Scent Branding: Beat the Competition by a Nose

Image: Getty

Listen – can you smell that? That’s the new year scent of 2017 washing over you. Go ahead, breathe it in: smells like promise, like opportunity. It smells like a fresh start. And it smells like the crisp new dollar bills that could be lining your pockets and bank account…even the space between your mattress and box spring if that’s how you do things. Play your cards right this year and you could find yourself fanning your face – and breathing in the intoxicating scent of dollars – with fanned out stacks of cash.

When you look at the cards you have to play you’ll see that you can build different hands. Think of each week or weekend as a poker game. A strong hand represented by a great promotion may beat out your competition seated at the table. Perhaps your winning hand will consist of ruthless cost cutting. Maybe the hand that wins you the day time and again will be your branding.

Building a strong branding hand might, depending upon who you are as an owner, operator or manager, consist of a visual appeal card, widely recognized logo and color combination card, the invaluable social media and online personality card, and a card that represents your ambiance. But what about that fifth card you hope to draw? What will be that proverbial ace up your proverbial branding sleeve?

The answer just might be scent branding.

Of all the senses, whether you subscribe to the classical concept of their being five or the more modern theory that there are dozens, our olfactory sense is the most powerful. Yes, bartenders, mixologists, cooks, and chefs will tell you that we drink or eat first with our eyes. They’re not wrong, and certainly we remember what we see and what we taste. We make memories based on what we hear and our tactile senses. But anyone with even an average sense of smell knows that nothing causes memories to hit us like a deck of cards to the face like breathing in a familiar scent. In fact, a great percentage of you reading this are recalling the scent of freshly opened playing cards and possibly even cigars and your favorite cocktail right now. Most of you were probably reminded of the scent of incense when you saw the image I chose up top. That proves the power of scent when it comes to making memories.

The bar and nightlife business is just as much about staying top of mind with guests as it is about delivering incredible experiences. Carefully conceived and executed branding, from your napkins to your social media presence to the personality you create for your brand online, helps make you memorable. So can the scent associated with your venue. When you close your eyes (hopefully before you finish this sentence, and the rest of this article) and think about your go-to nightclubs, bars and restaurants, can you recall how they smell when you open their doors and cross their thresholds? Are those scents particularly appealing? Are they exclusive to their respective venues? What if you could create a bespoke, private label scent exclusive to your nightclub or bar?

As you’ve probably guessed from all of the above foreshadowing, you can work with experts to craft your brand’s fragrance. Those who have ever spent any time inside the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas (possibly while heading over to the Nightclub & Bar Show party at DAYLIGHT Beach Club last year) may have detected the scent of coconut that subtly permeates the 135,000 square-foot casino. That’s no accident. A company called ScentAir with headquarters in Charlotte, NC, created the Mandalay Bay’s signature Coconut Spice fragrance, which is delivered throughout the property via the existing HVAC system. However, for those of you who aren’t looking to pump scent through your vents, there’s another solution. DetroitWick (guess where they’re from) can work with you to create candles, sprays and diffusers that imbue your venue – and your brand – with a private label fragrance. On top of that, the delivery method can be branded with your logo.

Sounds a bit strange, right? Maybe a little pretentious or a lot ridiculous? Before you dismiss the idea of a bespoke fragrance as part of your branding, consider the science of scent. Noam Sobel, a scientist who studies olfaction at the Weizmann Institute of Science, says that 5% of human DNA is dedicated to our sense of smell. Makes sense when you consider that smell helped keep our ancestors from consuming poisons or rotten food, keeping them alive and eventually leading to, well, each one of us. Biophysicist Luca Turin delivered a TED Talk that tackled the subjects of scent, how the nose works, and the art of fragrance. Lavender’s aroma relaxes people. Jasmine can be used to fight stress, anxiety and depression. Grapefruit is a citrus scent that can energize and uplift people, and some scientists support the claim that just the scent of an orange can aid in digestion. Vanilla, black licorice, cinnamon, sandalwood and rose are considered aphrodisiacs. The list of scents and what their effects on humans goes on and on and on.

Every operator is looking for an edge. At the end of the day, being remembered by your guests so they return to your venue, bring their friends, family and coworkers with them, and spread the word about your brand is a priceless advantage. And that advantage just may be attained by leveraging the power of scent. 

Suggested Articles

Research from the latest National Restaurant Association and Yelp Show the Latest Rate in Closures

Six-month sales, education and networking virtual event series offers a brand-new approach for the industry to connect with owners, operators and supp

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced today that at the end of the month, indoor dining will be returning to New York City after almost six months of being