Follow Your Nose to Enhanced Customer Experiences

Ekta Bhardwaj, Ravindra Gowda, Vanessa Hofstätter, Suresh Mallya and Jieqing Shan
MBA Perspectives
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Key Takeaways

What? Marketers can appeal to the sense of smell to enhance customer experiences.

So What? The enhanced smell experience can make customers stay longer in the servicescape, boost the perception of the brand, and increase brand recall.

Now what? Marketers can use certain scents to positively influence customers’ decision-making process and purchasing behaviour for premium products.

MBA Perspectives: 'Big Design' is an exclusive AMA series examining customer experience design.

Singapore Airlines is one of the most profitable airlines worldwide and is seen by many as a leader in setting trends. Although Singapore Airlines uses similar branding strategies compared to other airlines, it went one step further and introduced its personal company scent. The unique aroma, which was exclusively created for the Singapore Airline experience, is called Stefan Flofidian Waters, a mélange of rose, lavender and citrus. The airline puts its patented aroma on hot towels, wafts it through the entire fleet, and even has the flight attendants wear its perfume.

Think you know everything about scent? Think again

The human senses play a crucial role in attracting customers on a deeper level and thus impact their thoughts and behaviors. Of the five senses, the sense of smell is by far the most powerful.

As the sense of smell acts directly to the limbic system, it deals with instinctive or automatic behaviors and immediately evokes memories and feelings without being filtered and analyzed by the brain. Accordingly, the sense of smell has strong effects on memory, emotions, and moods, as well as on the buying behavior in retail stores. Furthermore, by targeting smell, customers can feel more connected to the company, and thus, evoke feelings of attachment to the brand.

Scent Marketing in Retail

Using scents to not only enhance customer experiences but also to inspire certain behaviors is a growing trend in marketing. According to the latest research in the Journal of Marketing, “The Cool Scent of Power: Effects of Ambient Scent on Consumer Preferences and Choice Behavior” by Adriana V. Madzharov, Lauren G. Block, and Maureen Morrin (2015), by using warm scents in store, more attention could be attracted towards high-end products.

Essentially, according to Madzharov and colleagues (2015), there are two types of scents: some scents, such as vanilla and cinnamon, are perceived to be warm; on the other side, peppermint and eucalyptus are normally recognized as cool scents. The warm scents can largely alter customer’s perception of higher social density in-store, which leads people to deem the environment around them as more “socially dense” or more crowded. The power compensatory preference strikes in at this time. Because of the decrease in perceived control over their social environment, purchasing premium products is preferable for customers to give status and power back. 

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Take one step further as the customer experience designers

Unlike competitors, Singapore Airlines did not just consider cabin design, food, comfort or pricing, it also focused on a more holistic brand experience, namely on the emotional experience of travel. Here are the lessons learnt as customer experience designers. In order to represent any brand with a scent, it is important to first understand what the brand stands for and the emotions that the brand wishes to elicit. 

Secondly, it is important to be cognizant of the target audience. A unique scent for the brand may then be developed once the specific emotions have been identified for the specific audience. Scent enables customers to recall a brand and better communicate the brand’s attributes and creates positive associations with the servicescape experience. To maximize brand recall, it is important to be consistent with the scents across the entire servicescape. The key is to keep scent simple and natural, as overpowering and complex smells can be distracting to customers. Overall, scents used in servicescape should empower and influence the customer to buy the products and not overwhelm them.


Adriana V. Madzharov, Lauren G. Block, and Maureen Morrin (2015), “The Cool Scent of Power: Effects of Ambient Scent on Consumer Preferences and Choice Behavior,” Journal of Marketing, 79 (1), 83-96.

Bradford, Kevin D., and Debra M. Desrochers (2009), “The Use of Scents to Influence Consumers: The Sense of Using Scents to Make Cents,” Journal of Business Ethics, 90, 141-153.

Howard, Hannah (2008), “Starbucks Breakfast Sandwiches: Now Less Smelly,” (accessed on November 21, 2015).

Lindstrom, Martin (2005), “Broad Sensory Branding,” Journal of Product & Brand Management, 14 (2), 84-87.

The AMA is pleased to partner with Professor Markus Giesler and his MBA students from the Schulich School of Business at York University.

Author Bio:

Ekta Bhardwaj, Ravindra Gowda, Vanessa Hofstätter, Suresh Mallya and Jieqing Shan
Ekta Bhardwaj, Ravindra Gowda, Vanessa Hofstätter, Suresh Mallya and Jieqing Shan are students in Markus Giesler’s Customer Experience Design MBA elective course at the Schulich School of Business, York University.
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