Scent’s Effects on ‘Approach’ Behaviors

Image source: flickr/Karol Franks

According to an industry trade group, the global scent marketing industry grossed an estimated $200 million in revenue in 2013 and is growing around 10 per cent annually. Some interesting examples are:

  • Hugo Boss, an early adopter of scent marketing since 2011, has used a signature scent of ‘rich tamboti wood’ to tell a consistent brand story across its retail stores and in other stores where it is sold, such as Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus.
  • London’s Heathrow Airport uses a ‘scent globe’ in Terminal 2 to give passengers a whiff of the country they are visiting before they arrive. For example, lemongrass, coconut and ginger for Thailand, and coffee, tobacco and jasmine for Brazil.
  • United Colors of Benetton uses a ‘bright spring fragrance’ in its stores, which is modelled after Benetton’s Verde cologne.
  • Marlin’s Baseball Stadium in Miami uses multiple scents – caramel popcorn in the general concourse area for a ‘family atmosphere’, black orchid in the stadium’s luxury Diamond Club and a muted orange scent in the team store.

Research about the effect of scent on customers’ perceptions and behaviors is growing, but so far the evidence shows that ambient scents can have an effect on emotions, brand recognition and recall, and purchasing behavior.

A study conducted by consumer psychologist and academic Eric Spangenberg found that pleasantly scented environments encourage ‘approach’ behaviors such as intentions to remain in or revisit a store, or spending money in a store. Unpleasantly scented environments elicit ‘avoidance’ behaviors, such as the desire to leave a store, no intention to revisit or failing to spend money.

Spangenberg’s study also found that scent matching is important. For example, when feminine scents such as vanilla were used in a clothing store, sales of women’s clothes doubled. The same was found with male scents. In scented stores, shoppers also evaluated the store and its merchandise more favourably in the presence of an appropriate ambient scent.

The impact of ambient scents on brand memory has also been studied, with favorable results. One study published by the American Marketing Association found that ambient scent improves both recall and recognition of familiar and unfamiliar brands.

Scent marketing is about creating a scent-related connection with customers; one that reflects a brand and the environment that brand is looking to create. Director of visual merchandising for United Colors of Benetton, Robert Argueta, commented in a Chicago Tribune article that “it (the in-store scent) finishes the emotion we are trying to create in the store…it’s the first and last impression a customer gets”.

The evidence and theory behind scent marketing provides a compelling case for its use as a tool to influence consumer behavior; however retailers should be cautious in their approach to adopting in-store scents. Not only is the pleasantness of the scent important, but research tells us the ‘fit’ between the target market and the product or environment in question is too.

Related to this, scents don’t have universal appeal – some are cultural (Americans are fond of vanilla, while sandalwood is popular in India), while others are personal. This can make it difficult for brands to appeal to the senses of their target market as a whole – particularly for global brands.