There’s something new and pleasant flowing through the air at the five branches at the $640 million Velocity Credit Union in Austin, Texas.
That something is a light fragrance of white tea and ginger that’s very subtle, clean and crisp with a tiny hint of spice designed to evoke a feeling of pleasantness.
The 72,168-member Velocity CU said it may be among the first – if not the first – credit union in the United States to use scent marketing, leveraging the sweet smells of fragrances to create business benefits.
According to the Scent Marketing Institute, scent marketing is surfacing as a new trend in the business world, in part, because academic and industry research is providing evidence that fragrances can attract customers, generate revenues, improve customer satisfaction, increase product recall, and enhance the perception of the quality of a business and its brands.
Based in Boca Raton, Fla., the Scent Marketing Institute is a not-for-profit organization for marketers, fragrance houses and solution providers working in the field of scent and sensory marketing.
“Scent marketing is just one more avenue for us to create our brand consistency and provide our members with a consistent and pleasant experience when they visit our branches,” said Carol Cain, vice president of marketing for Velocity.
Specifically, that pleasant and consistent experience means when members walk into any branch they are welcomed with smiles and hellos from greeters and tellers; they hear the cheerful music, and see the tranquil rustic scenes on the branch’s flat screens, according to Cain. That friendly and familiar ambience of the branch is topped off by a gentle fragrance that wafts through the air, although unnoticeable.
“Every time members walk into a Velocity branch every one of their senses is telling them ‘Here I am at Velocity and it feels good and it feels familiar,’” explained Cain. “It also helps ensure that when new members walk into the branch they’ll have a pleasant experience. If we accomplish that, they will come back.”
Cain said her marketing team, Velocity President/CEO Debbie Mitchell and others sniffed a lot of samples provided by Charlotte, N.C.-based Scent Air before deciding to use white tea and ginger, which Velocity felt would create a sense of pleasantness in its branches.
“We tried a lot of different scents, from South Sea Island to Mediterranean Fig,” Cain recalled. “We involved about seven different noses for the initial phase and narrowed it down to three scents. Then we took these three to another 12 noses and the selection was practically unanimous. It was unique and fresh and pleasant just like the kind of experience we hope our members enjoy at Velocity.”
Science suggests the sense of smell is powerful because the olfactory system shares a pathway to the brain’s limbic system that processes our memories, emotions and moods.
Mark Peltier, president of AromaSys Inc. in Lake Elmo, Minn., developed the first scent diffusion machine that paved the way for scent marketing, according to the Scent Marketing Institute. In the early 1990s, Chicago researcher Dr. Alan Hirsch, director of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation, conducted a research study at the Las Vegas Hilton where gamblers dropped 45.1% more coins into slot machines in an area that was scented with a pleasant odor. According to an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Hirsch’s research also revealed the slot machines in fragrance-free areas had no decrease in revenue. That finding, he told the newspaper, is important because it suggests that the pleasant odor did not draw gamblers away from other areas. Rather, it appears to have encouraged gamblers in the scented area to continue inserting coins for longer periods than usual because it may have made people more alert or more relaxed.
Jennifer Dubino, chief operating officer for the Scent Marketing Institute, said Hirsch’s research and other studies caught the attention of Westin Hotels and Resorts, General Dynamics, Hard Rock Hotel, Hugo Boss and others. Dubino said financial institutions such as Helm Bank in Columbia, China Merchants Bank, National Australia Bank and Bank Leumi in Israel are also using scent marketing. She also said there could be other banks and credit unions in the U.S. using scent marketing but they may not be disclosing it for competitive reasons.
“Scent marketing is exploding right now because the research is piling up proving the business benefits,” said Dubino. “But I also think scent marketing it growing because the (diffusion) technology is easy to use and seamless. In addition to helping companies increase revenue, scent marketing also is a way for businesses to differentiate themselves over competitors.”
At Velocity, its scent is delivered through small diffusion machines located in every branch that disburses throughout a 3,000-square-feet area, Cain said.
“None of our members have noticed the fragrance, but we really don’t want people to say, ‘oh, it smells good in here. We would recommend credit unions try scent marketing, but just stay away from our fragrance. That’s Velocity’s fragrance.”