of thoughts in ebb and flow

Scent of things to come

Many many moons ago, as a little kid, I went to the theatres dying with anticipation. To see `My Dear Kuttichatthan’ the Malayalam original of the Hindi `Chotta Chetan’. This movie was special. We got these little spectacles to put on that suddenly made the screen come alive and made the ice-cream cones and pastries shoot right out so you could alllmooost touch it. The two-dimensional world suddenly had added depth! And I loved it. It made the experience so much more realistic. And I remember thinking.. wish I could smell it too. That would have been so great.

In the intervening years a number of advances have been made.. surround sound, digital images.. and each time I see something new that brings alive an experience by engaging the senses a little more the thought keeps re-surfacing in my mind .. wish we could have smell.

I find that my instinctive like/dislike reactions to places, people, things is many a time traceable back to some extent to the smell. Its effect is subtle but strong nevertheless. Have you endured `relationship managers’ with smelly socks? Have you been happy giving them your business? Have you said `Ok. Never again’ at a restaurant when the delicate aroma of your continental order was completely drowned in the Mughlai order that stopped at the adjacent table? Or chosen to sit beside xyz at that long meeting simply because he/she smelt nice?! That’s our nose thinking J

I am sensitive to smells. For me smell is an INSTANT communicator. It has the ability to kickstart thoughts, emotions and re-create very specific feelings. And it’s much faster off the block in doing so as compared with sound, light, touch or taste.

Why is smell so much faster? The answer lies in the way smell is processed. All other sensory inputs reach the relevant processing centre in the brain via the thalamus. Whereas, olfactory inputs go direct to the amygdala – the emotional information processing centre of the brain. And the amygdala is right next to the memory centres of the brain – so smell leads to emotion leads to memories – in one short path!

Ability to invoke an instinctive emotional response! How powerful a tool is that when we are seeing more and more that decision-making is driven to greater extent by emotions than was previously thought?!

If we could effectively add smell to the other sensory inputs we could make our marketing communication that much more powerful! And therein lies the rub. IF we could use smell effectively.

Scent marketing is now an evolving field and understandably industries that are first off the block in applying it are in the hospitality and retail sector. Scent is being used in fairly obvious ways to acquire and retain customers – ranging from the rich, warm smell of coffee at Barista to the Westin using the smell of apple-pie to give customers a `home’ feel.  This news article talks about the Net Cost supermarket in New York is using piped smells to drive up purchases of groceries and food items – and they are already seeing results in the form of a 7% increase in sales!

There are yet others who are going further and adding scent to our digital lives. Like the Scent Sciences Corporation (www.scentscience.com) that markets personal scent delivery devices for consumer use in applications from home videos to the internet to games, movies, and TV. So, as their banner ad shows, you can share the smell of the delicious pizza you shared with your friends even as you play the home video!

I am so excited. It seems like my long wait for scent enhanced movies will soon be rewarded! Sensory explosion here we come! Customer Experience – you are in for a nose lift!

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