Branding for the senses: A worthy investment

Hospitality and retail companies are fascinated with every form of branding, down to their desire to appeal to every one of their customers’ senses. While the on-property food-and-beverage options can provide some scintillating scents and tastes to match, Allison Shipp, account manager at scent marketer Air Aroma, said there are fewer options out there that benefit a business more than creating a dedicated scent all your own so guests can form memories bonded to the scent, ensuring they come back.

“Your sense of smell is tied directly to the part of your brain that categorizes memory and emotions,” she said. “They remember the meaning of these things for all eternity.”

Shipp said her company first puts together a brief on a brand’s ideal customer, and combines it with the brand’s idealized self-image. If roses are in the logo, for example, they will work that scent into the overall concoction. When a proper essence is derived, it is installed using mist diffusers in select areas of the hotel, often in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system for the most consistent effect.

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Trent Freeman, director of operations at the Valencia Group, said the lobby entrance, meeting rooms and public hallways are key areas to odorize, with the guestrooms to a much lesser extent.

Providing ambient music, and even live performances, can contribute to creating a strong brand image.

“When doing room inspections, we make sure the scent is up to par, but we don’t want to overwhelm,” Freeman said. “Guests love it, but the practice can face negative feedback if they are exposed to it too much.”

The human ear is far from neglected as far as marketing is concerned, but many hotel brands are taking a new music-centric focus that is putting playlist curating and the act of choosing live acts into the limelight. Consider Matthew Watts, director of music & marketing at Hard Rock Hotels & Casinos, who has made it his mission to give Hard Rock a sonic identity to match the look of its resorts. This includes appointing “vibe managers” on property to act as touchpoints between guests and the property in order to organically control entertainment.

“Everybody is a music expert!” Watts said. “The vibe manager interacts with guests and will program what they like into play, but crowdsourcing can be a scary thing if you get diehard fans [of certain genres] calling for something. For us, we have experts in place to create those experiences.”

Watts also said the biggest mistakes he sees hotels make sonically is the desire to capture a customer base that simply isn’t at their property. A party playlist doesn’t work in every atmosphere, which is why the best option is sometimes to leave it to the guests.

“At our San Diego property, guests are asked at check-in about their favorite genres, and we have that playing from their guestroom TV when they walk in,” Watts said. “Sometimes you will walk into a New York hotel that is sounding super hip, but the guest staying there may not be looking for that and there is a disconnect.” 

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