Ana Andjelic is senior vice president and global strategy director for Havas Lux Hub.
Everyone’s talking about the endless possibilities for innovation at the intersection of luxury and technology. Caught up in the race for everything to be faster, better and more seamless, we tend to forget that simplicity is often best. Sometimes, an experience only requires our five senses.
The luxury industry is well aware. This past winter, it fell head over heels for hygge, with its pre-electricity aesthetic and the hearty lifestyle it projects. And today, luxury has a newfound love for the slow movement, which opens up opportunities for businesses ranging from beauty and comfy clothing to food and interior design.
There’s a craving to disconnect — and the right scent is key to getting there. Sure, you can open your mindfulness app, but you’ll need some incense to go with it. You can light candles and toss furs (faux, of course) over your furniture, but it is a scent that will transport you to a safer, cozier and more protected time. Smell can create an identity and a sense of 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, co-founder of 12.29, a company that works with retailers to design store experiences that are distinct and memorable, through smell. Her answers have been edited for clarity.
You work with retailers to make their spaces unique, and uniquely appealing, to their customers. What do you consider when connecting the smell-space-brand-experience dots?
In a world where everyone lives and identifies through digital experiences, we must work to manifest truly special and unique environments that engage all of the senses. Unlike aesthetic design — which is often painstakingly explored, created, curated and financially invested in — 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 wellbeing, sound is crucial to our understanding of the space around us and our feeling of safety, and smell — the strongest and most acute link to our memory and emotion — is fundamental to our perception of the brand environment and remembrance of it. 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 the emotional impact the brand hopes to make. This is where scent can have a true impact on brand loyalty and memory.
With recent buzz surrounding Ayurvedic medicine, holistic healing, meditation, mindfulness and hygge, it seems like we are trying to balance our hyper-digital lives with experiences that are simpler, slower and pre-industrial. Why do you think that is?
I think, as a culture, we are overwhelmed, and we are not entirely conscious of it. Because of this, movements like hygge are coming to the forefront to [facilitate] moments in ordinary life that allow us to take a breath and have fuller, richer, longer and more sustainable experiences. 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 moment more important and more human.
I love the idea of using smells to create a space or travel in time — and specific smells can also evoke a flurry of memories. This is a powerful territory for creating brand associations. Why do you think so few brands are taking advantage of it?
Most brands simply 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 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 clients’ sense of wellbeing and cultural understanding, so that the scent is not perceived negatively or already associated with another emotional memory with another brand or experience. A second reason is they don’t see a direct ROI by 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. 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.” The result is often a flurry of gimmicky technologies. In the place of digital obsession, do you think luxury retailers should make more basic tactics work to their advantage?
The store of the future will use both digital technology and simpler human connections to create fuller and more modern spaces. The truth is, we 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 products, 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 can do so by taking a bath, streaming Netflix, lounging in solitude. What are the creative opportunities for brands there?
Terrorist threats, economic crises, war, natural disasters,… They’re 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. We have recently scented a long list of residential buildings and private homes for exactly this reason. People want to create, curate and design their home life to reflect their personality and lifestyle. As a result, there has also been a boom in the luxury scented candle sector, with more perfume brands entering into this space.
Image via thewindow.barneys.com