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Essay: In scented environments, can consumers demonstrate higher recall of brands?

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1. Introduction
The retail market is becoming increasingly complex a space, where only the most innovative and vigorous brands are able to survive. (Grewal, Roggeveen and Nordfält,2009). Customers in this generation are looking at investing in more than just a product or service. They are looking at putting their money into experiences. For a retailer, the difference between success and failure now largely depends upon how well he can engage the customer in his retail space and to what extent this engagement can influence a buyer to purchase the product. This process of providing an experience is where the concept of sensory marketing comes in. It is the type of marketing that engages the consumers through their senses and tries to influence their decision to purchase. (Krishna, 2010)
Sensory marketing has been a driving force, strongly influencing customer behaviour in retail spaces over the last few decades. In times where the market is shifting from being based on customer acquisition to customer retention, brands have started to upgrade their marketing strategies in order to engage potential users better with their products. Popularly to this day, marketing communications have largely been designed to cater to a customer’s senses visually and audibly.
However, marketers are slowly realizing the importance of rising above mere auditory and visual effect and inculcating touch, taste and smell to increase the attractiveness of a customer’s experience. (Milotic, 2003; Lwin and Morrin, 2012) The marketing strategy of appealing to all five senses is referred to as sensory or experiential marketing (Hultén et al., 2009). For industries where the effectiveness of a high quality service cannot be established prior to consumption or exposure, sensory marketing is an attractive way to reach out to the audience.
In support of that, service based industries are aiming at designing physical in-store customer experiences as a pathway to marketing not only the product but the essence and perception of the service brand itself. (Ellen and Bone, 1998)
The sense of smell is the least explored of all other senses and studies show that it’s the one playing the most significant role in helping us form a perception of an environment. The olfactory bulb responsible for processing smells is part of the brain’s limbic system that is the storage unit of memories and emotions. This allows a smell to stimulate a connection to an emotional memory. Nobel Peace Prize winners Richard Axel and Linda Buck also support the claim that states our sense of smell to be the “most emotional” of them all. It is said to have the most immediate trigger to our memories and past experiences. We have often experienced instances where a person’s perfume reminds us of someone or someplace we’ve seen or known in the past. If a positive emotion is triggered, customers are more likely seen to make a purchase. A quotable fun fact suggests that humans generally remember about ten thousand definite odours that are capable of helping us reminiscence to a time period tracing back to as long ago as our childhood.
As consumers, we do not reflect upon the scent of a certain store. However, it is intentionally so subtle that it triggers a reaction without being overbearing. Large amounts of consumer research have concluded that pleasant fragrances lay a very positive effect on the remembrance of brands, demands attention and helps with information processing on-site. (Herrmann et al. 2013; Krishna, Lwin, and Morrin 2010; Mitchell, Kahn, and Knasko 1995; Morrin and Ratneshwar 2000, 2003) Studies based on ambient fragrances have displayed that smells which are simple as opposed to complex, process faster and lead to increased spending. (Herrmann et al. 2013) These easy to process fragrances positively affect a consumer’s perception of the space, especially when they’re semantically congruent with the products being sold. (Mitchell, Kahn, and Knasko 1995; Span- genberg, Grohmann, and Sprott 2005; Spangenberg et al. 2006) Allowing repetitive exposure to multiple fragrances under multiple contexts allows semantic familiarity and association that enables increased mental accessibility to familiarized concepts. (Holland, Hendriks, and Aarts 2005; Krishna, Elder, and Caldara 2010; Mitchell, Kahn, and Knasko 1995)
Consumer psychologist and eminent academic Eric Spangenberg conducted a study with some fellow mates in a local clothing store. He observed that using “feminine scents” like vanilla in stores, doubled sales in the women’s section. Similarly, using “masculine scents” like rose maroc bought about the same effect in the men’s section. Spangenberg voiced how men strongly dislike to stick around spaces that smell feminine while women are more likely to spend less time in a retail environment masked with masculine fragrances.
As we have established so far, scent is a crucial aspect of sensory marketing and plays a key role in establishing the physical environment in which a service is exposed to the customer by the company. (Hultén et al., 2009)
Synaesthesia is an occurrence which refers to the experience of one human sense by activating another. (Stevenson and Tomiczek 2007) Research on the same remains limited. Another study displayed that odour induced synaesthesia, whereas the scent of lime (as opposed to that of animals) was mentally linked to soft (vs rough) fabric. (Dematte et al. 2006) Related to this belief, studies stated that scents can bring about tactile associations. They can also bring about feelings of warmth (like that of vanilla or cinnamon) while others could be cool (like peppermint or eucalyptus) (Krishna, Elder, and Caldara 2010). Via semantic associations, a gel pack with a cool scent was perceived to be more effective at cooling a participant’s hands as opposed to the same one provided with a warmth infusing scent (Krishna, Elder, and Caldara 2010).
Ambient smell is popularly also referred to as atmospheric odour or olfactory cue. Despite all the research and academic back up that has been conducted, some factors about the effectiveness of this sense remain ambivalent. One of the severely faced shortcomings like focussing on a single response of memory to an odour might fail to serve positively on a mass level. (i.e. Schab, 1991) Other literary works lack the articulation of the designated criteria designed or followed while selecting articles in their reviews, while others remain incomplete or unedited with discovered changes in time. (i.e. Davies et al., 2003).
These findings face a danger of insignificance as the research environments were uncontrolled spaces. Secondly, these findings haven’t been exposed to the construction of statistical analysis. An example for the same would be the popular observation made where Nike athletic shoes were perceived and assessed more positively when displayed in a scented environment as opposed to unscented. This observation is statically deemed insignificant. (Bone and Ellen 1994)
In spite of all the rising interest and time devoted to scenting retail environments, there is no absolute conclusion derived by experts about the effects of ambient scent, how to construct a conducive environment with balanced fragrances.
As compared to the amount of research conducted on vision and hearing, our sense of smell or Olfaction is not researched very extensively by experts on the grounds of psychology and consumer behaviour (Cohen & Chakravarti, 1990; Gilbert & Greenberg 1992). Human behavioural response to various other stimuli such as noise, light, temperature have been researched upon by the field of environmental phycology but very little attention is paid towards studying the effects of scent on consumer behaviour (Bonnes and Secchiaroli, 1995). Furthermore, research conducted in this area has mainly examined the impact of scent in various contexts which include hospitals, workplace, etc rather than focusing on the main interest of the marketers which is retail stores.
Environmental Stimuli’s such as colour, crowding and music have been assessed by experts in the field of marketing but there’s very little knowledge about the effects of ambient scent in the field of psychology. There is an increasing need to study the influence of ambient scent on the behaviour of the consumer. Gulas and Bloch(1995) have laid out a general framework for the research. The recent researches have started to systematically look at the effects of ambient scent on consumer behaviour.
1.1 Focus of this study
The aim of this study is to test whether in a scented environments, can consumers demonstrate a high recall of brands in particular not so familiar brands than they will in a unscented environment. Prior research has focused largely on the impact of ambient scent on product evaluation. In the present study, the impact of a pleasant ambient scent is investigated not only in terms of its effects on evaluations but also in terms of its effects on attention toward and memory for brand names.
1.2 Contributions of this research
This research will provide a great deal of knowledge about understanding the impact of scent on consumer behaviour. It could provide useful knowledge to marketers when drafting a brands marketing strategy towards consumer experience. Furthermore, it provides specific knowledge about the consumer behaviour towards recalling unfamiliar brands. This research could be used as a basis for defining a retail strategy for new upcoming brands which are not familiar with the consumers. Along with the theoretical knowledge, it also provides with practical knowledge towards understanding the impact of ambient scent on human behaviour.
1.3 Architecture of the research
In the next chapter, we will be reviewing the prior research done in the field of scent marketing in form of literature review along with drawing the hypothesis. Followed by this we will talk about the methodology used as well as the descriptions of the procedures used to conduct the experiment. We will then analyse the data collated followed by a conclusion. Further information can be found in the appendix at the end.
2 Literature Review
This literature review primarily focuses on publications dealing with the effect of ambient scent in a marketing and retail related context. The number of luxury retail stores using ambient scent marketing to influence a customer’s buying decision have shown an increasing trend. It is proven that our sense of smell is the most persuasive and developed of all our senses (Lindstöm, 2010).
The increased willingness of the customer to pay depends on how well he/she connects with the brand (Lindstrom, 2005). Luxury Retail brands can develop their own unique scents to help themselves differentiate from their competitors which will give them a distinct and memorable identity (Davies, 2003). Studies have also shown that 80% of the customer decisions on buying the product are made inside the store (Dahlen, 2003, Nordfalt, 2007). This gives retailers a realistic opportunity to play with scent to influence the buyer decisions.
Many luxury fashion stores have started using scent as a retail strategy to entice customers into buying their products. For example, Thomas Pink with the help of sensors emit a smell of freshly laundered cotton and, Galeries Lafayette have used an olfactieve ramp to help their customers guide through the floors. It is assumed that the effect of scent is dependent on different individuals and their seal of acuity under the physical environment. (Gulas and Bloch,1995)
The environment plays a crucial role and needs to be modelled into an environment conducive to the experience a user believes he would want to invest in, when in contact with a retail setting. It is important to pre-analyze the impact before exposing the consumer to the space or setting. (Spangenberg, Crowley and Henderson,1996).
Outside the field of business and marketing, a significant research is done on the influence of scent on consumer behavior. Jim Olds proved in 1953 that stimulus of the Rhine cephalic nerve produced a reward system in a way that the introduction of tiny shocks to the nerve allowed the experimenters to manipulate rat behavior. These neurological findings led to an increased curiosity towards studying the links between scent, emotions and consumer behavior. Is it possible to manipulate human behaviors or even emotions using our sense of smell?
Further research into this led to the discovery that out of all our senses, our sense of smell is strongly connected to the emotional part of our brain. Multiple neural pathways connect our olfactory system to the piriform cortex, amygdala and hippocampus (Castellucci, 1985). Being part of the limbic system, they have been connected to memories as well as emotional responses.
2.1 The effect of ambient scent on consumer behavior
Research done on the effects of scent on consumer behavior have shown positive results on memory and attentiveness for the brands along with information processing. (Herrmann et al. 2013; Krishna, Lwin, and Morrin 2010; Mitchell, Kahn, and Knasko 1995; Morrin and Ratneshwar 2000, 2003). Example, as simple scents are processed more easily by consumers as compared to complex scents, the simple scents in the store lead to increased spending by the shoppers (Herrmann et al. 2013). ). Research has also proved that evaluations can be positively affected by the presence of ambient scents. (Mitchell, Kahn, and Knasko 1995; Spangenberg, Grohmann, and Sprott 2005). Researchers believe that semantic associations of scents with the products can help explain the effects of scent on the behavior of the consumers (Krishna, Elder, and Caldara 2010). Further research into this found that the semantic associations that the consumers make with ambient scents, is learnt over continuous exposure to various smells in different contexts, which get activated when the consumer is exposed to a particular scent. For example, research conducted in fashion stores have found that the presence of a masculine ambient scent in the men’s section have the store leads to increased attentiveness, evaluations and spending by the consumer and vice versa (Spangenberg et al. 2006).
Behavioral psychology paved way into the optimal arousal theory which is based on the idea that a pleasant or unpleasant response has a direct connection to the arousal levels which can be influenced by the intensity of stimulus. The effect of intensity is termed as ‘Wundt’s curve’ (Eysenck, 1973). Absence or insufficiency of stimulus can create unpleasantness (negative hedonic tone), but with an increase in stimulus we can observe a rise in arousal with the hedonic tone rising above the level of indifference to a pleasant level (positive hedonic tone). Excessive exposure on a set positive hedonic tone will result in a decrease in the tone start progressing towards the negative end. The smell will have an optimum level of intensity before it sets a negative hedonic tone. In 1971, Henion found that when positive hedonic tones are increased in intensity, they led to a decrease in pleasantness, hence setting a negative tone eventually.
The S-O-R paradigm (Stimulus Organ Response) is a commonly used term amongst researchers who observe customer behaviors in retail environments (Kim et al. 2009, Spangenberg et al. 1996, 2005, 2006) The S-O-R paradigm consists of an environmental stimulus (S) that influences the consumer’s internal evaluation (O), which leads to a response behavior (R) (Mehrabian & Russell 1974, Spangenberg et al. 2006). The Mehrabian-Russel Model (MR Model) was constructed through the SOR paradigm. It has been validated to be a practically functional tool to elaborate on and forecast the effects on consumer behaviour (Donovan & Rossiter 1982)
Donovan and Rossiter (1982) expresses that the model’s strengths include the intervening variable (O) and response area (R), while to a larger extent leaving the stimulus taxonomy (S) problem untouched. This is due to the existence of the large spectrum of existing stimulus (Donovan & Rossiter 1982). Through the use of the M-R model, it is assumed that the environmental stimuli influence the intervening variables leading to either an approach or avoidance behavior (Figure 1).
It is not surprising, then, that many studies investigating ambient scent have focused on its impact on “approach/avoidance” behavior, reflecting Mehrabian and Russell’s (Mehrabian and Russell, 1974) model (M-R model) of the impact of environ- mental factors on human behavior. Mehrabian and Russell suggested that environmental stimuli impact individuals’ be- havior through the creation of affective states characterized predominantly by levels of pleasure and arousal. Pleasure refers to feelings of happiness or sadness, whereas physiologi- cal arousal refers to feelings of alertness or drowsiness (Engel, Blackwell, and Miniard, 1995).
The M-R models explains that an exposure to an ambient scent will lead to either to a positive or a negative arousal. Approach behavior will be a result of a positive arousal whereas avoidance behaviors will be a result of a negative arousal. The desire to stay in the store for longer time, explore it and further communicate with others leading to greater consumer experience while in the same environment is a result of approach behavior. On the other hand, avoidance behavior leads to an opposite response of leaving the store, reduced tendency to communicate with others and reducing the overall consumer experience while in the environment. These inclinations are often measured based on the amount of time spent inside the store under the effect of ambient scent and also the evaluation of the store.
From a marketing standpoint, marketers have mainly focused on the effects of ambient scent on the approach-avoidance behavior of the consumer in a retail environment. For example, research conducted by Knasko (1989) found that inflating a pleasant scent in the store increases the time spent by a consumer in a retail store even though there is no added effect on the amount of merchandise sold. In a scent controlled shopping environment, it was noticed that shopper’s ratings of the store experience as well as the products being sold was higher. It was seen to create a higher motive to spend time in the store and create call for buy action.
2.2 Effects of scent on Product Memory
Studies validate that our olfactory sense is the strongest in relation to memory and is a hundred times more efficient in helping us remember than our sense of sight, touch or hearing (Vlahos 2007). Furthermore, in 1988 Herz’s popularized theory came into news where she validated that all our senses allow us to remember memories with the same precision but the one’s evoked by scent are most likely to be emotional ones. In 2005, Zoladz and Raudenbush led a charge to examine the effects of ambient scent on augmenting cognitive performance. The proved that participant’s attention spans, virtual recognition memory, working memory and visual motor responses sped in the presence of cinnamon and peppermint scents. Participants were also seen to mark their mood and level of vigor higher in the presence of peppermint.
Psychologically, humans are most likely to recognize the scent rather than their ability to remember information associated with it (Engen and Ross 1973; Zucco 2003). A lot of this study looks at attaining knowledge on the forgetting rate of information presented with scents (Engen, Kuisma and Eimas 1973; Peterson and Peterson 1959; Shepard 1967). It was observed that the most rapid downfall in memory retention happens right after learning about something (Peterson and Peterson 1959). As compared to that, it was noted that the retention of familiarity to odours decays very little over time with bare minimum change in memory accuracy even months later (Engen et al. 1973; Engen and Ross 1973; Zucco 2003)
Engen and Ross (1973) found that scent recognition was 70% when tested immediately after exposure versus 65% after a 1-year delay, as compared to picture recognition (Shepard 1967), which was 99% when measured immediately after exposure versus 58% after a 4-month delay.
Progressive research in the arena of basic sciences hints the presence of reasoning that’s rather neurological or physiological, allowing our memory to be strong even over time (Buck and Axel 1991) Despite these theories, there is no discovered mechanism that pinpoints the exact reason for strong memory retention of smell. Nonetheless, the empirical results portray that if a smell betters consumer memory for merchandise information, it may have long lasting effects.
Some research theories have also looked at contextual reinstatement effects, which allows us to know whether the presence of scent at both the time of encoding and the time of retrieval improves memory (Smith et al. 1982). They have used ambient scents rather than those associated with a single object in the environment (Morrin and Ratneshwar 2003; Smith et al. 1982).
2.3 The effects of ambient scent on product, store evaluations and Retail Performance
In an experiment conducted by Morrin and Ratneshwar in 2000, the duo explored the effects of ambient scent on evaluation, attention and memory for familiar and unfamiliar brands. They exposed respondents to a pleasantly scented room with both types of brands and computed a statistical account of the time spent by each person to evaluate each brand. This study helped present the theory that ambient scents brought about an increased rate of interest and time spent even on brands that were unfamiliar to the respondent. Following that, the unfamiliar brands were even evaluated positively. Continuing this discovery, Morrin and Ratneshwar (2003) continued to study the bond between scent congruity and brand memory.
The initial study allowed respondents to evaluate imageries of household cleaners and personal care products like toiletries in a geranium and clove scented environment. The results indicated that a pleasant scent with the product category increased subjects ‘attention to brand stimuli, ambient scent improved consumer memory for familiar and unfamiliar brands as tested by recall and recognition measures. The impact of congruent and incongruent ambient scent was measured to be similar on brand recall and recognition (Morrin and Ratneshwar, 2003).
The study following this one looked into how the presence of ambient scent during encoding and retrieval may be based on differentiated aspects. Results revealed that brand memory was solely affected by ambient scent at the encoding stage and eventually increased attention. Brand recall however was unaffected by ambient scent at the retrieval stage. (Morrin and Ratneshwar, 2003)
Studies have been conducted to measure the ability of ambient scents to affect retailer performance. It was found that when the scent was congruent with other environmental factors like music being played (high or low arousal), the effect resulted in positive interactions and favorable store behavior. Customers also seemed to evaluate the store highly (Mattila and Wirtz 2001; Spangenberg, Grohmann and Sprott 2005). These results proposed that manipulating ambient stimuli can elevate customer satisfaction.
Mitchell et al. (1995) researched the part played by an ambient scent in mediating memory processes. Specifically, the study aimed at understanding the role played by scent in decision making. Respondents were made to pick chocolate assortments or floral arrangements in enclosed spaces scented with either chocolate or floral odors, or kept unscented. Congruent scent conditions saw customers spending more time in decision making and decisions taken along a higher range of products in each product category. (Morrin and Ratneshwar 2003)
Ellen and Bone (1998) decided to investigate the negative effects effects of incongruence. While using a sun-tan lotion scent might be the most congruent for a swimsuit promotion, adding the scent of pumpkin pie would be a much bigger negative. Despite highlighting the negative effects, this study reinforces the theories that paint a power picture of objective ambient scents.
2.4 Effect of ambient scent on gender
Spangenberg, Grohmann and Sprott (2005) found that gender-scent congruity makes a difference. In a scent controlled retail space, the scent of rose maroc appealed to men and vanilla to females, vice-versa not so much. In the zones of their favoured scents, each gender was seen to spend about twice as much time than the usual.
Scents can differentially affect age cohorts also. In an ongoing study, a team led by Jean Charles Chebat of HEC of Montreal, discovered that young shoppers (below the age of thirty five) spent more in a suburban mall when it had a pleasant ambient scent as opposed to a scentless one. However, this observation was untrue when it came to older shoppers probably because the sense of smell fades with age. Scent is also noted to affect the category of shoppers. A research conducted in 2005 studied the effect of pleasant ambient scent on two categories of shoppers found at a local mall:
(a) The Impulsive kind who are known to make spontaneous shopping decisions
(b) The Contemplative kind who don’t give in to unplanned purchases
It was seen that the contemplative shoppers spent more money in the presence of scent while the impulsive ones seemed to be spending in control (Ravn 2007)
2.5 Effects of scent on different cultures
There have been two motives to construct cross-cultural studies. First, to gain an understanding of the cultural distinction in perception and acceptance of food (Prescott & Bell, 1995; Yeh et al., 1998) and to understand how pre-conceived notions and experiences affect odor perception and influence behavioral responses (Hudson&Distel,2002). Despite that, these researches haven’t succeeded at addressing the core issue of the origin of these cultural differences in the perception and preferences of odour. Based on the nature of problem they address; these studies can be categorized into four sections:
2.5.1 Effect of culture on perceptual judgments:
Based on the parameters of familiarity, pleasantness, intensity and edibility for everyday odors, a cross-cultural research experiment was conducted. (Aubaile Sallenave, 2000; Ayabe- Kanamura et al., 1998; Distel et al., 1999; Pangborn, Guinard, & Davis, 1988; Song & Bell, 1998; Wysocki, Pierce,&Gilbert,1991). The aim was to examine the commonness and dissimilarity in perception of scents across diverse cultural groups. Across the globe, results have suggested that in almost all countries correlated with pleasant and intense odors. Irrespective of the geographical belongingness, familiar odors were perceived to be preferential. The difference occurred in what was perceived to be pleasant and to a minor extent, familiarity, edibility and intensity ratings. These distinctions primarily involved food odors and were marginally higher for odors specific to culture, than common to it. In another light, a consciousness of understanding body odor, decomposed biological material and fecal odors as unpleasant is common to all. (Dilks, Dalton, & Beauchamp, 1999; Schaal et al., 1997; Schleidt, Hold, & Attili)
2.5.2 Effect of culture on odor sensitivity
From the pool of information available, the only study that seems to have been carried our recently to examine the effect of culture on odor sensitivity was conducted by Hubener, Laska, Kobayakawa and Saito (in press) with Japanese and German citizen.
These authors found that Japanese people have a lower detection threshold for two of the different tested odorants: an odorant characteristic of the Japanese culture (Japanese ink) and an odorant characteristic of the German culture (aniseed).
A pending logical questions demands to know the specific factors that are more relevant to create an understanding of these results. These factors range from genetic, developmental, physiological and psychological to cultural arenas.
2.5.3 Effect of culture on odor identification
Few researchers have studied the effect of culture to detect and familiarize with everyday odors. Doty, Applebaum, Zusho, and Settle (1985) showed that American Korean participants outperformed Caucasian and African American participants, who, in turn, out- performed Native Japanese participants in an identification task using the standardized test UPSIT. Even though the authors could not pin-point that it was only a cultural influence, they confirmed that familiarity was based on identification. This result also confirms a similar theory by Rabina and Cain (1984) which suggested that identified odors infuse a sense of familiarity and connect. In addition to that, Aubaile Sailenave (2000) suggested that the manner in which an odor is described also depends on the function alloted to it. For example, apple scented fragrances are associated to cosmetic products in cultures where apple-scented bath products are an everyday affair, as opposed to where they’re not.
To summarize, cultural distinctions and commons exist in dimensions of psychological nature and representation of odor. Hence, it is of importance to evaluate further the relationship shared between psychological factors affecting odor perception and odor representaton to critically find out (1) If cultural differences affect the perception of a smell and (2) if they hamper with the preferential order preffered of scents.
To address this study, I conducted a cross-cultural experimental study involving American, French, Indian and British participant. There were several experiments designed, including pre-tests. This study was designed to verify and evaluate the authenticity and relevance of claimed universally pleasant odors.

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