Scent of a Hotel Brand

Can scent really be used as an extension of hotel branding? Mark Davis, Director at Me & Dave, reveals the power of smell for hoteliers.

We all know that smell can affect our feelings, whether it’s a loved one’s favourite perfume, the smell of fresh-baked bread in the supermarket, or a candle in a spa. Smell is how we perceive whether our environment is beneficial or dangerous, which means our receptors produce an immediate, instinctive reaction when we smell something.

“With all of the other senses, you think before you respond, but with scent, your brain responds before you think,” Pam Scholder Ellen, a Georgia State University marketing professor, told the New York Times. This capacity to bypass the logical brain makes smell a great potential tool for marketers; even more crucially, research shows that 75% of emotions are generated by smell.

But how can it be used by hoteliers?

Following your nose

Our noses are incredibly clever organisms. And there’s a great deal of research to suggest that smell has a far stronger influence than we realise. In one study, people were presented with four pairs of stockings that differed only in scent. 50% of respondents preferred the narcissus-scented stockings (as opposed to only 8% who liked the unscented ones) but they did not attribute their preference to smell but to durability, weave and sheen.

So, why aren’t brands doing more to harness the power of scent? A few are: certain hotels do their best to promote their products via pleasant and appropriate smells. “At the Landmark London we know how certain scents evoke childhood memories and trigger emotions,” says Yan-Ping Mew, the hotel’s Head of Marketing. “Whether the scent comes from warm croissants from the hotel’s ovens or from our signature scent, White Tea and Thyme, which is present throughout the hotel, we want our guests to feel at home, remember happy occasions and create memorable memories in the hotel.”

Bulgari has the advantage of being a brand that owns both hotels and perfumes; all the hotels use their Green Tea fragrance, the ‘scent of Bulgari’. “Green Tea was Bulgari‘s first fragrance, launched in 1992, and is the best-known, hence the hotel feels it is most representative of the Bulgari brand as a whole,” said a spokesperson. Green tea leaves, she adds, are known for their healing and relaxing effect: just the feelings a hotel wants to inspire in guests.

At the four Soho House hotels Cowshed, the brand’s product line, puts eucalyptus into products intended to stimulate and clary sage into those that are meant to relax. Since bergamot is known to help with depression, they include it in products that revive you and improve your mood; coriander has been proven to ease aches and pains, so a good whiff of it sends signals to our muscles that help is on its way – and the comfort starts there.

Lazy Cow Soothing Bath and Shower Gel, with its jasmine and chamomile, induces feelings of calm: start to associate those with your bath and you’ll probably start to feel better just by opening the lid and inhaling. And there’s a homeliness to the scents they create that fits well with their brand. “We still believe that there are few things in life better than an English country garden,” says their website.

The Langham chain sprays a signature scent of ginger-lily throughout their hotels. “It aims to enhance the arrival experience,” explains a spokesperson. “For guests who stay in multiple properties and for those enjoying a return stay, the scent helps trigger a memory or positive emotional response, similar to that of returning home.” Ginger-lily was chosen via poll in the Executive Office, with everyone up to the CEO of the company, trialling various scents. “It was selected as it was distinctive and most importantly, was not too overpowering.”

Subconscious cues

At Barts Square, a sophisticated mixed-use development in Smithfield, East London, we used the scent of Yuzu and Green Tea, with its elegance, subtlety and refreshing moreishness, to reinforce the elegance and subtlety of the brand. The use of these candles – which were also given as gifts to new buyers – was a carefully thought-out decision to generate and promote the emotions we want potential buyers to feel. If hotels want guests to feel a delicious sense of escape combined with the ease and comfort of home, it seems logical to appeal to every sense – particularly our sophisticated sense of smell.

How to select your brand’s scent

There is actually a company, ScentAir, that creates fragrances for brands and advises them on the best use of smell to generate the results they want. “We have a fragrance development team, and we discuss whether it’s all about their brand, or about their customer,” says ScentAir MD Christopher Pratt. “

Sometimes it’s obvious: to generalise, women prefer floral and citrus scents, guys like woodier, muskier smells. Children dislike anything bitter so while coffee is a great fragrance if you’re targeting adults it won’t work for kids.”

The sweet smell of success

Scent is often overlooked in the process of building brands, but once you start thinking about it, that seems a waste of a great opportunity. Without exception, hotel brands obsess over the way their properties look: what about the impression that meets the nose, given that we rely on our sense of smell nearly as much as our sense of sight?

We have found that using candles with gender-neutral, appealing but understated scents generates a positive atmosphere in a new development: pretty important, when people are considering spending hundreds of thousands of pounds, but also a key issue for hotels looking to inspire guests to return. We conducted a series of scent workshops, working with key stakeholders, paring and mixing candle fragrances to define the characteristics of the scheme.

Sometimes, it can have more of a narrative: whether it’s the light, obviously refreshing scent of Barts Square or something entirely different, the intention is to build a more personal connection with the consumer. And isn’t that connection, as elusive as a delightful aroma, just what every brand is trying to grasp?

  • One Comment
  • John Dodd

    We were way ahead of our time in 1992 when we pioneered the diffusion of scent through the HVAC system in the lobby of the Dadeland Marriott hotel. The General Manager Tim Weller and the staff gave us rave reviews as we launched “Aromascape” to complement the Green Room environmental upgrade. Guests facing long check in lines were soothed with the wafting scents of vanilla, lavender, jasmine and lemon. This success led to the eventual introduction to Bloomingdales CEO Michael Gould and the launch of a cinnamon seasonal in select Bloomingdales stores during the Christmas Holidays in 1992.

    John Dodd
    Former Vice President of Sales
    Aromascape IBC
    Miami FL

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