Making scents: To mark territory

Next week I fly to Victoria Falls – the Zimbabwean side. The trip is dedicated to immersing myself in a local brand that has commissioned a scent logo. Also called scent branding, an olfactory logo is a custom scent composed by a perfumer and inspired by a brand, product or range.

Massive corporations have budgets that can buy the indoor, outdoor, print and broadcast space needed to communicate their brand messages, but for small- to medium-sized businesses, scent can be used as a tool to differentiate from others in a competitive market‚ without needing that hefty media bill.

Scent communicates a story, giving the client an intangible emotional connection to the brand. Starting with a scent name or signature note, the brand is conceptualised and communicated through smell. The scent is refined or enhanced until it develops into a stand-alone entity – something that expresses the ethos and uniqueness of the brand, but also something possessing its own attributes and personality. Creating stories and depth and layers, becoming a “sub-brand” of the business icon.

I have been asked to consult on scent logos for hotel groups in Europe, Africa and Asia, for wine estates, skincare ranges and spas, celebrity retailers and even an antiques boutique and a sub-Saharan NGO.

Sometimes, because of its popularity, the scent logo is produced as a retail item, which adds more elements to communicate a brand’s identity. An iconic bottle or a porcelain candle that captures the essence of the story. Layered in packaging that carries the signature font, colour, imagery and messaging.

A take-home that will evoke the memories and remind one, in time, of the happiness experienced interacting with the brand.

Importantly, a brand can also openly promote a single raw material, such as the sea crithme succulent in France that grows only on the rocks 10m above sea level, or a precious oil from Madagascan vetiver grass.

Disarming intrigue
In South Mauritius a pocket of indigenous vegetation informed a scent logo for a resort. Later I overheard the housekeeping staff talking about the notes in the scent to guests and a tour guide. This was not a wearily performed sales pitch – there was passion and disarming intrigue.

When I walk into Hotel Costes on Rue St-Honoré in Paris and smell the cinnamonic red-velvet scent pumping through the heating system, I am transported to a historical feeling, a déjà vu of nostalgia and familiarity that immediately makes me feel at ease. This scent branding is thoughtfully followed up in your bedroom with a precious miniature bottle of the perfume oil for your skin.

At the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York they use oil-filled cedar-wood logs in the reception fireplace to naturally distribute the scent of white woods. Soon I hope to run trials in the Maldives on scenting a hotel pool with cucumber water.

The presence of a smell can also be a dangerous thing if not executed properly: I dread the initial hit when entering the One and Only in Cape Town. Concentration is key, and should be subtle and pleasing, rather than tenacious and cloying.

Smell is a powerful medium that has the ability to transport us, to remind us, to inspire us. We are extremely receptive to it, and to the messages it can be designed to carry.

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