Rarely do bloggers reveal their inspirations for a post, but in this case doing so may help readers truly experience and support my prognostication for 2019.
Most of us have probably sat in a 3-D movie and worn glasses to watch objects leap from the screen. Old hat, right? And some of us have sat in a short 4-D movies with the added smells, rumbling seats, and maybe some water spray thrown in. Ho-hum, that technology was created in the 1950s.
Well, my recent 4-D Ice Age movie at the Central Park Zoo stood out, not necessarily due to the singular experience, but for sparking my curiosity as to why there’s been so little advancement in the use of smells for creating user experiences.
After some research and thoughts about what I read: I am predicting 2019 will be a watershed year for olfactory user experiences.
Walt Disney was one of the first, wouldn’t you know, to experiment with scents to create experiences, pumping smells into his park to enhance visitor experiences. He had air pipes planted in the ground along Main Street pumping out a sweet vanilla fragrance, which was switched out for peppermint during Christmas. Nowadays Disney parks have lots of pre-fab scents, and no shortage of vendors selling the re-created aromas infused in candles, soaps and creams. Why? Because Disney fans want to relive those fun-filled moments.
“Of the five senses, the sense of smell is by far the most powerful,” Ekta Bhardwaj, Ravindra Gowda, Vanessa Hofstätter, Suresh Mallya and Jieqing Shan wrote in a marketing journal article.
Each of us have neurons that kick in, controlled by no less than 1,000 genes when triggered by a smell. These genes help to code, sort and transmit signals to the stem of our brains. Along the way the signals wind through various microregions in our olfactory bulbs that categorize the smells as we perceive them. The process occurs in area of the brain that is also connected to the amygdala, where emotions are processed, and the hippocampus, an area linked to memory and cognition.
Scientists have yet to figure out how all these connections work and their impacts on memories, but the consensus is familiar odors spark childhood memories.
Part of the power from smells, is the memories and feelings (and moods) they evoke are unfiltered and further analyzed by the brain, the authors wrote in Follow Your Nose to Enhanced Customer Experiences, published by MBA Perspectives, a journal of the American Marketing Association. Accordingly, the sense of smell has strong effects on buying behavior. “By targeting smell, customers can feel more connected to the company, and thus, evoke feelings of attachment to the brand.”
Combining the notions of smells, moods and behaviors, to creating perceptions and associating them with experiences, there’s little doubt in my mind that the use of smells is the next evolution for Service Design. Yet if these technologies have been around, why now?
For one, according to the authors above, and others, we crave smells more now to distract us from the bombardment of messages due to the pace and scale of advanced technology, and related—to calm us from stresses.
“You could introduce a scent to elevate my mood and possibly distract me from all the hassles I’m going through.” Rachel Herz, a Brown University experimental psychologist and author of “The Scent of Desire told the Wall Street Journal in February 2015.
By the same token, some service providers are exploring ways to break through the din of messages.
Perhaps the growth of mall smells from Lush and Abercrombie, has fueled other service providers to explore ways of intertwining smells with experiences. Singapore Airlines, for instance, pioneered a perfume of rose, lavender and citrus called Stefan Flofidian Waters that is worn by stewardesses, sprayed through their aircraft, and sprinkled on hot towels that passengers liberally apply to their hands and faces.
It was unclear as to whether there were independent sales of Stefan Flofidian Waters, but clearly there are fans. On a webpage devoted to the scent, Michael Gore, managing director of an engine business near Manchester, England, and a Singapore elite flier, wrote he’s a fan. “If I was blindfolded, I’d instantly know it’s SQ,” he says, referring to the airline’s code.
For two, smells are already beginning to enter the market as a means to a mood. Many readers may already be familiar with hygge, a Danish word for comfort. Hygge, which sounds like who-gaa when spoken, emerged as a trend in 2016, when Collins English Dictionary singled it out as runner-up after “Brexit” as UK word of the year. The distinction correlated with a couple of popular books that emerged along with the Broadway musical smash hit Frozen, which includes a song called ‘Hygge.’
In any event, hygge, first a trend, has evolved into a market of scents. The hygge scent is considered anything that instills warmth and comfort, and is described by some as triggering fond memories. As a growing business trend with a low barrier to entry, it doesn’t take much online digging to find just about any scent labeled as ‘hygge.’
Third, and finally, technology has reached the point in which smells can be delivered to users at home, Tokyo researchers have shown. And it would appear their technology of a smelling screen could overcome some of the financial barriers that stagnated the growth the likes of 4K movies of yore.
Please envision, if you will, a home screen display that emits odors corresponding to visual images on screen. The Japanese researchers have figured out how to embed gel pellets into fans at each corner of the screen. When signaled by an image, a fragrance is blown across the screen, with the micro fans working in tandem for a user sensation that images are emitting scents.
Not only would there be early adopters who I bet would be willing to pay for the emerging technology, but even more, it would be a boon to advertisers. After all, advertisers have for years been funding the software and internet capabilities for the opportunity to latch on to the content.
What’s more, think of service providers who use branding images, jingles and other lures for users to remember them. To boot, not quite a stretch as it may appear, but I remember the first few years of videos on MTV, and what that experience felt like. So now, 2019, is the watershed year for smells.
Some of the references used for writing this article: