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Building Scents That Make Sense

Fragrance developers are helping build brand awareness in the real estate space.

March - April
2019

A smelly room is not necessarily a bad thing. In residential real estate, agents go to great pains to make sure their listings include no off-putting odors. But on the commercial side, building owners are relying on sophisticated research about how scent can influence perceptions of a brand. Some developers are teaming up with fragrance makers to fashion signature scents that make work spaces more welcoming and provide office dwellers a pleasant experience in common areas. By leveraging “ambient scenting,” also known as scent marketing, companies hope to use the smell of their space to forge greater emotional connections with their building.

“It’s not just putting an air freshener in a socket. This is much more complex in evaluating a brand and selecting just the right scent for it,” says Mike Fransen, chief operating officer at Parkway Properties, which has worked with the firm Prolitec to add specialized scents to 15 office buildings in the Houston area over the last three years. When visitors or tenants set foot in one of their buildings, they want the space to feel comfortable and familiar. Scent is one way they felt they could achieve that.

The developers of Parkway Properties chose a warm, woodsy fragrance, “blue wood,” for the properties’ main scent because scent researchers have tied the smell to feelings of “luxury,” “modern,” and “sophistication”—all terms they wanted associated with their lobby areas. The expectation is that the scent, even subliminally, would reinforce those feelings for everyone entering the buildings, too.

The scent combines crisp green apple notes with floral hints of jasmine and magnolia and a cedar wood component to bring a comfortable elegance to lobbies, entrances, and hallways. It is delivered using Prolitec’s high-tech diffuser on the wall, which controls the distribution of the scent uniformly based on the size of the space and its airflow. For the buildings’ fitness centers, they chose a scent to reflect the change in mood: “mandarin zest.” “You don’t want the same mood ambiance of warm elegance in the fitness center but instead a scent that is uplifting and high energy,” says Jeff Sneed, vice president of sales at Prolitec.

The hospitality industry has a proven record for its ambient scenting. For example, in 2005, Westin Hotels & Resorts created a signature scent for its global properties known as “white tea,” a fragrance described as a blend of white tea and vanilla with cedar notes. Its lobby spaces and bath amenities, like lotions and soaps, all carry the same scent to reinforce brand recognition of its spaces.

“The concept of scent marketing has been around for a long time, but it’s really [now] starting to enter the commercial real estate industry,” Sneed says. Here’s why: Research shows smells are easier for humans to recall than visuals and that specific scents are tied to happier, calmer customers and more inviting workspaces.

That’s why real estate developers are allocating scent expenses in their budgeting. Given that creating a formula from scratch can cost up to $25,000, choosing from a library of existing fragrances is a common and more economical approach costing between $200 to $500 per month, Sneed says.

Adding scent to a building should be done cautiously, however. Responses to a smell can be subjective, and a misfire in choosing a fragrance can turn off customers and employees. That’s why building owners are relying on “scent consultants,” who cull research on perceptions of distinct smells and use that information to guide companies to the right scent for their space. Scent delivery companies like Prolitec, ScentAir, and others offer consultations to client firms to help them avoid complaints. They’ll work with firms to ensure the scents make sense, matching the fragrance to the existing design and the brand image and noting how the scent is delivered along with where and why (say, to cover an existing odor or to complement a brand).

Anette Hebert, a district manager with Ambius, a customized scenting company, says the selection of the scent has to be done thoughtfully. She recalls a client company where its leaders selected a clean floral scent for its lobby. But the scent was a mismatch with the lobby’s design, which featured dark woods and cooler burgundys. Instead, Hebert’s team suggested a woodsy scent with a hint of spice—more consistent with the decor.

Besides matching a scent with the visual environment, another consideration is ambient sound. For example, a study found that ambient scent mixed with background music generated more positive customer responses and office evaluations, according to a study published in Journal of Retailing by researchers Anna Mattila and Jochen Wirtz.

Parkway Properties’ “blue wood” fragrance was incorporated into its freshly designed lobbies, which feature more relaxed, conversational areas with a “coffee house” vibe. Acoustic versions of pop songs play quietly in the background. “The smell offers familiarity and comfort, and coupled with the music and the new design of our lobbies, it’s becoming our identity,” Fransen said. “By taking a look at the five senses, we wanted to make sure we were doing everything we could in our campuses to create a good first, second, and lasting impression. The technology around scent is helping us to advance that.”

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