Our visual sense is far from our most powerful in seducing our interest and convincing us to buy something. Working alone, our eyes are far less potent than we once thought when it comes to grabbing our attention. There is little doubt that we are more visually overstimulated today than ever before. Studies show that the more stimulated we are, the harder it becomes to capture our attention and crease a lasting impression.
Don’t get me wrong, sight is still crucial. However, smell and sound are substantially more potent than was first assumed. But the truth is visual images are far more effective, and more memorable, when they are coupled with another sense—like sound or smell. Martin Lindstrom, author of Sensory Branding, points out that “brands that appeal to multiple senses will be more successful than brands that focus only on one or two. These appeals can be part of the brand’s advertising, like using a distinctive color and logo in a consistent manner, or part of the product itself, like a phone ringtone or the fragrance of a soap product.”
Singapore airlines is the pinnacle of sensory branding and offers a full scale assault on our brains. Like any other airline, Singapore airlines employs common consistent visual themes. Unlike other airlines the company incorporates the same scent, Stefan Floridian Waters, in the perfume worn by flight attendants, in their hot towels, and other elements of their service. Flight attendants must be physically attractive and wear uniforms made from fine silk which incorporates elements of the cabin decor. The airline strives to make every customer interaction both appealing, and, equally important, consistent from encounter to encounter. It’s no wonder the airline is perennially at the top of travelers’ preference rankings.
If you had to guess, what would you expect one of the most recognized and best-liked fragrances all over the world to be? Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder. Why? Lindstrom has the answer: “No matter how old you are, if you take a whiff of Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder, chances are good that all those primal childhood associations will be reignited in your memory. Being fed by your mother. What if felt like to be held in her arms.” Of course this all happens as a subconscious level.
Of all our senses smell is the most primal. After all, smell is how our ancestors developed a taste for food and sought out mates. When we smell something, the odor receptors in our noses make a beeline to our limbic system, which controls emotions, memories, and our sense of well being. As a result our gut response is instantaneous. Or, as Pam Scholder Elle, A Georgia State University marketing professor, puts it, “All of our other senses, you think before you respond, but with scent, your brain responds before you think.“
Retailers are putting this to work. Several studies have shown that pleasant scents encourage shoppers to linger over a product, increase the number of times they examine it, and in some cases even increase their willingness to pay higher prices. Scents also allow consumers to make deeper brand connections.
In one recent study, accepted for publication in the Journal of Business Research, Eric Spangenberg, a consumer psychologist and dean of the College of Business and Economics at Washington State University in Pullman, and his colleagues carried out an experiment in a local clothing store. They discovered that when “feminine scents”, like vanilla, were used, sales of women’s clothes doubled; as did men’s clothes when scents like vanilla were diffused.
Samsung’s flagship store in New York smells like honeydew melon, a light, signature fragrance, designed to relax consumers and put them in a South-Sea island frame of mind.
Ever wander into a fast-food restaurant with the intentions of ordering a salad only to leave with a burger and large fries? It was the smell that got you, right? Fresh, juicy, charcoal-y, that seductive aroma seemed to suffuse ever pore in your body and you were powerless to resist it. According to Buyology, that smell you’re inhaling comes from a spray-can, also known as RTX9338PJS—code name for “just cooked bacon-cheeseburger like fragrance.”
Ever wonder why supermarkets have bakeries close to the store entrance? Not only does the fragrance of just-baked bread signal freshness and comfort, but store managers know that when you smell bread you get hungry. Some supermarkets don’t even bother with actual bakeries. Rather, they pump the scent of (artificial) fresh-baked-bread through the ceiling vents.