Smell is one of our best-developed senses. Humans are able to distinguish some one trillion different scent combinations, and our sense of smell is highly discriminating.
Even when we struggle to identify scents themselves, we are highly adept at recognising their associations, which are deeply rooted in memory and emotion. The sense of smell is a powerful part of the immersive mix. It is a vital sensory entry point that links the central nervous system to the external world; the sense that acts the fastest and mines the emotions deepest, giving access to memories and moods in a way that is greater than any other sensory input.
The search for scientific proof
The science is growing. One recent study conducted by the Universities of Birmingham and Bonn looked at the mechanisms of what it called the “auto-complete function” of memory, using with the example that a picture of a sunny beach can conjure the scent of sun-cream.
The artist Andy Warhol, a collector of fragrance, sought to exert some control over this process, by having a library of “smells stopped up in bottles… I can be in control and can only smell the smells I want to when I want to, to get the memories I’m in the mood to have.” To harness the power of that sense of association is clearly something that hotels and retailers would wish for.
Creating unique memories
As such, part of the growing awareness of multi-sensory marketing, within the last decade scent has become a big part of the hotel’s marketing armoury, and the hospitality industry is on a journey to use olfaction to create memories and emotions. Although scent seems to be a more ‘intangible’ asset it can make the biggest difference to guest satisfaction and loyalty because smell is the most emotional of our senses and directly links to memory.
The sense of smell is a powerful occupier of physical space, creating emotional and personalised experiences. It is able to build strong brand associations and add to the memory that conjures comfort and awareness of place. It is as much a part of the creation of ambience as music – a parallel that is increasingly made – and along with other multisensory cues can convey an immersive experience that keeps customers coming back for more.
But make sure it’s a good fit
Scent is powerful, but congruency is essential. Hotels that pick relaxing colours and music should choose relaxing fragrances. Conversely, those hotels that want to convey a sense of fun and positivity should use brighter fragrances that are more likely to create feelings of happiness than relaxation. Equally, hotels can use scent to convey a sense of destination, connecting with the locality, for example the scent of fig in Naples and oudh in Dubai. The choice of scent depends on what the hotel hopes to convey.
People can recall smell with 65% accuracy even after a year. With such a powerful memory attached to a smell, hotels are creating signature scents and olfactive logos to deliver a brand affiliation, and allow customers to feel like they’re part of the brand the moment they enter its scented space.