Property managers and other commercial real estate pros are increasingly leveraging “scent marketing” to boost a building’s appeal. The rules could even apply to homes.

Commercial buildings are turning to the power of smell to enhance the customer or tenant experience, matching an enticing visual space to a pleasant scent. The trend is taking hold across commercial property types—office buildings, condos, apartment units and retail stores—and in a world still facing a pandemic, a “clean” smell can spark feelings of comfort and security.

Research has shown that a pleasing aroma not only can build positive connections to a brand but also lift moods, lower stress and even boost productivity. The growing field of “scent marketing” backs up these claims. Studies show pleasant scents can lead to a 40% improvement in mood. And smells are more memorable: People recall images with about 50% accuracy after three months; but they remember smells with 65% accuracy after a year, according to the Sense of Smell Institute.

“Scent is the most impactful and memorable of the senses,” says Vanessa Brunson, senior property manager with Parkway Property Investments, a Houston-based company that owns and operates office buildings throughout the Sunbelt region. “A scent component is needed if your company wants to set itself apart from other management companies.”

Parkway has partnered with Prolitec, an ambient scenting firm, to add customized scents to more than a dozen of its properties over the last five years. Guests may smell a warm, woodsy undertone mixed with crisp green apple and white floral notes—an aroma researchers have linked to “luxury,” “sophistication” and “warmth.” But when odor remediation is necessary, like in the buildings’ gyms, Parkway uses “Mandarin Zest,” which has bursts of fresh citrus that aim to create an “uplifting and energizing” environment.

“There has been a shift in the mindset of property management to not only manage a building well but put more of a hospitality lens in place,” Brunson says. “Scent is a big component of that hospitality mindset.”

So, What’s Your Scent?

Is your brand more woodsy or floral? Scent consultants can help you decide and craft customized notes of aromas based on research that will leave a lasting impression. For example, Westin Hotels & Resorts created a signature scent for its global properties known as “white tea,” described as a blend of white tea and vanilla with cedar notes. Its lobby spaces and bath amenities, including lotions and soaps, all carry the scent to reinforce brand recognition. Customers can even purchase candles and diffuser oils with the scent and take them home with them.

Scent consultants, which are usually specialists from perfume houses, also can coordinate how and where the aroma is delivered in a building. Scent consultants at Prolitec can create a fragrance from scratch or offer a library of existing fragrances to choose from. Prolitec then uses a computer-controlled system to create tiny droplets of scent in precise areas of a building to ensure the fragrance is experienced uniformly throughout a space.

Prominence Apartments, a luxury multifamily development in Atlanta, uses scents in entryways and common areas as well as the fitness center and trash rooms. The scent diffusers have timers to control and distribute the fragrance around the space so as not to be overpowering in one spot. Prominence Apartments uses “Blue Wood,” a warm, woodsy scent, as the fragrance for its main areas and “Sparkling Lime” for odor remediation in the fitness rooms and trash areas.

“The first thing [guests] smell when they open up that door is the scent,” says Roman Guzman, a property manager for Prominence Apartments. “They ask where they can get it and what scent it is. The smell actually makes a huge impact.”

The Role of Smell in the Wellness Movement

Scent also is being used to bring comfort as many people seek cleanliness during the pandemic, says Heather Lane, vice president of commercial marketing at Prolitec. Tenants and residents may be more apt to associate fresh-smelling public areas with cleanliness. Scents also combat other building odors—especially from pets in multifamily buildings—that may jeopardize a “clean” feel.

“People today are more conscious of the air they breathe,” Lane says. “Consequently, scents are playing a growing role in the world of property management. People are returning to public spaces with a shifted perspective. They expect clean, they expect welcoming, they expect luxury and they expect wellness. In short, they expect a ‘scentsational’ experience.”

Impact of Scents

Studies have identified the following psychophysiological effects after exposure to certain scents, including:  

  • Orange: Lowers anxiety, increases positive mood and calmness.
  • Lavender: Reduces stress and increases relaxation.
  • Peppermint: Energizes and stimulates the mind.
  • Rosemary: Encourages clear thinking and boosts memory.
Source: “Influence of Fragrances on Human Psychophysiological Activity,” Sci Pharm (2016)