What can branding smell like?

Olfactory Branding

We hear it all the time: a brand is more than its products or services. It’s all about the experience and the feelings it brings to life. But if the aim is creating a lasting experience, why do we mostly associate and equip brands with visual elements? Why not appeal to more senses? What about smell, for example?

Scents are very powerful. What we smell does not undergo the same filters as what we see or hear; it goes straight to the most primitive part of our brain. We are, essentially, open to scents. Research has shown that humans remember about 35% of what they smell, as opposed to 5% to what they see, 2% of what they hear and only 1% of what they touch. Aren’t brands missing out on an opportunity here?

There are some brands out there that have been very successful at incorporating scent as a part of their retail experience, one of the most (in)famous is probably Abercrombie. Its signature scent transports you straight to Abercrombie before going into the store or without even seeing it. Inditex uses a similar strategy with its Massimo Dutti stores. Their scent conveys a more adult feeling and is a lot less intense than Abercrombie’s.

So when does it make sense and when not?
It depends on the brand: its purpose, its community and the intended experience. The risk with scent is that there are all sorts of reactions: what one person loves, another might hate. So the key question is: whom do I want to appeal to? If a brand focuses on a single, well-defined target audience, then a signature scent can work wonders. A brand can create a fragrance that its customers will likely find appealing, based on their similar lifestyles and tastes. It’s all about creating another way in which people can connect with the brand. It also puts brands with physical spaces at an advantage over digital-only brands, which couldn’t possibly achieve that kind of a connection.

All in all, it might be tricky and it might sound risky; but creating an olfactory signature bears huge potential to make a brand stand out in a lasting way. If you hit the right note, you might hit a homerun.