The Scent of an Event

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As I write this I am reminded of the Little League baseball days of my youth –- memories provoked by the subtle aroma of a “leather baseball mitt” scented candle wafting through my office. That’s right – a candle that smells like a baseball glove! The smell of that leather baseball glove takes me right back to left field (where I was invariably exiled to – game after game) and the smell of fresh cut grass of the ball field, the cheers (or boos) of parents in the bleachers,. . . . All this nostalgia in the name of research.

So why are we smelling up the office for research?

Well, I was recently asked a question by one of the producers here on staff: “If different scents can be used to set a mood, reduce stress, infuse energy, evoke an emotional association, or stir nostalgia… and research shows you can change the feel of a room without changing anything but the scent – then why do event planners rarely use this stimulus with their audience?”

Hmmm. . . . Good question! “Why don’t you look into this? Nose around a little and see what you come up with”. . . .

Well, what she came up with was a case of 6 or more scented candles to appeal to men. We have the scents of fresh cut grass, leather, tobacco, gasoline, beer and more. In about one hour, this place smelled like the men’s room at a road side truck stop in Iowa!

Back to the drawing board!. . . . She has now studied a wider variety of scented candles that appeal to different demographics and that work for different purposes. Here’s what we found. . . .

THE SCIENCE

Next to sight, smell is the most important sense we have. According to Martin Lindstrom in his book Brand Sense, 75% of our emotions are based on what we smell rather than what we see and hear. Lindstrom says that relaxing aromas such as lavender actually slow down heart rate and make our perception of time slow down (the Flow State), which encourages us to linger in stores longer and increase our odds of spending money. Vanilla makes you feel childish, young, energetic. Wood reflects earthy, solid, classic values – back to basics. Fruit evokes summer and makes people feel more open-minded, happy and sexual. Cigars and leather reflect conservative values and make brands seem trustworthy.

The research is clear in marketing circles, that scents have a powerful effect on the brain and our emotional center, and thus can easily manipulate consumer behavior. So if commerce can sweeten sales with the aroma of bread wafting through a bakery section, and car-makers can sell more cars with their “new factory” car smell, and live concert events can heighten their audience experience with a scented arena, then why aren’t event planners utilizing this science more? Maybe it’s because one person’s pleasure is another person’s misery. One person may enjoy the smell of roses while another might (sadly) associate it with the funeral of a loved one.

THE PROBLEM IN THE MAIN HALL

With scent being the second most powerful sense we possess, the odds of equally pleasing hundred’s of executives in one large space is a daunting task. You have to choose the right scent in the right amount, for the right audience. Considering culture, age and audience demographics, men and women usually don’t respond to the same scent in the same way. (This became more obvious to me when the women in our office were more than eager to blow out the flame on my scent of baseball glove research.) With corporate event scenting being so subjective, there doesn’t seem to be a steadfast rule on what works and what doesn’t. So we have come up with our own conclusions as to what might work for the masses of noses in the executive hall.

THE DO’S AND DONT’S OF EVENT SCENTING

DO your homework before your client consultation, so you know which scents to suggest for their specific event. The Scent Marketing Institute is a good resource to start with.

DO ask: what is the call to action you want to stimulate through scent? Is it to sell more? To buy more on the spot? To learn more in general sessions? To create a trusting environment among strangers at a conference? Exactly what kind of experience you would like to create for your event attendees?

DO consider peppermint and rosemary if you want to increase alertness and brain activity in your audience. And keep in mind that apple and cucumber scents make a room feel larger.

DON’T use scents that are too complex unless striving to stimulate a very specific action among your attendees. A simple citrus scent can be much more effective than a complex one that over stimulates the brain. Examples of complex scents and effects: Prestige scents tend to be floral balanced with subtle spices and wood scents. These scents can stimulate buying of luxury goods. Power scents include cool greens, herbals and citrus. Scents that foster trust include any kind of baked goods smell like cookies, bread and apple pie.

DON’T fall in love with one scent and think it will work for every event attendee.

DO consider scents that are more widely accepted, such as: vanilla, citrus, freshly cut grass, linen and ocean.

DON’T use relaxing lavender, jasmine, or hunger-inducing vanilla during a business meeting. Use these scents during breaks to foster relaxation.

DON’T try and scent the event yourself. Hire an experienced company that knows how much scent to use, without being overbearing. You want the effect to be subtle and low intensity. Too much of a good thing, is not a good thing.

DO understand that people are sensory beings, and the more stimuli you can engage during your event, the more your audience is going to enjoy and remember it.

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About Richard Carlstrom