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Scent: an overlooked, but powerful, brand element

The most memorable of our five senses is scent. When I get a waft of something I’ve smelled before, it conjures up memories, often from years ago. The smell of a sizzling sausage and pepper sandwich takes me back to my first trip to Fenway Park in Boston. Can’t shake it. I don’t remember the score, where I sat or the roar of the crowd, but I do remember the smell. This has been well-documented in medical literature. But this is a marketing blog, not a biology blog so let’s continue about branding.

I had the pleasure of visiting a client – Copernicus Group IRB – in the Raleigh-Durham area. Arrangements were made for me to stay at the Doubletree in Research Triangle Park, largely as a matter of convenience given its close proximity to their offices. As we drove through the industrial park, I spotted the hotel. It looked typical, decent enough. But everything changed the moment I got out of the car.

I spotted a Doubletree airport transfer van with a HUGE chocolate chip cookie graphic on the side of it. I later learned that freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies were introduced at Doubletree in the 1980s. Synonymous with Doubletree’s brand of hospitality, the cookie was meant to differentiate the Doubletree brand from its competition – and it did.

Anyone can tell you that I absolutely melt for a good chocolate chip cookie. The smell of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies filled the air in the hotel when I walked in the lobby. It was amazing. The travel-related stresses left my body. The nerves about the meetings ahead of me were washed from my mind. I was in an entirely happy place. I was thrilled to be staying there.  If a hotel can do that, they certainly have a powerful brand in more ways than one.

Once check-in was complete, the clerk handed me two warm chocolate chip cookies. They tasted as good as the hotel smelled. One cookie was gone before I made it to my room. The other was consumed shortly thereafter.

It was a short stay in Durham so I only went in and out of the hotel two or three times. But each time that smell hit me, it permeated by soul and screamed “Doubletree.”

At check-out, I bought a tin of cookies for the office ($12 for 5 – a great money maker for the hotel!) and brought some home for my wife. While they appreciated the treats, to me this was about more than a cookie. This was about etching an attribute of a powerful brand in my brain forever. Every time I smell a chocolate chip cookie, I will, consciously or subconsciously, think of the Doubletree. They own that smell. And I experience that smell a lot.

And when my next trip comes up and I’m asked where I want to stay, I’ll have such a warm fuzzy feeling, taking me back to my childhood days and that most pleasant stay in Durham, I will ask if there’s a Doubletree.

All other things being equal – clean, spacious room, convenient, good value, and friendly staff – I will still choose Doubletree. And it has nothing to do with their logo. A brand is the visual, verbal and emotional attributes that define a business and set it apart from the competition.

Kudos to Doubletree for tapping the emotional side of things – which is one of the brand assets that is so often overlooked – and getting at it through the most powerful of all of our senses.