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3 Criteria to Help You Choose the Right Scent for Your New Product

Industry Insights - Guest Contributor

Oct 11, 2022 · 4 min read

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By Rosita Presti, OnScent Senior Marketing Director

In our often rushed and overly busy lives we seldom take time to smell the roses. However, when it comes to developing beauty products, we inevitably DO pause to smell, and it is precisely scent that becomes a significant driver of the purchase decision.

It’s not an uncommon sight to see consumers taking a sniff at shampoo or detergent samples before deciding on the product that they want—solely based off the scent. This shows that scent can be the ultimate deciding factor when a consumer is choosing between two competitor brands.

In this article, we look at how the sense of smell is linked to consumer loyalty and what steps you need to take to select the right scent for your product.

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How Scent is Linked to Consumer Loyalty

From an evolutionary perspective, the sense of smell was used to help species survive by determining whether to approach or avoid a potential threat. Today, we generally regard unpleasant smells as “bad”, and pleasant smells as “good”, and as a result, the fragrance industry has leveraged these consumer insights into fragrance innovations that also mask or help eliminate malodors.

The sense of smell is the one most closely linked with memory and can probably explain why long-forgotten events and experiences can suddenly be triggered by a specific perceived smell. In fact, scents are capable of eliciting memories that might otherwise not be recalled via any other of the senses.

Its close link to memory aside, scent is undeniably intertwined with emotion; a fact that the fragrance industry leverages with scents for every imaginable consumer product—from scented candles to fabric care, cleaning products, personal care, and fine fragrance—which has been responsible for sparking many relationships based solely on emotional response to a scent.

Fine fragrances directly tap into the scent-emotion-memory aspect via the direct way in which they’re used by consumers. They’re often bought to either celebrate a special occasion, or in anticipation of creating a specific mood. That is why historically, scents evoke memories of a special event or person associated with the scent.

More recently, the powerful emotional connection that consumers have with scents has served as motivation for the broader practice of Sensory Branding, whereby companies such as Nike, Victoria’s Secret, A&F, Starbucks, McDonald’s, Cinnabon, Disney, Singapore Airlines, Starwood Hotels, among many others have employed scents in their spaces to facilitate the creation of a ‘scent mood’ that will translate into increased consumer spend and brand loyalty.

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Selecting Your Product’s Scent

But what criteria should you use to select your new product’s scent? That will be determined by the following questions:

a) What is the product used for?

There’s a world of difference in a scent we would develop for a household cleaner vs a shampoo. Both products are used to “clean”, but the difference in surfaces demand a very different approach to their respective scents.

For a hard surface cleaner, you’ll want a scent that connotes sparkling (clean) freshness and airiness with notes that also communicate disinfection to support the product’s functionality. That is why pine, lemon, and aromatic notes have been traditionally popular in household cleaning products.

In contrast, in a shampoo, you’ll also want fragrance notes that communicate “clean”, but in a more caring way that will not hint at any “stripping” qualities that could be perceived as damaging the hair.

That’s why fresh, fruity, fruity-floral, creamy, and woody notes are often employed in hair care to convey the soothing, nourishing, and hydrating properties associated with the product category.

b) Who will be using it?

Just as we are told to “read the room” to assess the appropriate thing to say or do, when it comes to selecting the appropriate fragrance, you need to “know your consumer”. Age, cohort, gender identity, cultural background, motivation for purchase; in essence, what resonates with them? These will all be valuable cues in determining the “perfect” scent for your product.

c) What does your brand stand for?

Does your brand espouse sustainable, eco-friendly values? If so, scent—and the ingredients used therein—will be important communicators of your values and should align with them.

Is your brand minority-owned with BIPOC consumers its primary target? Then, your fragrance story should speak to the wealth and breadth of notes and cosmetic ingredients associated with A-Beauty or Latinx culture. Is your brand unisex? Then gender-neutral scents should be part of your product portfolio. The list goes on.

These are just some of the considerations when choosing a scent for your product. There are many more other points to look at when in the decision-making process, such as what is your product’s price point? Is it seasonal? Deciding what a product’s scent will be is a carefully orchestrated decision-making process involving numerous fragrance industry experts.

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Author: Rosita Presti, OnScent Senior Marketing Director – Global Fragrance, OnScent

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