yadda yadda.

We get bombarded by visual messages. They blend together creating a stream of ordinary. That's why discovering a new way to do things or new ways to excite people is going to make a big difference.

Let's frame the content of this blog. Sparked by a vivid memory from San Francisco.

In 2008, we flew in from the UK, and my girlfriend had a bucket list of shops to hit.

Clothes shop Abercrombie and Fitch was at the top.

If you've ever been to one – you'll know what I mean – a thick wall of woody, citrusy smell smacks you in the face. You can't even see the shop. You might be 100m away. Anyway, my wife sniffs it out like an Eastern Brown snake sniffs out a dinner. Dragging me excitedly towards it.

A topless, very tanned man, with muscles in places I didn't know you could have muscles, greets you!

The shops somehow dark, moody and yet still brightly lit. Racks of pristine, high-quality clothes and that smell, it's intoxicating.

Music is pumping, but yet it's not intrusive. You linger, find jeans, t-shirts and jumpers, and wait for a changing room to try it out.

I came out to find my girlfriend with a clothes stack bigger than Everest. All I could see were two eyes peering over the top.

She filled her suitcase to the brim with new clothes, with a smile that could light up that dark shop.

Why should businesses look at Scent Branding?

First, it's unexplored and could give you an edge when you're connecting to customers.

Let's explain the science behind the nose. Smells get handled by the olfactory bulb, a structure right at the front of the brain. Which connects to the hippocampus for processing. It's more complex than this, but you're not here for a biology lesson.

Smells, memories and emotions are intertwined. Smells transport you to memories and connect you to emotions.

Choosing a simple scent aligns with the feelings you want customers to experience. Thereby enhancing the brand experience, delighting customers and building that all-important trust!

The Harvard Gazette put together a great article if you want to learn more.

You can influence consumer behaviour

Pleasant smells positively impact moods. Happier customers linger longer. And, spend more. According to the Sense of Smell Institute, we can recall scents with a 65% accuracy after a year. If we were looking at a visual, this would be 50%. When you combine this with other senses, it's easy to see how this would increase the effectiveness of marketing campaigns.

Create a distinctive Brand Identity

As Abercrombie and Fitch did (15 years ago). Creating a multi-sensory experience is the secret to creating memories. Could you do the same?

Weekly, I walk past a popular sandwich place on my way to the local shops. You find them globally, near where people buy other food.

Your senses get attacked.

That bready, herby, sickly smell is thrust right into your nose, into your olfactory system. Your brain goes beep, boop, and tells you what awaits.

Soft pillowy bread, maybe meatballs, salads, cheese, jalapenos and the question, "Do you want that toasted?"

I don't even need to tell you the name of the sandwich place. The smell connects you right to their advertising.

Luxury hotels definitely use scents. They are trying to increase that luxurious feeling, making the stay memorable. Making the experience distinctive ensures the brand creates memories and stronger emotional connections.

Challenges when using scents

Warning, scents should complement your brand values, audience and context. For instance, you wouldn't use a calming lavender scent in a high-intensity gym or sports shop.

You may find, some people with sensitive noses or allergies are repulsed. So it's best to keep the choice simple.

Scent marketing can be both subtle and aggressive. It's aggressive because you can shoot it out your doors and windows. Push yourselves on people outside of the confines of your business.

Get it right though and most people won't even know they are being targeted by your subtle scent.

How can your brand use scent marketing?

When it comes to your brands marketing, you need to ask yourself a couple questions. And, a deep understanding of who your customers are and what they love will help.

Ask yourself:

  • What benefit are you targeting? Increased linger time, higher sales? Change of mood?
  • What emotions do you want customers to feel?
  • What scent could you use to trigger that emotion?
  • Do you need more than one scent for different parts of the buying process?
  • Do you need to update your brand guidelines?

Once you know those answers, you can start creating.

Example one: Psychologists/Therapists

A psychologist like EMDR Australia, may hope to keep patients calm. They use a either lavender, basil, cinnamon or citrus scent to relax people. A parent coach I know uses limes straight off her tree to settle stressed parents. It works incredibly well. This is perfect for high-tension businesses.

Example two: Gyms/Offices

A gym is looking to increase energy and invigorate members. They could use a peppermint, thyme or rosemary aroma to do this. These could work well in an open-plan office, where you may need to boost staff energy or increase mood/productivity.

Example three: Travel agents/Breweries

Travel agents are looking whisk customers away to exotic destinations. By using scents of charcoal cooking, pine trees or coconuts they can increase sales and trigger memories of past trips. If you were a brewery, the smell of charcoal could increase hunger and lead to further sales of drinks too. Pine and tropical scents are prominent beer aromas and could ramp up the mood of customers.

Example four: Bookshops/Libraries

You're a bookstore owner looking to increase linger time. Add an on-site coffee to create a warm inviting environment. Aromas of coffee and cocoa would definitely evoke memories of cosy winter nights. Woody scents could also evoke a sagey, damp smell - like you get from old treasured books.

None of these examples are that audacious and you could easily DIY them. Use an oil diffuser, and test out combinations of oils on staff. Or add a drop of essential oil to packaging for a very boujee, luxury feel.

One last thought.

How could we use scents in brand awareness campaigns?

Imagine your creating a climate campaign to encourage people to cut their emissions. Say, you want to bring attention to a sensitive topic like global warming. A simple smoke scent might amplify the marketing campaign enough to make people stop, take notice and act.

Differentiation is important when you're creating a charismatic brand.

Got a cool idea you want to chat through. Lets go!

Need support? Book a Discovery Call.

Not sure where you want to go? We can chat through your brand, personal goals and work out an action plan.

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