Shopping to The Senses: When Branding Makes Sense

By Terri Goldstein, Founder & CEO, The Goldstein Group

It’s a well-documented fact that approximately 75% of the emotions that we experience every day are triggered not by what we see, but what we smell. So why is it that 83% of the commercial messaging to which we’re exposed on a daily basis appeals to our eyes and ears alone? The olfactory is often characterized as the most impressionable and responsive of all the senses, and is inextricably linked to taste. In fact, olfaction activates our taste receptors, which is how we perceive flavor. The incorporation of scent enhancement into a branding campaign drives taste, which in turn drives intuitive brand recall among consumers.

To find out more, I sat down with Harald H. Vogt, Founder and Chief Marketer of the Scent Marketing Institute in Scarsdale, NY. What I learned was so illuminating that I immediately became a member of the Institute in order to help my clients’ brands make more “scents” in the retail environment than ever before.

According to Vogt, the science behind scent perception is fairly easy to grasp. Unlike the other senses, smell appeals directly to our emotions without first being intercepted and analyzed by the logical side of the brain. That’s because the portion of the brain that processes smell is located in the limbic lobe – the same central part of the brain that controls our emotions. With regards to marketing and the retail environment, the sense of smell has the power to alter not only a consumer’s impression of a brand, but their perception of time, size and quality.


As evidence of this, Vogt was quick to cite a 1993 experiment by neurologist Alan Hirsch, in which the founder of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation placed identical pairs of Nike sneakers in two rooms: one floral-scented, the other odorless. Of the volunteers who participated, 84% said they not only preferred the sneakers in the floral-scented room (which were identical in every way to the pair in the unscented room), but that they would actually pay $10 more for them.

So how do we begin to incorporate scent marketing into our branding initiatives? In Vogt’s experience, with good old trial and error. While smell can provide a powerful consumer touch point capable of promoting both impulse purchases and long-term brand loyalty, scent enhancement can just as easily trigger undesirable emotions in consumers — including turning them off of a particular brand for good. Vogt recommends creating an initial palette of several fragrances based on factors such as preexisting marketing materials, retail layouts and client demographics, and then working with the client as well as research panels to refine your choices and settle on the single best option.

Why am I so enthusiastic about scent marketing? As a brand strategist, my job is to provide my clients with new and innovative means of targeting their consumers’ senses at shelf (and beyond) in order to build both loyalty and market share for their brands. By encouraging my clients to appeal to the olfactory sense, I am enabling their brands to tap into a whopping 75% of what determines these consumers’ emotions at any given moment in the retail environment. Scent enhancement gives me a powerful new weapon to add to my branding arsenal.

As anyone who knows me can attest, I’ve always maintained that everyone should have a signature scent. Given the research and methodologies provided by the Scent Marketing Institute, I can now say that the same goes for brands.

A shopper marketing expert with over two decades of field experience, Terri Goldstein is the author of breakthrough research on consumer behavior, recall and sensory motivation in the retail environment. Together with her team of designers, verbal branders and production specialists at The Goldstein Group, she has restaged some of America’s largest national brands including Cortizone•10, Bayer Aspirin, Gold Bond, One-A-Day, Ovaltine and Unisom. An active member of the Scent Marketing Institute, The Goldstein Group employs scent enhancement as an integral component of its proprietary Brand 7 Process™.

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