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Scent Branding: What does your brand story smell like?

A captivating brand strategy will inspire emotion

At its core, brand strategy is concerned with the connection forged between a company and its customers – and branded scent can be a powerful ally in forging that connection. Ideally the relationship between brand and customer is full of trust and positive emotions. The goal is for customers to feel that communications from the brand are authentic and relevant to them. However, while brand messaging must be truthful and provide value, it’s more important to tell a compelling story than provide a list of bullet points. This is because humans love stories. We want to be inspired, moved, entertained, and amused.

Scent is an emotional powerhouse

Scent is primal. Unlike our other senses, the sense of smell is directly connected to areas of our brain that deal with memory and emotion, triggering deeply felt reactions that bypass the more rational areas of our brain.

Smells are received in the brain by the olfactory bulb which sits just above the nasal cavity. From there, the brain sends information about the odor directly to the limbic system, which includes the amygdala and the hippocampus - regions related to emotion and memory.

Why you should care about the scent of your business

Paying attention to scent represents a powerful pathway to inspiring an emotional response in your customers. If you want to create a positive or immersive customer experience, it’s time to consider incorporating scent into your retail environment or personal brand.

According to Harvard Business Review, “Scented environments have been shown to reduce typos in office workers; improve the perception of product quality; increase purchase intent, average unit sales, and duration of a retail visit or stay among consumers; and boost the willingness of consumers to pay more for a product. But from offices and trade show booths to retail environments and the products themselves, the true power of olfactory branding (also known as scent branding) is in its unique ability to form immediate, powerful, and differentiated emotional connections with customers, particularly within a category of functionally similar offerings.” While the article urges that “marketers should work through a scent branding firm, as signature scent development and diffusion is an art and a science,” what is the small business owner to do who can’t afford a scent branding firm? Great question. Let’s dig in!

How does branding factor into what a place smells like?

Step one is to understand your target audience – things like your customers’ average age, gender, and ethnicity will likely influence what scents feel inviting. Next, consider your brand’s personality, the relationship dynamic that lies between your customers and your brand, your unique selling points, and your brand’s philosophy. Lastly, consider the state of mind your customer is likely in when they’re in your brand’s environment. How do they want to feel in this moment? Energized and excited, calm and relaxed, or sexy and confident? Recognizing this can help guide you to a scent that matches their desired mood.

Should your personal brand have a scent?

In other words, should you invest in a perfume or cologne that’s unique to you? If you’re a service provider or a business where your personal brand is important, you might be interested in developing a personal scent. Perfumers offer workshops where they walk you through the process of developing a custom scent just for you, as described in this InsideOut Style blog article. I had the pleasure of participating in such a perfume workshop with Yates Perfumes out of Lakewood, Ohio, and created a personalized perfume just for myself. It felt very special and I wore it until there was none of it left.

Learn about aromatherapy with essential oils

Essential oils and aromatherapy can be a great way to learn about how various scents and ingredients inspire a physical and emotional response in the body.

“Scents, emotions, and memory go hand-in-hand,” says aromatherapy and essential oil expert, Michelle Bousquet, of Waikoloa, HI. “People are definitely drawn to different scents and these preferences are typically brought on by emotions that were established early in life.”

In a consultation session, Michelle works with clients to guide them through selecting essential oils that will have a particular desired effect. She works exclusively with doTerra oils which have the added bonus of being truly all natural, therapeutic, and safe for those who are worried about or sensitive to synthetic fragrances. Michelle offers complimentary essential oil consultations which can be booked online here, or follow her on Instagram at @mydopeeps808 to get essential oil tips.

When selecting a branded scent, should you go for mass appeal or try to be unique?

This depends on what appeals to your customer, and the brand story you’re telling. If your brand story involves mystery and intrigue, something unique yet appealing could be appropriate. If your brand seeks to be cozy, reassuring, evoke family memories, and feelings of safety, then maybe something more universally appealing could be more appropriate.

In this article on perfume notes, a study by OnBuy revealed the top 10 most popular perfumes and broke each down into the individual scent notes that were mixed to create the final perfume. Which notes appeared the most in these perfumes? 70% contained vanilla and woody notes. Amongst top women’s perfumes, 50% contained “white floral” and 40% contained lavender. So if you wanted to play it safe, those might be a great place to start. (By the way, white floral typically refers to heady and sweet-smelling white flowers such as tuberose, gardenia, lily of the valley, or jasmine.)

Create a custom blend of botanical scents in a workshop on O’ahu

In Honolulu, HI, licensed clinical herbalist, Deanna Rose Ahigan, crafts and sells a wide range of natural botanical creations for the body through her business, Indigo Elixers. “We believe that what you wear on your body every day should be as nourishing as the food you eat, and therefore have exceptionally high standards when it comes to our ingredients,” explains their website. Indigo Elixers occasionally offers in-person workshops on O’ahu where Deanna and her team work with clients to create a custom blend of botanical scents unique to the individual. To see private workshops on offer, visit the Indigo Elixers website’s events page.

What about custom scented items in custom-designed packaging?

We thought you’d never ask! As a packaging designer and brand strategist, I see a future in custom scents that are also branded with custom beautiful packaging. Imagine burning a custom-scented candle in your place of business, and then making it available for purchase to customers - or giving it out as a holiday gift to clients. If this seems just too far-fetched for Hawai’i, you’d be wrong. Karli Rose of the rapidly growing company To Be Organics is expanding her offerings to meet a growing demand for custom branded, custom scented items for body and home. Clients requesting custom body care products for weddings, corporate events, and resorts have been approaching To Be Organics about collaborating on bespoke items to give as gifts and amenities to guests.

How to get started on DIY-ing your own brand scent

Does hiring a brand scent firm sound a little out of your budget? I hear you! If you are a small business interested in discovering or developing a brand scent for your place of business or personal brand, the first step is to define your brand and target audience. Then you’ll be ready to work with an aromatherapy expert, botanical expert, or perfumer to develop something that inspires the desired emotions in your customers or guests. Please get in touch with me today to start developing your brand story!


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