Attention Marketers: Respect the Sense Smell

This is a guest post from Jim Joseph. 

Nose plastic surgery operationSmell – it’s one of the five senses, or one of the six senses depending on your perspective.  It’s pretty important to say our lives, suffice it to say.  When it comes to enjoying our food, smell comes in first of the senses … without it our taste buds would be bored.

But for some reason when it comes to marketing, smell loses its importance.  For some reason smell is the Rodney Dangerfield when it comes to marketing elements.

In terms of building the brand experience, we tend to think of sight or sound first as the more important pieces to our marketing plans.   We tend to prioritize the brand’s look or the brand’s voice before anything else … certainly before smell.  In fact, we tend to hyper-focus and agonize over these features, leaving the other senses like smell in the dust.

Now for food products or cosmetics, this may not be true.  Fragrance plays a huge role in the brand experience, and in how consumers choose one brand over another.  In fact, in many cases the fragrance can become the brand in these categories.  Just ask Starbucks or Mrs. Field’s Cookies.

Outside of these categories, however, marketers often leave fragrance or smell out of the brand equation.  From the totality of the brand experience, it’s really a missed opportunity.

Look at Abercrombie & Fitch, the clothing retailer.

Sure they sell shirts and jeans, and fragrances for that matter.  What they are really selling though, is a lifestyle and a promise that the brand will add to that lifestyle experience.  When you get any where near any of the stores, you are immediately greeted by an overwhelming fragrance.  Buy the clothes, and you come home with the fragrance on them.  Wear the clothes, and you’ll personally smell like the fragrance all day.

Abercrombie & Fitch has woven fragrance into their brand experience, so why don’t other brands as well?  Is there something wrong with the sense of smell?

No. I just don’t think it’s on most brand’s radar, but it really should be.  Many marketers seem to think that fragrance is reserved for products that smell.  What a shame!

Why such a miss?

The truth is that perhaps more than any other sense, fragrance is arguably the most emotional.  Surely taste, sight, and touch are filled with emotional aspects, but what about fragrance?

Fragrance is absolutely emotional.  Think about it … fragrance can communicate:

  • intimacy or sexiness
  • manliness or femininity
  • adult maturity or childlike fantasy
  •  happiness or sadness
  •  hot or cold
  •  intensity or subtlety

The list of emotions goes on and on, more so than any of the other senses.

The point being that fragrance can go a long way toward communicating an emotion, and at the same time making an emotional connection with your consumers … something that’s not so easy to do with the other sense.

I’ll also go out on a limb to say that it can make the brand experience more memorable.  Memorable?

Yes, memorable!  We remember how things smell, we really do, probably more so than taste or any of the other senses.  Ok, for me I do have a lot of memories of taste.  I happen to remember how everything tastes, but then again smell is what contributes to taste so we’re covered there.

So let’s give our sense of smell a little more respect within the brand experience.  Here’s a little call to action:  I challenge you to think through how fragrance can be built into your marketing plan.   Fragrance will improve your brand’s experience.

Imagine how fragrance could contribute to the attraction to your target audience.

Imagine how fragrance could transform your brand.

Imagine how fragrance can communicate an emotion.

Then give it a try.  Marketing is all about experimenting … see what fragrance can do for your brand experience.

Jim Joseph is the President of Cohn & Wolfe North America. With over 25 years of integrated marketing, public relations and branding experience, he has created seamless brand experiences for clients such as Kellogg’s, Kraft, Ikea, Cadillac, Tylenol, Johnson & Johnson, Clean & Clear, American Express and WalMart. His second book, “The Experience Effect for Small Business,” takes big brand theory and applies it to the backbone of the American economy, small business. Mr. Joseph will be speaking at ScentWorld 2103, set for February 6-8, 2013 in New York City.

Image: siavash laghai


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