The sweet smell of success: The power of a signature brand scent

2020 has been an extremely challenging year for many sectors, especially those with a physical presence like retailers, hospitality and travel.

COVID-19 has, at times, forced companies to shut their doors and stop their operations completely. And at others, they’ve had to rely on a limited few customers to keep their businesses going. Is brand scent one way to bring back customers?

brand scentOne of the key challenges moving forwards will be attracting customers back and to rebuild brand affiliation and loyalty. But it isn’t all doom and gloom. The appetite for physical experiences will always be there, and it’ll bounce back as soon as the pandemic is over as consumers make up for what they’ve missed.

One of the ways brands can re-capture attention and stand out from the competition is to get creative with the experience they offer their customers. And brand scent can play an important role here.

The power of smell

It’s no secret people often associate certain smells with feelings, experiences or memories.

In fact, people are able to recognise approximately 10,000 different odours and can recall smells with 65 percent accuracy even after a year.

Many trailblazing brands, like Abercrombie & Fitch, Singapore Airlines and Hyatt Place realised the power of “scent marketing” long ago and are still enjoying the commercial benefits of using a signature scent to entice customers and keep them coming back for more.

Remember that new car smell? It’s now a synthetic scent created by engineers at Rolls Royce to mimic old-style leather and mahogany aromas of the 1960 models. Every new car leaving the manufacturing plant has this fragrance under the seat, meaning every new Rolls Royce owner can enjoy the same new car smell that previous generations experienced.

Another great example is Nike when it experimented with a signature scent in its stores. A study run by Nike showed that adding scents to their stores increased intent to purchase by 80 percent.

The science behind marketing brand scent

Sensory branding, or scent marketing as it’s also known, is a technique that’s been used for years by leading brands across retail, hospitality and travel. When it’s done correctly it can be an extremely powerful tool.

In fact, a study found that the impact of a brand message is increased by 30 percent when more than one sense is engaged and increases to 70 percent with three senses.

Having a signature scent can mean your brand is always recognisable, when the customer is there with you, remembering their experience or if other marketing collateral is removed such as your logo or distinctive colour.

Any customer-facing brand should strive to make every sensory element of their customer interaction both appealing, and, equally importantly, consistent from encounter to encounter. This emotional connection can outweigh other considerations such as convenience and price.

The new brand DNA

The physical retail environment is tough…and it’s getting tougher. Even before the Coronavirus pandemic, the demise of the high street was an ongoing issue, caused largely by the confounding pressures of rising rents, falling footfalls and online competition.

In a post-COVID world, brands must work harder and more creatively to entice customers back. Many will be in a financially worse situation than they were pre-pandemic, while others may continue to play it safe, stay indoors more and spend less.

As we enter a new normal, the power of smell can be leveraged to attract new and existing customers, give a memorable and fulfilling physical experience, and help companies build their brands once more.

From location, décor, employee uniforms, lighting and now smell, all touchpoints combine to differentiate brands and create an immersive retail experience that can boost sales and consumer loyalty.

Is scent marketing right for your brand?

More brands are realising the power of scent, but is it the right strategy for your brand? As a marketing and customer-retention tool, it’s not solely reserved for big budget corporations.

To create a signature brand scent, you need to ask yourself what your company stands for, who is your target market and how do you want them to feel when they visit you and buy something.

A scent doesn’t have to be made exclusively for you, it can be a widely available natural or synthetic scent; what matters is that it reflects your brand and resonates with your customers.

Just like choosing a perfume, there are different scents for different moods and personalities. You can also get experimental by mixing complimentary smells with the help of a professional.

If your brand is all about relaxation, comfort and wellness, lavender, eucalyptus, and jasmine will work well – think spa.

If your brand favours functionality and focus, rosemary, lemon and peppermint are clean and energising scents. While vanilla and cut grass can spark joy and make you feel happier.

You can also change it depending on the season or as you launch new products or services.

At Christmas for example, why not try a soft pine, cinnamon or cloves to invoke a feeling of nostalgia.

There are many more amazing scents out there, many natural, that can create a positive emotional response. All that’s needed is a little research.

Essential oil diffusers can be an effective yet subtle way of introducing a signature brand scent into your store or space without overpowering your customer’s senses. So too can spraying soft furnishings with a scent in the morning before you open, topping up in the afternoon.


By Rich Quelch, global head of marketing, Lifestyle Packaging