Mr Müller-Grünow, what exactly is behind fragrance marketing?
I understand fragrance as a communication medium, which is on a par with audio-visual media. As long as we can breathe, we can smell and as long as we can smell, the scents surrounding us have a direct influence on our emotions and thus on our behaviour and evaluation of things, spaces, people... The only sensory stimulus that cannot be filtered rationally is smell, which is connected to the limbic system, the area in which our emotions are generated. Moreover, people can remember scents better than any other sensory stimulus.
Furthermore, there are no odourless environments or products. Everything has some kind of smell but, as a rule, this is just not deliberately controlled and thus does not promote what we are trying to convey through other design possibilities such as materials, colours, light, style etc. Fragrance is an important, immediate and very sustainable medium for communication here.
Fragrances as a marketing tool: How exactly can retail stores benefit from this? What potential does fragrance marketing have?
Fragrances enable clear differentiation and reinforcement of communication, they help to improve well-being and, as all studies conducted by our customers have shown, lead to customers spending a longer period of time in fragranced environments, engaging with products with more intensity and thus ultimately buying more.
Fragrances should be an essential part of interior design and product presentation. Professional implementation, use of suitable systems and the right choice of fragrance are important factors.
Especially when it comes to special experiences of brands, brand worlds and products, fragrance is a very unique design tool that does not exist online, for example. Fragrance offers a special added value, is unique, provides orientation and has a lasting effect.
Fragrances can be used, as we experience in nature, selectively or throughout an entire area, can be controlled according to themes or, for example, linked to multimedia content. There is a very wide range of possible applications and this depends on what role fragrances are intended to play and what emotions they are intended to trigger.
Fragrances are associated with emotions and memories - both positive and negative. Is it therefore not very difficult to create a fragrance that is perceived as positive by the majority of customers?
What we associate with scents or what memories we evoke with scents is something which is determined by personal experiences and cultural contexts. Therefore, when choosing fragrances, we need to know the target groups in as much detail as possible. We can then select appropriate fragrances based on the images that we aim to create in customers’ minds.
There are some fragrances that have universal effects... vanilla, for example: It makes people all over the world feel comfortable, safe, secure. Why? Because we were calibrated to respond to a vanilla scent as early as during breastfeeding. The effect is so long-lasting that it works from infancy to late adulthood.
There are also other levels on which fragrances have an effect. Certain fragrances enhance attractiveness and activate pheromone receptors. Others activate neurotransmitters and make us more alert, whilst others calm us down, make us feel warm or cold etc.
Another important factor in perception is the visual context in which one perceives the fragrance or fragrances. The visual aspect still has a great influence on what we consciously smell.
In summary, we should understand the target group, the desired effects/feelings/images and the application scenario in order to select or create the perfect fragrance.
Are there any universal rules? Is there anything along the lines of typical dos and don’ts for fragrance?
Fragrance is a sensitive medium. The method, i.e. the technical implementation, is key for successful use. Fragrance is an entirely normal communication medium - like images and sound. Therefore, it should be controllable in such a way that it fits the audio-visual context or what is to be communicated.
The most beautiful fragrance can be unpleasant in too high a concentration. Otherwise, fragrance as a means of communication or a design element is essentially the same as the other instruments which are available.
And how do the target groups differ? How do men perceive fragrance? What about women? And what about young people and old people?
Preferences for fragrances or associations can differ a great deal as they are shaped by personal experiences and cultural contexts. This should be taken into account if specific effects are to be achieved.
In principle, women have a better sense of smell than men. The reason this is the case probably has its origins back in the Stone Age when women had to examine the food the men brought into the cave to see if they could give it to the children.
Ability to smell decreases steadily with age. But you can train it. And this is not only recommended because it is fun but because it activates and trains all parts of the brain!
How do you determine the perfect fragrance for a brand or company? How do you go about it?
Firstly, we need to know what the brand wants to communicate with the fragrance, e.g. the brand personality, brand values etc.; then we see which target groups we need to reach and in which context the fragrance is to be used because this also has an influence on perception.
In other words, we translate certain attributes or characteristics into fragrances and then place them in specific visual contexts against the backdrop of target group-specific preferences and specificities.
You have already made Magenta Telekom smell good and created a relaxed environment in trains for customers of Deutsche Bahn. In which sectors/companies do you see the greatest potential for fragrance marketing?
The hotel industry, fashion industry and perhaps the automobile industry are still obvious choices. However, fragrance is beneficial for any industry which involves communication. It is also obviously of interest to bricks-and-mortar retailers to create shopping experiences that are not possible online. And since fragrance can play a particularly important role here, it makes sense to create differentiation using fragrances.
How does implementation at the POS work? Does this involve the use of specific technology?
There is a very wide range of options. Does the fragrance need to be selective in application or cover a large area? Should customers only experience the fragrance at a certain point in time or continuously?
There is a range of professional fragrance systems that provide the right solution for all scenarios. Professional advice is highly recommended.
If, for example, a branch of a retail company wishes to implement a fragrance solution, a check is carried out to see whether a ventilation system is available that can transport the fragranced air to the right spot. This could, for example, be a very efficient and good way to add fragrance to a larger area.
And, apart from shops which smell great, what other options do companies have for bringing the shopping experience to life with fragrances?
Everything has a scent: materials, environments, products... Fragrances can be used wherever there are contact points between companies and customers. Whether in the product itself, in packaging or in print media. It is also possible that the company/brand fragrance could be further developed through other products: via diffusers in individual households, for example, or why shouldn't a fashion company make small fragrance sachets filled with the unique fragrance that customers can put in their wardrobe? There is no better way to build customer loyalty than to use the great fragrance of a brand at home too.
Visually, augmented reality, for example, is a trend that is increasingly entering the retail market and is slowly maturing. Are there also innovations like this connected with fragrance which are more or less sophisticated? What do you think might happen in the future?
This is an exciting field for the use of fragrances. We are already working hard on VR/AR projects and in parallel we are also supporting research work to investigate the influence of fragrance on the perception of virtual realities. This requires flexible, small fragrance systems that can be controlled down to the second and make it possible to experience fragrances authentically. This is already possible now but, in the future, miniaturised solutions will create many more application scenarios!
Exciting new fields are being opened up by research that is investigating the effect certain scent molecules have on people. This goes beyond purely associative and memory-based perception of scents.
In the future, fragrance will play a more important role in corporate communications, marketing and architecture in general and its significance is still greatly underestimated, especially in Germany.
About Robert Müller-Grünow
Robert Müller-Grünow is one of the pioneers in the field of fragrance and fragrance technologies. In 2003, he founded Scentcommunication, one of the world's leading providers of fragrance technologies and fragrance concepts.
His personal favourite fragrances are those we are familiar with from nature... meadows, forests and the sea. He remains fascinated by how fragrances evoke our memories and enrich our everyday life in many areas.
picture © Boettcher Photography