Having trouble selling your house? In my neighborhood, a popular home remedy is burying a small, plastic statue of St. Joseph upside down in your flowerbed. With enough prayer, the neighbors assure me, a successful closing will be right around the corner.
But those who lack faith might try an old realtor’s trick; put a tray of cookies in the oven before potential buyers come over. The theory is that the comforting smells of fresh baked goods will evoke positive memories, and those memories will get people to fall in love with and eventually purchase your house. But why might this work?
The olfactory nerve is located close to the areas of the brain connected to the experience of emotion and memory. The ability to smell is so intertwined with the brain’s memory center that when areas of the brain connected with memory are damaged, the ability to identify scents is impaired. This may be why odor-induced memories are so emotionally potent.
While marketing wars are either won or lost in the consumer’s imagination and emotions, a business that understands how to tickle a customer’s psychology will be rewarded with higher profits. When a brand experience is connected to our sense of smell, something interesting starts to happen.
About ten years ago, oil tycoons, celebrities, and sovereigns around the globe began complaining that success didn’t smell as sweet as it used to – at least when it came to their Rolls-Royces. The newer models rolling off the line had much of their wooden components replaced by plastic, and the synthetic smell of it was overpowering the once dominant leather and wood scents of the old models. So Rolls-Royce – using the 1965 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud as its model – came up with a fragrance that smelled like the classic. When the fragrance was sprayed on the underside of the car’s seats, the complaints stopped. Rolls-Royce continues this practice.
Scent branding doesn’t stop at objects. The movie, Twilight, and television show, Desperate Housewives, each have their own perfume, and so do celebrities, who are themselves brands. After all, Jay-Z’s not a businessman, he’s a business, Man, and according to his fragrance’s promotional material Young Hov’ smells like lime and goji berries. Meanwhile, David Beckham runs around the pitch in a cloud of grapefruit, cedar, and vanilla. But why stop at objects and people? Why not scent-brand a space?
In 1990, after researching the affect scent has on consumers, the Mirage resort and casino started pumping a “Polynesian” scent through its Las Vegas air vents. Consumers spent significantly more than they had before. In fact, it was such a success that the company, AromaSys, now scent-brands the Venetian, Caesars Palace, Mandalay Bay, Luxor, Bellagio, Wynn, and all MGM-Mirage Resorts and Casinos.
It seems our hearts are connected to our wallets by smell. One study found that a pleasant smell can alter a person’s perception of time, which may lead to more time lingering in the physical location examining the merchandise, or patiently waiting for help. Consumers tend to return to the scented store more often as well.
Whether a scent is successful at its job depends on how closely it matches the space. If I had to develop a scent for our stores, I’d use the space in the photograph at the top of this post as a guide.
Look at the photograph. In your mind’s “nose”, can you smell that space? Do you smell the sweet top notes of freshly cut lumber and sawdust mixed with the warm odor of oily machine parts and the sharp, metallic scent of nuts and bolts, mixed with nail dust in the corners of old toolboxes?
The scent’s rounded, middle notes reveal themselves with hints of wood glue, 3-In-One oil, paint stripper, faint Bondo fumes, and citrusy tubs of gritty waterless hand cleaner? Notice the mellow heart notes from the lingering ghosts of old spills: varnish, paint thinner, shellac, turpentine, and oil-based paint.
And finally, the rich base notes: Tung oil, the wooden handles of ancient tools, denatured alcohol, epoxy, and resin.
It might be the scent of honesty, integrity, hard work, wisdom, and age.
What if Sears smelled like that?