Science that amplifies experiences

In scent marketing, we use the brain’s reaction to smell, to subconsciously communicate with the customer’s senses.

There are a lot of studies on scent, emotions and olfactory marketing. But to truly understand what scent marketing is capable of, you need to understand the science behind smell. The more you understand this, the more you’ll want to make scent work for your business.

Nobel Prize-winning scent research

1991. In 2002, a study on smell was published by Richard Axel and Linda Buck, which was a breakthrough in science and won the Nobel Prize. They uncovered on a study, how we experience the world through smell.

They studied how we perceive smells in particular, how the brain interprets smell into unique olfactory preferences and how smell affects behaviour. As Axel has explained: “The abundance of the external world must be represented in the brain simply as a collection of neural units.”

Axel and Buck were shocked by their discoveries. Their work found that we can smell through at least 1 000 receptors. A good analogy is vision: there are only 3 receptors in the eye to distinguish colours.

The sense of smell has a unique connection with memories and emotions.

Once an odour is detected by the sense of smell, its signal is passed on to the parts of the brain that regulate memories and emotions. However, the processing of perception by the other sensory organs takes place only through the thalamus.

“A unique scent can clearly evoke memories from childhood or create emotional moments in later life.”


Customers are looking for emotional experiences

Research clearly shows that smells have the ability to affect our emotional state. But what does this mean for businesses?

Research shows that customers are looking for emotional experiences. Harvard Business Review has found in a study that customers who have an emotional connection with a brand are 52% more valuable than those who are simply satisfied.

A study by Korea’s Yonsei University came to a similar conclusion. They found that managing customers’ emotions helps to improve brand image and influences our attitude towards the brand.

“Emotionally-connected customers are 52% more valuable compared to those who are simply satisfied.”


Emotions control our decisions more than we realise…

Emotions are the foundation of human behaviour. The Department of Neurology at the University of Iowa School of Medicine studied the importance of emotions for our everyday decision-making. This ground-breaking study led them to people with damaged parts of the brain that deal with emotions. The subjects seemed to have normal brain activity, they just did not perceive emotions.

But the researchers found something interesting: all the subjects had difficulty making decisions. Knowing they had to make a choice between, say, eating chicken or fish – they couldn’t choose one or the other.

This work shows a clear link between emotions and decision-making. When a customer needs to make a purchase decision, a strong emotional connection can become the deciding factor in which product or service he or she chooses.

Testing scent marketing

Scientists know that smell creates meaning in the brain. And researches clearly shows that engaging the emotions is essential to building a stronger bond with the customer. But many researchers have dived deeper into the study of smell, emotions and customer behaviour.

Martin Lindstrom, considered one of the world’s top branding experts and, for example, named one of Time magazine’s TOP 100 most influential people for his extensive branding research, says: “Of all the things our senses perceive, smell is the most powerful.”

One of his studies found that the more the customer’s senses are involved, the greater the sensory memory the customer will have. And the greater the sentimental memory the customer associates with the brand, the stronger the bond between the company and the customer.

“Of all the things our senses perceive, smell is the most powerful.”


But Lindstrom is not the only one to have studied the impact of scent on customer behaviour. Studies have been carried out in a wide range of environments and activities.

Astonishing research shows that smell can affect our perception and behaviour in the following ways:

Master’s thesis on ScentAir fragrances at the Tallinn Maritime Museum

A master’s thesis at the University of Tartu conducted a field study on how odours can affect movement in space. The study found a positive effect of smell on overall customer behaviour and satisfaction with a visit to the museum. For example, in the scented area, a noticeable number of people slowed down and even stopped and stayed longer. Moving in pairs and small groups, in many cases people stopped for a while to talk to each other without leaving the scented area. Museum visitors who went alone took more pictures, spent more time exploring the exhibits or simply stayed longer to look around while in the scented area.They emphasised the potential value of applying their findings in a shop or any other environment.

Brand perception

A survey of hotels found that smell has a greater impact on guest ratings than hotel infrastructure, food and staff behaviour. A short summary of the study is also available on the ScienceDaily portal.

Remembering the brand

Two studies conducted at Rutgers University aimed to determine whether ambient scent can improve brand recall. Both studies came to the same conclusions. The surrounding scent improves the recall and recognition of both familiar and unfamiliar bears.

Overall customer experience

After smoking was banned in bars and clubs, the smell of cigarettes actually masked other unpleasant odours in most nightclubs. Researchers thought that scenting the surrounding environment could help improve the club atmosphere. It would also help the club to stand out from its competitors. Researchers carried out a field study in three dance clubs to investigate the effects of ambient odour. The results showed that the ambient smell significantly improved the guests’ club experience. It also brought more clubbers to the dance floor!

Customer reaction to products and retail environments

Considerable research has been done on the impact of scent in the retail environment. Most studies have found a strong link between scent and the way customers shop. One study confirmed that it is our emotional response to scents that actually triggers the effects of a retail scent.

Smell has been proven to keep customers in stores longer. Fragrance enhances the customer’s perception of products and stores. The smell even encourages you to spend money. Despite the quantifiable impact of fragrance, the survey showed that less than 10% of shoppers surveyed were aware of its use.

The following study, conducted at Iowa State University, measured how ambient odour influences customers’ reactions to products. The results showed that an environmentally appropriate scent improved customer perception of the product being tested and increased their purchase intention.

Mood regulation

Researchers carried out a study to assess how well the smell of lavender and rosemary can regulate people’s mood after an anxiety-inducing task. They found that both lavender and rosemary reduce anxiety in high-stress situations.

Clearly, scent is a valuable tool for businesses, allowing them to connect with customers quickly and easily.

Clear results, measurable benefits

Our clients have conducted surveys to evaluate their investment in scent marketing. Their discoveries showed the value you can expect from ScentAir:

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ScentAir Estonia

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10621  Tallinn

Tel: +372 660 3008

E-mail: info@aroomiturundus.ee