The emotional associations that we create with our brands is a shadowy realm. Marketers have been utilizing the latest in neurological and psychological studies for decades now and they are only getting more creative. In the most recent wave of innovation, scent marketing offers businesses a whole new reality and it has everything to do with ancient systems in the brain.
Processing scenting data is a fast and largely subconscious process. You see, hear or feel something and almost instantaneously, a pathway in your brain in created, (a memory) of the event. The olfactory bulb, our scent processing warehouse, is located within our limbic system, a very ancient part of the brain. This system is responsible for translating sensory data from the thinking part of the brain into the motivational forces inside the brain, like emotion and long term memory associations. The strength of scent marketing comes from the fact that the “The limbic system is centrally involved in the mediation between a person’s recognition of an event, their perception of it as stressful, and the resulting physiological reaction to it, mediated via the endocrine system: Stimuli are processed conceptually in the cortex, and passed to the limbic system where they are evaluated and a motivational response is formulated.” explains Gloria Rodriguez-Gil, M.Ed., a California Deaf-Blind Services Specialist.
So scenting is powerful, especially when you’re intention is to create strong associations. What’s even more interesting is the design of the scent itself. It isn’t enough to say, “Let’s use Christmas smells!” during the Holiday season. The more thought that goes into scent creation, the more effective your scent marketing strategies will be. In a recent study conducted in collaboration with Eric Spangenberg, an authority in olfactory processing and dean of the Washington State University College of Business and a Swiss retail department store, two scents were developed to test the effects of complex versus simple scents on motivating buying decisions. Marketers have always danced the fine line between over saturation-and that perfect amount of exposure and this dynamic applies to the nose too. Think of the brain as an internet connection. The more sensory data you expose it to, the slower the processing speed. The more complex the scent, the more your brain focuses on processing, not on buying or creating positive associations with brands.
Complexity is not the only influential element in scent marketing design, however. Context is almost as important. In 2006, Spangenberg conducted another study where he found that the, “department store [scented with] the masculine scent of rose maroc and the feminine scent of vanilla, [it was] found that women bought less when the store smelled masculine, and men bought less when the store smelled feminine.”
Scent marketing is the latest 4th dimension of development in marketing strategies and granted, it’s incredible innovative. Past even innovation, it has great science to back it up. But connecting the complexity of olfactory processing and motivating buying is not as simple as scent to nose.