Why you should add a scent to your product

We remember products better and for longer if they are scented. After 2 weeks, people remembered 3.67 (out of 10) attributes of a scented pencil vs 0.87 of an unscented one

You may have an amazing product, but if people don’t remember it they’re less likely to (re)purchase it when they’re shopping, use it instead of alternatives, and recommend it to others.

Smell is the sense that’s most directly connected with our memory. Compared to other senses, olfactory memory decays much slower. A 1973 study found that 65% of people could recognize the same odor after 1 year.

It’s also surprisingly underused by marketers.


Add a scent to your product (or brand) to make it memorable

Impacted metrics: Customer acquisition
Channels: Product | Packaging

Previous tip: Profits are higher when your sales team sides with customers (All tips here)
Tip type: Existing research (December 2009)

Recommendation

Add a scent to your product (or brand), people will remember it and its characteristics (e.g. brand name, product features) much better, even if they don’t smell it again.

You can apply it in a simple and proven way (e.g. scented product or packaging) or experiment with more complex forms (create your own brand scent and use it everywhere from your office to direct mail campaigns)


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Effects

  • When products are scented (vs not), people remember information about them for longer - even without smelling the same scent again. 

  • For example, people were asked to examine a pencil and read an ad about it. Some pencils were scented and some weren’t. When tested how many product characteristics they remembered after 2 weeks - compared to immediately after - participants remembered 27% for an unscented pencil, 77% for a pine-scented pencil (common scent), and 92% for a tea tree scented pencil (uncommon scent).

Why it works

  • When a product is scented, our long-term memory for the product’s other (non-scent-related) characteristics also increases.

  • Our sense of smell has a much more direct connection with our memory compared to other senses. Our olfactory bulbs (nerves of smell), amygdala (important for determining emotional memory), and hippocampus (crucial for learning and memory) all closely share information as part of our limbic system.

Limitations

  • The study didn’t directly test scent’s effects on sales. However, improved memory of a product and its characteristics should lead to more sales.

  • It’ unclear whether the fact that it’s not common to come across scented products plays a role. This is not a widely studied area.

Companies using this

  • A few brands, especially in the luxury segment and mainly in fashion, scent some of their packaging or - more rarely - their products.

  • Rare examples in other product categories include rose-scented tires and tennis balls.

Steps to implement

  • Choose or create a pleasant scent for your product and infuse it sufficiently so that customers will smell it but won’t be annoyed by it (e.g. creating headaches for someone particularly sensitive).

  • Think about whether you should test creating a scent for your brand and use it widely across different products and campaigns (e.g. flyers, direct mail). You could also use it as the ambient scent of your store or office.

  • In the US you can trademark your brand or product scent.

Study type

Lab experiments, United States

Source

Krishna, A., Lwin, M. O., & Morrin, M. (December 2009). Product scent and memory. Journal of consumer research, 37(1), 57-67.

[Link to paper]

Affiliations

Ross School of Business, University of Michigan; Rutgers Business School; and Nanyang Technological University. United States and Singapore.

Remember: This research could be disproven in the future (although this is rare). It also may not be generalizable to your situation. If it’s a risky change, always test it on a small scale before rolling it out widely.


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