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Taking Scent-er Stage

Exploring the different types of scent marketing


By Matt Wonnacott

August 26, 2019


Scent marketing, as a field, allows us to take company brands and the messages they portray and link them with a fragrance that intensifies those messages. Inside our bodies, our olfactory nerve is responsible for our sense of smell, and smell is deeply connected to our emotional state. Ultimately, it has a far greater influence on our behaviors than most of us ever realize.


The technique of combining scents with other sensory prompts—such as the use of the combination of sound and lighting—can be highly effective in creating an enduring emotional connection with customers. I know first-hand—scent can work and influence purchasing decisions. I majored in scent marketing in my final year at university many moons ago. There was a plethora of information available at the time on the subject, and in the focus groups established for my research, scent clearly could influence the dynamics of a decision, and not just a decision about purchasing a particular item.


While the notion of ‘scent marketing’ is becoming more and more popular as a way for brands to reach new target audiences, there’s actually at least three different types of scent marketing: thematic smells, ambient smells, and signature smells.



All of these can be used as a way of helping to improve the deep and long-lasting connection between the business and the buyer. After all, scent helps to create memories and moments. The different types of scent marketing that help to facilitate these memories and moments all relate to the types of products or services that are being advertised, promoted or sold.


Thematic Smells      


Thematic scent marketing is relevant to the type of business, such as the cooling mint or herbal scent one may experience at a spa. Entering a spa and smelling aromas of chicken or baked beans would be jarring, which is why the smell is designed to complement the focus and the décor of the space in order to support the theme of the environment.


So, for example, in a plush men’s retail store where designer clothing is being sold, a cool, sharp smelling fragrance would be appropriate. Yet, in a spa, such a sharp smell wouldn’t quite work, so instead the relaxing or reinvigorating fragrance of a touch of jasmine or lavender would be present. Get such a thematic smell wrong, and it could alter visitor perceptions of a location for worse, not better.


The Right Ambience


Ambient scent marketing is more subtle and is used to cover and eliminate unpleasant smells or, indeed, fill a void while supporting the ambience of the environment. Places such as toilets and large open spaces often employ ambient smells for their scent marketing needs. However, such places are increasingly becoming interested in more ‘retail’ or ‘end user’ friendly fragrance notes rather than just a sweet-smelling citrus.



It’s now common to go into high end restaurants and visitors will find either ‘high end’ reed diffusers or sophisticated fragrance scent diffusers to continue the ambience from the main dining area. It would be odd to step out of a high end restaurant scene into a restroom that smells of a ‘cheap’ scent—this would contrast completely with the restaurant’s overall ambience.


Recognizable Scents


Some smells are so familiar that people could step inside a store with their eyes closed and know which store they were in just by the smell—such is the world of signature smells. These signature or bespoke smells can be found in higher end department stores. Big, bold and luxurious smells such as bergamot and nutmeg are some of the most sought-after signature smells. These smells are linked to the brand and to events in order to generate a truly unique experience for customers.


There’s one retail store in particular that I will not name that brings to mind the concept of using signature smells; even without my mentioning this brand’s name, readers are bound to know the exact brand to which I am referring. This retail store used to spray their signature aftershave all over the store and on their clothes. When the brand worked out that this was becoming too expensive, they installed scent machines on the ceilings and pumped out their signature fragrance from there at a presumably far friendlier cost to the company, both in labor and fragrance oil. Today, walking nearby the store, let alone stepping inside of it, passersby will immediately know from which store the smell is coming based on scent alone—this is the epitome of signature scent marketing.


Smell as Marketing Tool


The signature smell essentially explains what scent marketing is about: it evokes memories, it manufactures moments that weren’t otherwise there, and it creates opportunities for retailers, hoteliers and other business channels that would not be possible through the use of other senses. Smell influences attitudes and behaviors—get it right and scent marketing can be a lucrative tool for businesses. However, get it wrong by either not understanding the use of smell or the different types of scent marketing available, and it could damage reputations and even revenues not just for a period of time, but permanently.


Matt Wonnacott is the Marketing Manager of North America at Vectair Systems.