The next time you are in a department store, hotel or dentist's office, take a moment to pull yourself away from the barrage of visual advertisements and background music to take a whiff of the air around you.
Chances are, you will notice the lingering of a faint scent - perhaps the delicate and sophisticated smell of yuzu and black tea if you are wandering the halls of department store Tangs or the rejuvenating scent of lime and eucalyptus if you are sitting at the reception area of One Farrer Hotel & Spa.
The subtle ambient fragrances are not a random occurrence - these brands are part of the growing number of businesses in Singapore that are using scent marketing to improve their customer experience.
Using ambient scents to make a space seem more inviting has become a trend in an advertising landscape which has, in recent years, nearly exhausted all means of visual and auditory marketing.
For the retailers, hotels and events that are jumping on board, it is a refreshing way to increase consumer spending, customer satisfaction and brand recognition.
According to freelance essential oils expert Laves Goh, the growth of scent marketing in Singapore in the past five years is in part thanks to the entry and influence of international brands such as Victoria's Secret and Abercrombie and Fitch.
"Even though these brands have a more aggressive approach to scenting their physical space compared with the subtle scents in hotels or hospitals, their entry definitely helped local businesses see the benefits of creating a multi- sensory experience for customers," says the 32-year-old, who has been helping commercial groups with scent branding for four years.
It does not hurt that there is also a scent for almost every emotion, allowing retailers to mix and match fragrances to create the perfect mood.
"Vanilla and amber induce warmth, comfort and nostalgia," says Ms Goh, who also gives talks on scent branding and holds classes on essential oils.
"In the same way, citrus notes tend to improve appetite and peppermint gives the sense of fresh, clean spaces. There's a scent for any place or occasion." It is a sentiment Mr Terry Jacobson, chief experience officer at Allsense Group, which provides aroma marketing solutions for brands and retailers, shares.
"Because our sense of smell is the only sense directly connected to the brain's limbic system, which houses emotions and memories, it's more strongly associated with memory than visual or auditory cues," he says.
"A subtle and inviting scent can therefore increase dwell time, enhance the recollection of brands and elevate moods - making it a great tool for marketers and retailers alike."
Another reason scent technologies have taken off in a big way is their relatively low cost and fuss-free implementation.
Mr Jacobson says creating a customised scent at Allsense takes about three months and ranges between $1,000 and $10,000, depending on the complexity.
But for brands without the time or budget to create a signature aroma, there is also the option of choosing cheaper ones from the company's library of more than 2,000 scents.
And given that the scent can be dispersed through a building's ventilation system, it is easy to implement.
Present technology also allows the scent to be regulated based on time or foot traffic, resulting in a consistent and subtle smell throughout the space, even in large department stores or hospitals.
For malls such as Ion Orchard, which opened in 2009, having a signature scent has gone beyond creating a relaxing atmosphere to becoming part of its brand identity.
Created by international scent marketing agency ScentAir using 20 notes from herbs, fruits and flowers such as white tea and peony, Ion Orchard's scent has become so well recognised that the mall decided to infuse it into votive candles and a cocktail as part of its fifth anniversary celebrations last year.
Customers were able to redeem the candles with a minimum $300 spending at the mall.
Similarly, at One Farrer Hotel & Spa, guests have begun asking to buy its signature scent Urban Oasis so that they can duplicate their hotel experience at home.
And the list goes on. Hotels The Westin Singapore and The Patina, Capitol Singapore, shopping centre Palais Renaissance, fashion label Zara, automobile brand Nissan and Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital all have distinctive fragrances wafting through the lobbies and aisles.
Events marketers are also embarking on the customised scent route.
Experia Events, which is behind last year's Singapore Airshow, had a signature scent created for the show. Made up of notes of dewy juicy fruits and rich dark chocolate, the scent aimed to appeal to the event's distinctly masculine target audience.
An equally unique and chic scent evoking the Asian identity was also commissioned by organisers Mercury Marketing and Communications for last year's Singapore fashion week - known as the Audi Fashion Festival - helping to set the mood for the glitzy event.
In both cases, the scents were diffused through the air-conditioning ducts in the enclosed lounge and exhibition areas.
The avant-garde scent for the fashion week was so popular - attendees were inquiring about it - that Mercury is creating another scent for this year's edition of Singapore Fashion Week, which takes place next month.
Limited numbers of the bottled scent will be available for purchase.
It seems then that the science on the matter is clear: Scent has incredible potential.
And as far as Mr Jacobson is concerned, it will linger for a long while.
"Just like how we see or hear, how we smell is another way for us to connect to the world around us," he says.
"Not only does it make our experience more pleasant as customers, but it can also bring character and personality to brick-and-mortar businesses."
This article was first published on April 11, 2015.
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