I love the smell of branding in the morning

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I was surprised recently to discover that I had fallen way behind in understanding just how far brands had evolved in engaging with customers on a sensory level.

I was well aware of the evolution from what a brand looks like (logo, colors, graphics, typefaces) to how a brand speaks (tone, style, language, voice) to what a brand sounds like. And I was comfortable in my belief that distinctive audio signatures, like Intel and NBC use, were the most recent advances in bringing brands to life.

So when I heard something about a company that helps corporate brands define what they smell like, I thought it was something new that needed looking into. That’s when I realized that I had been, or could have been, enjoying the scent of my favorite brands for much longer than I thought.

Ambient scenting is the practice of establishing a background fragrance in a retail or corporate environment to affect the emotions and attitudes of shoppers or workers without their being aware of it on a conscious level.

“Signature” smells have been proven to draw shoppers into a store, keep them there longer and induce them to spend more money. I’m not talking about perfume or fashion stores that can’t help smelling the way they do, or Subway sandwich shops that manufacture and pump out an exaggerated baking bread aroma.* Electronics brands like Samsung and Sony have engineered their stores to smell “fresh and new” to reinforce the spirit of cutting-edge innovation they want associated with their products. Urban myth sidebar: that “new car smell” comes in a can, and is deliberately infused in the vehicles as they roll down the assembly line.

Hospitality brands go to great lengths to make their hotels feel special, but familiar, for guests in every location, and consistent scent branding has been factored into environment design planning for several years now. The Westin Hotel in Abu Dhabi should smell the same as the Westin Hotel in Birmingham, Alabama. You might not notice it, but it is comforting just the same. Marriott has defined a palette of scents to distinguish its resort, urban and airport locations. An unexpected (?) bonus is that guests like the scents well enough to buy them in the hotel gift shop.

And since branding begins at home, ambient scenting has been used in the workplace to increase employee alertness and productivity, reduce stress and lift morale. These scents aren’t always uniquely created for each organization, but it dovetails with another big branding practice: give your employees the same attention you give your customers.

It may not be a must-have touchpoint yet, but ambient scenting shouldn’t be overlooked as a real opportunity for the right brand to enhance what’s already a consistent and familiar experience—with employees as well as consumers.

*Subway corporate leadership denies it, but the smell is exactly the same at every franchise, no matter when you walk by, am I right?

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