Olfactory Branding

Hannah explores the power of bespoke fragrance in hotels and looks at how it could be (and when it should never be) utilised, on every budget.

I walked into the cool lobby after a long haul flight, and it washed over me. A woody, minty, tropical fragrance that I couldn’t quite pinpoint; a clean and bright scent that was not overpowering but evenly diffused throughout the reception area, bar and communal lounges. When I think about that weekend in Miami, it is this mood-lifting fragrance that blew through the lounge with the deliciously cool air conditioning that immediately comes to mind.

I’m intrigued by the impact of this memorable, but almost always overlooked, facet of interior design and brand identity. I talk to friends who, without hesitating, accurately and enthusiastically describe the sandalwood scent at Sanders in Copenhagen and the green fig fragrance of Edition hotels (which, if you’re into it, is Le Labo’s The Noir 29 – an original scent first developed for Edition hotels). I’m transported to these places through the vivid description of their signature fragrances.

Next, I head to Google: the hospitality industry contributes $300 million scent-branding industry. We remember smells with 65% accuracy after a year, while visual recall drops to 50% after just three months. Smell and memory are inextricably linked in the emotional regions of the brain. So far, so compelling. It seems logical to invest money in this area as part of a wider storytelling and marketing strategy – or even to knit a hotel’s story, atmosphere, brand and interior design together. I’ve said it before and I will scream it again: consistency is everything.

Luxury chains have been doing this for a while. W Hotels smell like fig, jasmine and sandalwood. Sofitel’s signature ‘Essence de Sofitel’ aims to evoke the South of France with notes of lemon and white rose. Fragrance is a brilliant tool for global brands to unite a large portfolio of hotels across the world: exactly the same scent welcomes guests in lobbies from Bali to London, ensuring a consistent and familiar brand experience.

While hotels such as Sofitel have the budget for this bespoke fragrance creation, I’m interested in how independent boutique properties can react to the trend and offer guests a high quality sensory experience on a more modest budget.

The kit required is an industrial cold-air diffuser that can waft fragrance around large spaces for up to two months at a time. Companies such as Aromaco provide both the hardware and bespoke fragrance for commercial spaces.

I spoke to Sasha Lord at Aromaco about how boutique hotels can adopt the technology more affordably. “At smaller properties, we tend to recommend using our ‘dry diffusion’ unit,” she says, “It doesn’t emit any mists or vapours so its great in small reception areas, or even around food. You can also move them very easily so if you had events on, or wanted to change the scent from your bespoke signature to say at Christmas having a seasonal aroma, its very easy to do.”

Aromaco have a fragrance team that work on bespoke blends but also (and more affordably) tailor scents selected from their library to individual spaces, such as peppermint and citrus in a gym, or herbal blends to increase appetite in a restaurant. Scent can also subliminally invite guests to spend money throughout the hotel. A soft coffee fragrance in the lobby might remind a weary traveller of your coffee kiosk on the first floor, for example.

A tailored fragrance has the potential to not only improve guest experience and lift guest mood, it can also introduce an additional revenue stream, as the scent can be packaged in a number of ways and sold as merchandise. This will allow guests to literally bottle up their stay and take home an emotive and distinctive element of the hotel. The brand will then linger in their mind, encouraging brand loyalty, recommendation and repeat visits.

I spoke to the General Manager at Casa Faena in Miami who told me that the fragrance I loved so much is Palo Santo – the wood of a tree native to South America. ‘Scent-scaping’ is a key element of their branding; an olfactory logo as integral to the brand as the visual design.

Sasha Lord at Aromaco agrees, and is worried about the one-dimensional impact of our Instagram age: “Companies have spent years focussing heavily on digital marketing, but these investments are only ever hitting one sense – our eyes. To create something that is memorable and holistic, every sense needs to be thought about.” Read my report on the trap of visually overpromising on social media here, which touches upon similar issues when adopting a “design-first” strategy.

At my imagined Hotel Palette, I would explore scent zoning to create different atmospheres in different areas of the hotel. Each scent would be luxurious but never overpowering. Rich and romantic tobacco and rose in the bar, for example, while a fresher, cleaner fragrance would suit the bedroom, such as bay leaf and green tea. A creamy tuberose blend would be a wonderfully luxurious welcome in the lobby. The fragrances would effortlessly blend into one another between spaces. Bathroom toiletries would use a fresh blend of neroli, and the whole lot would be available to purchase as toiletries, diffusers, candles and creams from the hotel boutique. If you’re in the throes of merchandise planning, hop over here to see what else I would stock at the Hotel Palette boutique.

Scent is memorable, emotive and evocative. It’s the fastest way to the heart. Mine, at least.

Do you really want to invest?

Know your guests

If your guests frequent the hotels i’ve mentioned above, they might come to expect the level of detail including fragrance. If you’re offering a cheap and cheerful room for a night, you may not see a return on investment. Ultimately, get to know your guests – and your perfect guests, which you may not yet be reaching. Always design with your perfect – but realistic – guest in mind.

Understand the space

Take time to really get under the skin of each area that will be fragranced. How is the space being used? A light floral in the lobby will be a welcoming and lovely touch, but are guests having a coffee or snack on the squishy sofa you’ve placed there? If so, a cloying scent will spoil the F&B experience.

Understand the technology

Selecting the right hardware for our space is key. Sasha Lord at Aromaco explains: “Every space is different- we always offer a site visit to best recommend the right hardware as it is so dependant on air flow of the space, the square footage and where there is access to power.”

Don’t skimp on quality

No fragrance is better than low quality fragrance. No-one wants to sleep in a room that smells like air freshener, or to feel like something unpleasant is being covered up.

Contact Hannah

If you are looking to develop an existing or brand new hotel concept,
guest experience or creative strategy, I’d love to help.



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