Business scents: Brandaroma MD Tim Fawcett explains how smell can alter customer perceptions
Scent branding becoming more popular as a powerful branding tool for Hong Kong businesses.
Walking into the laboratory of scent branding company Brandaroma is like stepping into the workshop of a modern-day alchemist.
The walls are lined with thousands of bottles containing the most delicious scents in the world. These are decanted, mixed and matched with scientific precision and expert artistry in order to evoke just the right memories and emotions.
"Scents are a powerful medium," says managing director Tim Fawcett, who works with hotel, casino, retail and commercial customers to decide how their buildings should smell. "They can change perceptions through a process called synaesthesia, where you experience one human sense through the activation of the other.
"For example, in retail space, the smell of vanilla will make people feel warmer and affects their spatial perception. The space they occupy will feel larger and more comfortable, and they are more likely to spend on premium products."
As one of the pioneers in the scents marketing scene in Hong Kong, Fawcett first came to the city in 1999, and subsequently set up Brandaroma with his partners in 2006.
Fawcett's love affair with the world of fragrances started in Britain more than 20 years ago, when he was offered an apprenticeship with a fragrance house there. He became acquainted with the methodologies used in categorising different families of scents: citrus, fruity, floral, oriental, woody and chypre, to name a few.
"I was fascinated by all of these hitherto unknown ingredients. There were not only just liquids, but also crystals, gums, powders, extracts, essential oils and organic aroma chemicals," Fawcett says.
"It is like what happened in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - you walk through into a magical world, where there are an infinite number of combinations that you can use with all these amazing ingredients. Your only limitations are your creativity, and the industry regulations," he says.
Scent design, like any other branding effort, is always a combination of business analysis and creative thinking. It starts from auditing the physical environment of the premises, the existing brand image of the business, and its customer profile. What matters then is the ability to translate all these figures, facts and qualities into the language of scents.
One of the most memorable projects Fawcett has been involved in was with a mainland hotel situated in the beautiful mountain area of Lijiang. Surrounded by stunning natural landscape, the challenge was to help the guests make a smooth mental transition from the lovely, fresh mountain air they smelled, to the scents they were going to breathe in on the hotel premises, which at the time unfortunately smelled heavily of fresh paint.
Analysing the customer profile of the hotel - which was mainly comprised of vacationing families and couples from tier-one mainland cities - Fawcett decided to recreate the smell of fresh laundry.
"We researched the most popular laundry softeners sold in tier-one cities in China and then used the scent as a base," Fawcett says. "The result was that when visitors stepped into the foyer, tired from travel, they smelled a homely scent, as if a fresh basket of laundry has just been done. And it was not too abrupt a contrast with the clear mountain air they had just smelled minutes before checking into the hotel."
Over the years, interest in scent marketing has grown from hotels and casinos to department stores, retail spaces, banks, offices, and public transport as it has become more apparent that scents are a powerful branding tool.
Fawcett cites another example in which he and his team were tasked with a scent-branding exercise for a global bank's premier branches. In order to audit its brand attributes, the team visited different branches to take note of their setting: lighting, colour tone, texture of furniture, and the overall ambience.
On the other hand, they also had to delve into the existing brand attributes of the bank, and the profile of their premier banking customers. What followed was a collective creative process back at the office where they created mood boards to capture the essence of the brand, and encode them into the language of scents to convey the right messages.
After narrowing down the list of possible fragrances to three candidates, they then presented them to the C-level management of the bank who, with one sniff of the scents, would decide what hundreds of thousands of customers and staff would be smelling in the office every day for the months and years to come.
Apart from the potential growth in the banking sector, Fawcett also sees opportunities in new technology that would enable a higher level of bespoke scent design, and allow remote, flexible control of the fragrance diffusing equipment.
"Imagine walking into your workplace on Valentine's Day and it just smells of roses," said Fawcett. "Or having your favourite department store smell of Norwegian firs when you walk in, but mulled wine when you walk out during your Christmas shopping trip.
"All these are possible with the technology we are working on. Rather than smelling the same fragrance year in and year out, we will create a more personal experience that truly delights people as they travel through the various spaces in their everyday life."