The Experience of Smell

Updated: Mar 1

The sense of smell is linked closely to our memories. Maybe the smell of tomato sauce brings you back to making meatballs in grandma’s kitchen, or the scent of salty ocean air reminds you of a childhood vacation. Whatever memory it may be, smell can take you there, as it resonates with the human mind in a different way than any other sense.

Scented environments have proven to change the way we think and react, in a variety of ways. Certain scents can influence our perception of time, lessen anxiety and depression, stimulate the brain, change sleeping patterns, and elicit emotions that wouldn’t be there otherwise. Studies show that 75% of all emotions generated every day are due to smell, and because of this, we are 100 times more likely to remember something we smell over something we see, hear or touch. In the world of business, scent can alter the perception of product quality, increase purchase intent, lengthen the time spent in a store, and boost the willingness of consumers to pay more for a product. With all of these possibilities, using scents to heighten our life experiences is something we should all be excited about.

Olfactory Marketing

Olfactory marketing is the use of scent as a strategic communication tool. Companies use it to make their brands immediately recognizable and to convey company values to their customers. Olfactory marketing is intended to make a customer think of a company when smelling its signature scent. Some companies who have used this marketing strategy include Abercrombie and Fitch, Burger King, Dunkin' Donuts, and Disney. Abercrombie and Fitch created a signature scent that coincides with its clothing brand, and employees are instructed to spray it around the store during the day. Currently, there are nebulizers around every Abercrombie and Fitch store so that the scent travels to every customer. Disney has nebulizers emitting the smell of popcorn around all of its theme parks, which is meant to increase popcorn sales and to stimulate the customer’s appetite. Olfactory marketing is a quiet and subconscious marketing method, but it is so effective.


Creating a Signature Scent

Using scents in any environment is directly targeting a person’s emotions. When creating a signature scent, it is important to think about your brand personality, tone of voice, and how you want your customers to feel when they are in your store or thinking about your products and services. These are the elements that should be conveyed in your scent. There are so many different scents that inspire similar thoughts and feelings, so to narrow down a signature scent, many companies work with a scent branding firm. Scent development is an art and a science, and scent strategists work hard to interpret a brand so it can successfully use olfactory marketing.

For example, if you are the owner of a women’s boutique, you may want to use fresh cotton in your signature scent. The clean, fresh and soft aroma of fresh cotton helps customers feel comfortable within a retail setting and promotes peaceful feelings. If you are creating a signature scent for a cozy homewares store, you may want to use vanilla. The smell of vanilla is often associated with pleasant childhood memories. Cookies and pies baking in the oven evoke happiness and the recall of early family interactions in the kitchen. The essence of vanilla is warm, inviting, sweet, playful and friendly, and can have a positive impact on customers. If you’re trying to come up with a signature scent for a men’s retail store, consider using ivory and spice, which are associated with prosperity and luxury.

Heightening User Experience

Scent brings something extra to user experience as a whole. Brands all over the world use scent to enhance interaction with consumers. For example, Hyatt Place hotels use a signature scent that is found in nearly 300 hotels across the United States. Its “Seamless” scent is designed to deliver welcoming calm elegance through a blend of blueberries, florals, and warm vanilla. The scent is such a proven brand asset that it has been codified as a brand standard that defines the company’s experience and brand personality, just as background music, color scheme, décor, and advertising do. Hyatt Place regularly examines its properties to ensure that the scent is being appropriately diffused. Internal surveys at Hyatt Place show that the scent has enhanced the visit experience and increased brand memorability for thousands of guests.

Celebration Health, Florida Hospital’s health care facility located in Disney’s town of Celebration, also uses scent to heighten user experience. In 2017, the facility had a major problem with patients canceling MRI appointments at the last minute. The cancellations could not be filled in time and would just lead to lost revenue. The hospital needed a solution to reduce this problem, so they got creative. They renamed their MRI department “Seaside Imaging” and turned it into a relaxing beach-themed environment. They painted beach murals on the walls and added wooden rocking chairs and lounge chairs to changing rooms. The MRI machine itself was transformed into a large sandcastle. Then, they added a beach-themed fragrance to complete their fantastic approach. As a result, they saw a 50% decrease in MRI cancellations.

Improving Employee Productivity and Satisfaction

Applying scent marketing into an office environment has been proven to improve employee productivity and satisfaction as well. Intentionally reducing or eliciting specific emotions from employees can increase their performance and also make the workplace a better environment for everyone. For example, stress is unhealthy and negatively affects the performance of workers. Certain scents have healing properties that can relieve stress. Research from the Meikai University’s School of Dentistry in Japan shows that lavender and rosemary significantly decrease the stress hormone, cortisol. These scents are perfect for combating stress in the workplace.

Certain scents can neutralize an unpleasant odor that would negatively affect an employee’s mood. According to Rachel Herz, an assistant professor of psychology at Brown University, people are more creative in problem solving when exposed to a pleasant scent compared to an unpleasant one. To neutralize any unpleasant odors, companies could use a coffee or vanilla scent.

It is vital for companies to ensure that employees feel valued in the workplace. Several studies suggest that there is a positive correlation between job satisfaction and employee retention.


A study done on 40 office executives by Initial Hygiene Malaysia found that 93% of workers feel appreciated at work if their office is scented.

Scents Affects Us Every Day

Whether we are at home, shopping at the mall or having a productive workday, scents inspire us and bring us back to our memories. Scent impacts up so deeply without meaning to and the key is to use scent with intention. If you want to evoke emotions, lessen anxiety, or heighten a certain experience, you can do all of that with smell.

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