Why Scent Is A Massive Missed Opportunity for Brands
If you’ve ever caught a whiff of a particular scent that’s made you reminisce about a specific place, product or person, then you’ll understand just how powerful the sense of smell can be. Indeed, scent is arguably the most important human sense. At least, from a neuroscience perspective it may be, given it’s encoded by 1,000 genes compared to the mere four that encode vision.
However, scent has yet to fully catch on as a marketing tool while brands focus heavily on how their products look. To sniff out just how powerful the sense of smell can be for brands, we chatted to Dr. Andy Myers, Director at Walnut Unlimited, in the latest episode of our Lab Leaders podcast.
What makes our sense of smell so important?
To grasp scent’s importance to branding, you first need to understand its anatomy. The brain processes smell in the olfactory bulb, which sits next to the amygdala, which processes emotion, and the hippocampus, which is vital to memory formation. As a result, unlike other senses, when we smell something, it doesn’t travel via the whole cortex but goes straight to our emotions and memory centres.
Neuroscience tells us that whenever we encounter a new scent, it leaves a unique signature on our brain. This enables the brain to distinguish between thousands (if not millions) of smells and associate them with different feelings or memories, even if we can’t articulate them. That helps to create subconscious processes triggered by other senses like vision and sound.
This capability makes scent crucial to immediately grabbing peoples’ attention. Scent, therefore, offers a unique opportunity for marketers to leverage human emotion and reactions that many have struggled to activate.
What kinds of opportunities are brands missing out on?
Dr. Myers suggests that brands typically understand that scent is important, but haven’t grasped how to approach it. For example, marketers invest vast amounts of time and money perfecting how a boxed product looks and feels. However, when the consumer opens their product, it most likely smells like polystyrene or plastic, which misses an opportunity to further excite and engage the brain.
He goes on to suggest that scent plays a more significant role in branding than you might think. For example, when we watch an advert displaying a steaming hot cup of coffee, the part of our brain involved in smell is activated even though it can’t physically sense the smell of coffee. Nescafé has used this sensory link to build a brand story around scent that it consistently retriggers through its comms.
This concept is also key to food marketing. Fast-food ads help us metaphorically smell the token burger or pizza on screen. The sound of the sizzling burger and the visual of the smoke coming off it activate the area of the brain that registers scent to make it seem even more delicious and urge us to fulfil the human need to consume!
How should brands approach using scent?
We believe that brands need to use scent more tactically, depending on the emotions they want to evoke from consumers. Scent can create calming experiences that complement a shopping journey, excite and invigorate shoppers when they see a new product, or guide people to explore a new store section and keep them in-store for longer.
Scent also needs to be considered as a brand asset. Just as consumers associate certain colours, images, logos or slogans with specific brands, they do the same with smells. Indeed, Hasbro trademarked the smell of Play-Doh in 2018 to “protect an invaluable point of connection between the brand and fans for years to come.”
Creatives, therefore, need to consider what their brand would smell like and what scent they want people to associate with it. They can then unlock new ways of strengthening brand appeal and creating associations with consumers.
When done well, scent enhances the overall sensory experience. In retail, for example, it generates greater emotional responses and deeper brand engagement. However, it needs to be congruent with your brand. So, brands need to identify what they stand for, their unique attitudes and associations, and which emotions they want to evoke through scent.
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The power of scent is essential to the success of brands in the food, hospitality and retail space to name a few. But it also presents significant opportunities for organisations to differentiate themselves in busy marketplaces.
Just like any other marketing approach, it’s important to understand what your brand stands for, its perception, and how smell can reinforce those associations. But, crucially, you need to have a clear purpose for using smell. Whether it’s grabbing attention, instilling nostalgia, or leveraging specific emotions, neuroscience can help you to understand and deliver that impact. After all, you wouldn’t create an advert without knowing why you’re putting certain words or images out there, so you need to give scent the same consideration.
Discover the unsniffed opportunities your brand could be missing out on by listening to our Lab Leaders podcast on our website here. Reach out to today’s guest, Dr. Andy Myers at Andy.Myers@walnutunlimited.com, or our host Faye Hawkins at Faye.Hawkins@unlimitedgroup.com to explore the vast opportunities of scent.