How To Properly Use Scents To Trigger Consumer Behavior

An old song once spoke of love as the “tender trap,” but in reality it’s today’s marketers using scents to lure customers into retail stores and other facilities that has become the “tender trap” of modern industry. Like a string of musical notes blended to a perfect harmony, a delicately crafted and properly diffused fragrance with its top, middle and finishing notes also has the power to emotionally affect the senses of those it comes in contact with.

Whether it’s a beautiful perfume that entices a loved one or an appropriately chosen aroma diffused throughout a commercial environment, fragrance has the undeniable ability to inspire moods, conjure past memories and touch limbic nerves that other forms of visual advertising can’t.

We’ve written about the bottom line benefits of scent marketing before, and more and more statistical proof continues to underscore the effectiveness of scent to direct emotional responses and stimuli of consumers with further and further precision, but where do you start as a business owner when you want to use fragrance to connect with your desired customers?

The following article delves into how the fragrant web of scent motivates the average shopper to linger longer, connect with brands more quickly and subconsciously allow their purchasing behaviors to be effected in all types of consumer-oriented environments.

Our Sense of Smell Down Through Time

Also referred to as “olfaction,” our sense of smell is both the most primitive and mysterious of our six senses. Since the dawn of time, smell has been vital to human survival and can be the first warning of either safety or danger. A negative smell can indicate an approaching wildfire; whereas a positive aroma such as coffee brewing or burning firewood can trigger a sense of comfort and security. Despite this spectrum of reactions, the power of scent has just barely been tapped commercially, and while fragrances do their magic in many ways in this modern world, there are still many untapped channels that the sense of smell could positively affect.

The Power of Scent and Memory

Research shows that childhood memories connected to a particular scent always remain on the brink of recall, forever linked over the course of a lifetime. A June 2015 study conducted by Rachel Herz of Brown University, and Haruko Sugiyama and colleagues at the Kao Corporation in Japan focused on how a scent evokes memories and influences the appeal of a specific product. Entitled: Proustian Products are Preferred: The Relationship Between Odor-Evoked Memory and Product Evaluation, the study was published in the journal, Chemosensory Perception. The title derives from a book Proust wrote in which his protagonist is plunged into the past when he dips an aromatic madeleine cookie into a cup of tea.

Scent Marketing and Statistics

Mankind’s understanding of olfaction and scent’s affects on human behavior at the time Proust wrote about his fictionalized character’s confection-inspired journey was only beginning; we have since discovered the nose is capable of detecting almost 10,000 different aromas. Ironically, and more pertinent to the subject at hand, the majority of consumers make approximately the same amount of decisions every day — yes, 10,000, and most of them revolve around buying items of all sorts and levels of necessity. It’s no surprise then that the powers that be behind scent marketing are well aware that 90% of all purchasing decisions are made subconsciously. Truth be told, purchases are impulsive and for many of us our brains are on autopilot when we shop.

A pioneer in this area, Martin Lindstrom was named in 2009 by Time Magazine for his revolutionary work in the area of neuro-marketing, and while this is a relatively new field of market research in which marketing and psychology combine, insight achieved via brain scanning offers insight into consumer reactions while viewing brands or products. The technical term for this scanning is functional magnetic resonance tomography, or FMRT. Lindstrom also coined the phrase buyology, referring to the subconscious thoughts and emotions that trigger the purchasing decisions consumers make every single day. The majority of these choices concern buying and take as little as 2.5 seconds to make.

Consumers Always Buy Products That Evoke Emotion

According to behavioral economist, George Loewenstein, our subconscious explains our consumer behavior better than our conscious minds and scientific measurement of brain activity can help marketers predict which product a consumer will select. In fact, based upon statistical research of controlled diffused fragrances in retail environments, when confronted with a scent that holds the power of a personal memory, a large percentage of the population seems to be rendered helpless by the allure of buying a particular product.

How Scents Work

But why, or how, you may ask? Well, the Limbic system controls our emotions and the learning and formation of memories. It is located in the middle of the brain on both sides of the thalamus, just beneath the cerebrum. The 19th-century word derives from the French, limbique, and from the Latin, limbus, meaning edge. This complicated collection of nerves and networks in the brain is the epicenter for basic emotions, and human drives and motivations (hunger, sex, dominance, survival etc.) Scents tap into our emotions and therein rests their power to influence and motivate. When a scent is connected to a memory, it can overpower rational thoughts that might otherwise intrude on the moment.

Samples of Scent Stimuli

To help break it down practically, let’s take vanilla as an example — vanilla is a popular scent that almost always stimulates sales. It is believed this influence lies in the fact that many associate the aroma with mother’s milk. Similarly, the next time you visit your local supermarket take note that the bakery is most likely near the front of the store. This concerns the affect of fresh baked goods on the psyche of shoppers who are likely to feel hungry and enticed to buy more products than originally intended. Do-it-yourself home repair centers often use an artificial grass scent, which seems to affect consumer perceptions concerning staff competency. Cleaning liquids with strong smells fare better in the marketplace than those with floral scents. There is a psychological correlation made between the concept of clean and a strong aroma.

Studies Supporting The Power of Scent On The Shopping Experience

Nike and Scent Marketing

In 1993 Alan Hirsch conducted a survey for Nike that proved that most people would buy more shoes and be willing to pay more for them if the shopping area smells like flowers. His experiment was simple. He took two identical pairs of Nike running shoes and put them in rooms that were identical except for the fact that one was perfumed and the other was not. Eighty-four percent of the participants indicated they were willing to pay as much as ten to twenty percent more in scented environments.

Casinos, Scent and Gambling Behavior

The use of scents in casinos has come a long way since the 60’s and 70’s when it was used primarily to mask the odor of cigarette smoke. Today scents are used to entice gamblers to stay, play and potentially lose their shirts on a bad night, and perhaps lose other articles of clothing on a good one! In 1995, Hirsch launched a study similar to the Nike endeavor, involving casinos. It took place at the Las Vegas Hilton where he initiated a pleasant aroma into the slot machine area. His control on this experiment was a check on revenue gleaned before and after the weekend in question at this section of the casino. He determined that gamblers put 45% more change into the slot in the scented room and spent 50% more time playing the machines.

Scent Marketing and Retail Atmospherics

There are many scent triggers when it comes to the retail industry, which encompasses sales in many types of apparel and accessories for men, women and children. They run the gamut from seasonal apparel to lingerie to formal wear, and consumers react to each in a diverse but calculated way. A study conducted by Eric Spangenberg, a marketing professor and dean of Washington State University’s college of business, indicated that scent can connect a consumer with a product if it is congruent with the gender of the shopper. The study concluded that in clothing stores the sale of women’s clothing doubled when feminine scents such as vanilla were used. In the same instance, the sales of men’s clothing rose significantly when male scents such as rose maroc or patchouli were introduced. Spangenberg concluded: “Men don’t like to stick around when it smells feminine, and women don’t linger in a store if it smells masculine.” So if your store is gender specific, ditching a generic scent in favor of a gender-targeted fragrance could have a significant effect on overall sales.

How Certain Fragrances Effect Electronics Sales

Samsung, the Korean electronics giant, has conducted a study concerning its choice of a signature scent in its New York flagship store. It is sharp, evocative and has a universal appeal. Eighty-nine percent of the consumers tallied reported that the scent made the shopping experience more pleasant. Sixty six percent reported that they remained longer in the store because of the scent and thirty-six percent indicated that the scent made them want to explore more products.

It’s clear more than ever that scents are a powerful trigger for consumer behavior; the only trick is to find the right fragrance for your particular business. That requires skill and a profound understanding of scent marketing, and we have well over seven decades mastering the art of both scent creation and scent marketing. If you’d like to add another, effective layer to your marketing efforts, contact our team today and get scenting!


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