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October 2018

Can you harness the power of smell?

Written by Nathalie Leblond
Workplace Hygiene

Have you ever smelled something that transported you to a different time completely, or evoked a memory you thought you’d forgotten? For me, the smell of “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” flowers instantly takes me back to being five years old in my Granny’s garden, and it creates an overwhelming sense of nostalgia.

Our sense of smell (or ‘olfaction’ to use its scientific name) is the most powerful of all our five senses and is closely linked with emotion and memory, probably more so than any of our other senses. Smell bypasses judgement and interpretation, and the memories we recall through odours are significantly more emotional than those recalled by auditory (sound) or visual triggers. It’s also the sense usually paid the least amount of attention, which is strange considering that its the only one of our five senses to link directly to the brain.

How do smells trigger such strong emotions and memories?

According to Psychology Today, this is likely due to the anatomy of our brain. Incoming smells are first processed by the olfactory bulb, which starts inside the nose and runs along the bottom of the brain. The olfactory bulb has direct connections to two areas of the brain -  the amygdala and hippocampus - which are strongly implicated in emotion and memory. Visual, auditory, and tactile (touch) information does not pass through these brain areas, which may be why smell, more than any other sense, is so successful at triggering emotions and memories.

But smell can have an effect on more than just emotion and memory. According to a study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, just the smell of coffee could make people more alert and energetic. Researchers found that people exposed to the scent of coffee performed better at math on an aptitude test required by many business schools. This means that even smelling a coffee-like scent, which has no caffeine in it, produces a similar effect to that of drinking coffee, suggesting that a placebo effect can come from just the scent of the hot beverage.

A study conducted in 2014 by researchers from the Rockerfeller University concluded that humans can detect one trillion (yes, you read that correctly!) different ‘olfactory stimuli’ or scents, to you and me. And the most pleasant (or pleasurable) of these? Vanilla, some forms of orange scents, cinnamon, crayons, and cookies, according to Luong and Dolores Malaspina, MD, MSPH, professors of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University in New York.

So can we harness the power of smell?

If we accept the research that says smell affects 75% of the emotions we experience on a daily basis, it’s not hard to imagine that we might be able to harness the power of scent to positively impact the customer experience. Employers, architects, building developers, retail space managers and others can use subtle scents to help shape employees' or occupants' experience with their environment. Businesses can draw on the power of smell to help establish deeper emotional connections and more positive responses from their customers, visitors and employees.

 Research carried out by Prolitec and Rentokil Initial in 2016 (The Business Impact of Scent Report) found that using scenting in business can have the following positive outcomes:


  • 48% of people said a pleasant smell in a hotel would make them more likely to return
  • A pleasant smell in a hotel makes 67% of people more patient and relaxed
  • 91% of consumers say a pleasant smell in a hotel would have a positive impact on them.


  • Customers linger up to 40% longer in areas that smell nice
  • Scent marketing can improve customer satisfaction by 7%
  • Scent can elevate mood by up to as much as 40%
  • Specific scents can increase sales from 20 to 90% in some studies
  • 74% of consumers are drawn into a store because of the smell
  • Two environmental interventions, music and scent, can reduce queue rage

 To harness these findings, Initial offers Premium Scenting. This tailor-made service is carefully designed by a scenting expert, who - working closely with the business - chooses a scent which not only reflects the brand image of the business, but also achieves specific business goals, for example increased dwell time (in retail), invigorating of employees (call centre environments) or a positive guest experience (hospitality).

Premium Scenting from Initial is safe and sustainable. Scenting units can be connected to the air conditioning system for greater coverage, or for smaller areas free-standing units are available. Due to the fact that Premium Scenting uses microdroplets of fragrance (on average just 1 micron in size or 1/50th the diameter of a human hair) significantly less fragrance is needed to scent a given area as microdroplets are lighter and remain in the air longer than any other solution.  All ingredients of the scenting solution have been rigorously checked and certified safe for human inhalation, and all fragrances are tested according to UK and EU standards, IFRA and SDS. Safety sheets are available for every scent.

For more information on how Premium Scenting can enhance your business, contact the experts at Initial.

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Nathalie Leblond

Nathalie Leblond

Nathalie is the Category Manager at Rentokil Initial, and has worked in the hygiene and pest control industry for 12 years. Although after 12 years cockroaches still have the power to terrify her, she has learnt countless ways to defeat germs both in the workplace and at home. She is a passionate advocate for Global Handwash Day and the health benefits that can be derived from regular handwashing and hygiene practices. When not contributing to the Initial blog, Nathalie is writing press releases for sister businesses, Rentokil and Ambius. You can find her on LinkedIn.

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