Everyone’s talking about the endless possibilities for innovation at the intersection of luxury and technology. We tend to forget that, caught up in the race for everything to be faster, better, and more seamless, simple experiences are usually the best. Sometimes, our five senses are quite enough.

Not that the luxury industry hasn’t noticed. This winter, it fell head over heels for hygge, with its pre-electricity aesthetics and the hearty lifestyle it projects. There’s also a newfound love for the slowness movement, which opens up an opportunity for businesses ranging from beauty to comfy clothes to food to interior design.

In our craving to disconnect, sense of smell plays an important role. Sure, you can open your mindfulness app, but you’d need some incense to go with it. You can light the candles and throw furs (not real ones, of course) over your furniture, but it is a distinct smell that will transport you to the safer, more cuddled and protected time. If feeling good is the new looking good, smelling good is a mechanism that can both transport us to our wellness zone and infuse us with the mood that we crave. Smell creates a space of identity, individuality, and a disconnect from our fast-paced lives, so why do so few brands play with it in their branding?

To unlock this question, I spoke with Dawn Goldworm, one part of the identical twin-sister duo behind 12.29, a company that works with both brands and consumers to make their experiences distinct and memorable through smell.

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I recently read somewhere that physical, and not just digital, architecture still matters. Well-designed, tangible architecture catalyzes our experiences. The space around us, the design of our chairs, the proximity of sunlight and the quality of the air we breath influences what we feel and how we think and behave. Smell is a critical part of this spacial experience. What do you need to consider when connecting the smell – space – brand – experience dots?

“Spacial experience is today more important than ever. In a world where everyone lives and identities through digital experiences, even when we are in public we are digitally consumed, we must work to manifest truly special and unique environments that engage all of the senses. Of course, aesthetics are of the utmost importance, but more subtle elements such as light, sound and smell are increasingly becoming areas of huge opportunity for a brand experience.  Unlike aesthetic design, which is often painstakingly explored, created, curated and financially invested in, the other sensory elements, are too often afterthoughts to the detriment of the brand and the experience they are hoping to offer.”

“Natural light is terribly important to our sense of well-being. Sound is crucial to our understanding of the space around us and our feeling of safety.  And smell, being the strongest and most acute link to our memory and emotion, is fundamental to our perception of the brand environment and remembrance of it. Thus when designing a scent for a brand, all of the sensory touch points are taken into consideration as well as who the brand is targeting and most importantly, the emotional impact the brand hopes to make. This is where scent can have a true impact on brand loyalty and memory.”

One can hardly open a magazine these days and not read about ayurvedic medicine, holistic healing, meditation, mindfulness or hygge. It seems like we are trying to balance our hyper-digital lives with experiences that are simpler, slower and pre-industrial. As someone who is working with scents, why do you think that is?

“I think as a culture, we are overwhelmed, and we are not entirely conscious of it.  There is too much… too much information, too much stimulation, too much noise. This over-stimulation leaves us feeling exhausted, dull, and numb. We pay attention to everything, yet we don’t connect with anything. Thus we are unconsciously looking for ways to disconnect and slow down. Because of this, movements like Hygge are coming to the forefront in how to create moments in ordinary life that aim to take a breathe and have fuller, richer, longer and more sustainable experiences in everyday life. And scent is a fundamental part of it.  Because scent and emotion live in the same part of the brain, by simply changing the smell of a space or experience, we are already unconsciously changing our emotional reaction and altering our behavior. We are engaging with an experience emotionally which intrinsically makes the the moment more important and more human.”

I love the idea of using smells to create a space or travel in time. The ways we remember things are often through smells, and specific smells can also evoke a flurry of memories. It seems that the olfactory memory stays long after all other senses (visual, aural, tactile) have gone away. This is a powerful territory for creating brand associations. Why do you think there are so few brands doing it?

“Simply; because most brands have not had access to companies that know how to link smell to emotion and memory. Unlike aesthetics, touch, sound and taste, smell is deeply rooted in culture, generation and childhood memory. So you cannot simply “choose” a pre-existing scent for an environment and hope that your clients like and understand the scent as a brand identity. Olfactive knowledge of the brand’s target comes heavily under consideration in order to create a scent that appeals to the client’s sense of well-being and cultural understanding, so that the scent is not perceived negatively or potentially, even worse, already associated with another emotional memory with another brand or experience.” 

“A second, and no less important reason, why brands have yet to explore this medium for brand communication is that they don’t see the direct ROI in investing in scent. Because our sense of smell predates birth, most people pay little conscious attention to its power and potential and thus believe it is less important than the other senses in creating, not only a complete multi-sensorial experience, but a differentiated and emotional experience. And they could not be more misguided. Our sense of smell is our first and last sense to determine our emotional interaction with a brand , our subsequent behavior with the brand and our lasting impression of the brand.”

Luxury retailers are obsessed with cracking the code of the “store of the future.” They are awake at night thinking what kind of technology and to what end they should introduce to their stores, and how to turn their omnichannel dream into reality. The result is often a flurry of gimmicky technologies. In the place of digital obsession, shouldn’t luxury retailers turn to more primal, basic senses, like smell and make them work to their advantage? How do you see digital transformation of physical stores evolving together with other, more tangible, tactics?

“The store of the future will use both digital technology and more natural, simpler human connections to create fuller and more modern spaces. The truth is, we as a global culture, now comprehend our lives and the world we live in, through digital experiences. This is not going to change. So we must merge digital and more human experiences into the same moment.

“Smell is the easiest way to accomplish this in a physical space or through physical product as it does not involve conscious interaction. We can watch a screen and smell our environment simultaneously stimulating more complex brain functions of emotional response than either one alone. Add in sound, and we can truly create memorable moments within digital and physical environments.”  

I am wondering if the indoors are becoming the new territory for identity-building (we don’t need to go out to assert our identity, we are asserting our identity by taking a bath, streaming Netflix, lounging in solitude on our bed), what are the creative opportunities for brands there? How do you see the brands participating in this new experiential territory?

“At different moments in time, a return to home is a response to intense social experiences. Terrorist threats, economic crisis, war, natural disasters are all cause to return to the safety of our homes and live our lives more privately and intimately. This is a wonderful opportunity for brands to engage in the most fundamental of human experiences that can only happen in intimate spaces.”