Scent Marketing as part of Sensory Marketing

Updated: May 17, 2021

What is Sensory Marketing

Sensory marketing, also known as sensory branding, is a form of marketing that appeals to consumers through all five senses. Each sense is utilised to relate to consumers on an emotional level. Sensory marketing engages the consumer's senses and affects their perception, judgement and behaviour.

Why Sensory Marketing

New research on the concept of embodied cognition suggests that our bodily sensations help in decision making without our conscious awareness. By utilising sensory marketing, marketers have the opportunity to capitalise on this highly researched field. The perception of quality, price and enjoyment of a product can be manipulated by using sensory marketing techniques. The perception of a retail store, hotel, conference area and any other area can be manipulated by changing the framework in which customers experience the area through sensory marketing techniques.

How do you appeal to your customers through all five senses?

Each of the five senses plays a key role in creating an emotional association. The goal is to link your brand with as many senses as possible in an authentic way. Research shows that the most successful brands have more than three senses engaged.

Let’s focus on the sense of smell and how it influences customers behaviour.

Why Scent Marketing Works

Scent marketing has three distinct advantages compared to other sensory marketing inputs on consumers:

Better Processing Fluency

Processing Fluency is a cognitive bias in which our opinion of something is influenced by how easily our brain processes it and understands it. We tend to prefer things that are simple to understand and use, and will even find simple information more believable. An intuitive design, or a coherent piece of advertising copy, represents high processing fluency.

Low processing fluency occurs when we find something difficult to interact with or understand. This causes us to expend more effort, resulting in negative feelings and associations.

Due to the incorporation of the olfactory bulb into the limbic system, olfaction by far has the easiest, fastest and most prominent effect on processing fluency of our environment on our memory and emotions.

On a practical level, it means that negative or malodours will have the fastest and most prominent effect of negative feelings and associations with your brand and in-store experience. The inverse is also true in that a pleasant odour will result in a fast and prominent positive experience and association.

Higher Associative Learning and Memory

The definition of associative learning encloses several different types of cognitive processes and events. It is learning that takes place when two elements are connected in our brain. For example, if we associate the alarm clock to get up early, we will find out what this instrument is for and how little we like it.

See below three examples of higher associative learning and memory specifically regarding specific scent:

1. Students exposed to a scent associated with a previous frustrating task did more poorly in a maze challenge compared to children exposed to a scent, they were exposed to when completing an easy and fun task.

2. Participants exposed to scented pencils recalled information read significantly better two weeks later, compared to participants that used unscented pencils.

3. People show a 65% accurate recall of scent after one year past exposure compared to a 30% accurate recall after three months past exposure to a visual stimulus.

This means, that when you incorporate ambient scent into your in-store or brand experience, that customers will remember your store, brand and their experience at a greater level compared to no scent. The alternative is also true that should a malodour be present, that specific customers will have a higher likelihood of feeling frustrated and remembering the unpleasant experience more vividly. This will naturally have a significant detraction on your brand, in-store experience, time spend in-store etcetera.

Your customers are one hundred times more likely to remember what they smell versus something they hear or see.

Increase your brand experience and memorability by adding scent to your marketing staple.

Greater Effect on Emotions and Mood

Several studies, in both laboratory and real-life settings, have found that pleasant fragrances improved mood.

Mood affects cognition. For example:

Individuals in a positive mood exhibit higher levels of creativity.

Pleasant ambient odours were found to enhance vigilance during a tedious task and improve performance.

People exposed to a pleasant ambient scent in a shopping mall were more inclined to help a stranger.

Conversely, the presence of a malodour lowered participants tolerance to frustration.

When your customers feel great they perceive the environment and merchandise also as good. This explains the following results that studies have shown on ambient scent:

- Ambient scenting shows up to 40% increase in customer mood

- 20% more customers feel relaxed, comfortable, and confident

- Ambient Scenting increased positive product ratings by 25%

- Customers will linger longer in scented areas by 40%

- Scenting can increase intent to purchase by up to 80%

- 84% of shoppers perceived identical shoes more attractive in a scented area

- 70% increase in brand impact when all three senses triggered


Retail Stores can achieve the desired customer experience, brand recall, customer behaviour and likeness to return by applying a best in class ambient scenting strategy.

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