Approximately 80% of a corporate, or brand, identity is defined by either sight or sound. Yet, out of the five senses, these are but two. Although debatable, smell may be our most powerful sense (others argue that it's sight). Without smell, our sense of taste is diminished because smell and taste combine to define flavor. Smell is invaluable for detecting danger such as a fire, or easing into a state of calm such as aromatherapy.
The sense of smell is so powerful that memories long-past are instantly recalled when a particular odor is encountered.
"A certain smell can invoke the memory of a particularly good time or remind us of a time when we were at our worst. Smells help make up our everyday lives. The wearing of body fragrances is just one of the ways that people present themselves to the world.”
Due to its ability to affect us, marketers and advertisers can strategically use a particular scent to build (or reinforce) a company, brand, or product image in the consumer's mind.
Singapore Airlines, an early-adopter of Scent Marketing, incorporated a single smell into its branding efforts to aid in forming positive consumer associations with the brand. Martin Lindstrom, author of Brand Sense, attributes the addition of this scent to the airline’s marketing arsenal as the defining difference that led Singapore Airlines to rank as one of the "most important brands." The airline has garnered a 5-Star Rating, won "Passenger's Choice Airline," "Airline of the Year" in 2007, Travel & Leisure's "Best Airline" award in 2008, and the "Top Customer Satisfaction" honors in 2009.
The sense of smell is already so ingrained with certain brands that when that scent is unwittingly altered, consumers take notice. Rolls-Royce consumers, who invest anywhere between $100,000 and $500,000 per car, lost their love for the Rolls-Royce brand in the 1990s, claiming that the newer models did not meet the high-quality found in legacy models. This surprised the automaker; it had not made any significant changes to production methods other than upgrades in safety and technology. Technically, the new cars should have been better than the older models. The automaker invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in research and, in the end, determined that the differentiating factor was scent. Rolls-Royce then took one of its elite models, a 1965 Silver Cloud, and analyzed the Rolls-Royce smell. The researchers determined that over 800 elements combined to form the fragrance. They duplicated this branded aroma and incorporated it into every new car built from that point forward, indicating the luxury carmaker's dedication to its brand:
"Today, our brand means more than engineering excellence. It is a standard of quality across all our activities. Our brand guides our actions and behaviors and the way we present ourselves to the world..."
Many other companies also use Scent Marketing. GM, for instance, began adding scent to the leather of its Cadillacs in 2003 (ironically, Cadillac just announced it would be launching a fragrance line to celebrate its 100th birthday with GM... certainly it isn't using taxpayer bail-out dollars). Sony and Samsung have already instituted scents for their company stores. Also, luxury hotels are investigating various fragrances that will create an emotional connection with their guests.
Lindstrom, in a widely distributed research paper, highlighted that “… 99 percent of all brand communication today is focused on two senses: what we hear and see. In sharp contrast, 75 percent of our emotions are generated by what we in fact smell”.
Although Scent Marketing is not quite accepted as the norm for marketing practices due to the difficulty of measuring ROI, it is beginning to gain respect for its ability to evoke deep feelings between companies and their consumers.
The Scent Marketing Institute provides both companies and individuals "an independent resource for understanding and leveraging the power of scent applications in business and public environments." The Institute offers everything from newsletters and suggestions for Scent Marketing programs to benchmarking standards and ROI measurement programs.