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case study

hether it's the smell of warm chocolate-chip cookies, suntan lotion, or autumn leaves, scents have the power to link us to memories and emotions. Getting a whiff of something familiar from our past, we can't help being taken back to our grandmothers' kitchens, a sandy beach, or our childhood backyards.

Because of its strong link to memory and emotion, scent sells, and ScentAir Inc. knows it. The Charlotte, NC-based company manufactures and provides scent-delivery systems and fragrances for the retail and hospitality industry, offering more than 1,500 different scents. From a chocolate scent at the M&M's store in Orlando, FL, to a custom white-tea scent at Westin hotels, ScentAir markets fragrance as a way to draw attention to specific products and create unique, memorable environments that tap into scent's nostalgic power.

At GlobalShop 2006, ScentAir wanted to convey the power of its scent-related products in a memorable way, so it combined comfortable chairs, virtual-reality glasses, and its customized scent systems, to demonstrate its products, engage attendees' senses, and encourage prospects to follow their noses to ScentAir's services.

Sniffing Out the Situation

While planning for GlobalShop 2006, ScentAir faced its persistent trade show problem: demonstrating a scent on the show floor. "It's a challenge to market scent because it's hard to describe a fragrance. You have to experience it," says Murray Dameron, director of marketing at ScentAir. But getting attendees to fully experience the power of its scent-based products on a busy show floor, full of competing sights, sounds, and smells, would take more than a scratch-and-sniff answer.

To reach prospects at GlobalShop 2005, ScentAir created the Scent Orb, a mini, circular-shaped car in which attendees sat down, put on headphones, and watched a video on a monitor while fragrances were emitted based on what they were seeing.

But for GlobalShop 2006, ScentAir wanted to "expand on that idea and make it a little more enveloping, a little more design oriented," Dameron says. He wanted to immerse attendees in a sensory experience, blocking out as many of the distractions of the show floor as possible and making visitors focus on what the company could do with scent. Scent-Air's goals were twofold: double last year's leads and, more importantly, demonstrate how scent can be used for marketing and branding.

"We wanted to demonstrate the emotional power of scent through an engaging multi-sensory experience, and we wanted visitors to walk away from the booth with a new awareness of the role that all senses play in building a powerful brand experience," Dameron says.

ScentAir decided to expand on its orb theme from 2005, which it had originally designed to complement the blue circles in its logo and visually reinforce its corporate identity. When a Google search on the word "orb" turned up Eero Aarnio Fiberglas ball chairs, the company decided the unique furniture would align with its booth in terms of appearance and experience. The circular chairs, complete with suede cushions, would enclose attendees in comfort and, with their rounded sides, block out the surroundings, allowing them to concentrate on ScentAir's experience.

ScentAir had the chairs painted blue to match its logo and wired them with speakers, virtual-reality glasses, and tubing to emit fragrances coordinated with the video being viewed through attendees' glasses. To extend the orb theme, ScentAir attached blue and white exercise balls in the corners of and on the trussing in its exhibit.

But since ScentAir added several trade shows to its calendar for 2006, it was running on a tight $10,000 budget for GlobalShop 2006. To stay on track, ScentAir used the carpentry skills of its chief financial officer to build a 3-by-12-foot-wide circular platform to stage the chairs and also house the custom-engineered scent system. ScentAir also used trussing, lighting, signage, two kiosks, and two LCD screens it had on hand from previous booths to help keep costs down without compromising the company's presence.


A Sneak Peek

Prior to the show, ScentAir mailed an enticing pre-show postcard to 150 of its current clients and leads from the previous year's show. The company aimed to pique attendees' interest by listing the elements in its booth: "Four hundred square feet of booth space. Fifteen hundred pounds of trussing. Four Eero Aarnio Fiberglas ball chairs. Four GVD300 Virtual Reality Glasses. Audio, video, tactile, and olfactory stimulation."

The mailer also contained an image of one of the ball chairs "peeking," Dameron says, onto the side of the page, along with Scent-Air's invitation to "Come experience how we connect memory, emotion, product, and brand." As if that wasn't enough to put ScentAir's exhibit on attendees' radars, the mailer promised "an unforgettable sensory experience."

When attendees entered the booth, staffers took down their lead information at one of two kiosks located at the corners of the 400-square-foot space. Next, staff directed them up the steps of the platform and to one of four orb chairs. Attendees settled into the chairs' comfortable white cushions, put on the virtual-reality glasses, and sat back to watch, listen, and smell.

Once attendees were seated, "the tactile softness of the suede fabric and cushions, and the enveloping feeling of being surrounded by the chair, made the experience a success," Dameron says. "It totally isolated attendees, appealed to their senses, and made the experience more personal. It took them out of the trade show environment and created a captive audience for us to deliver our message to."

That message was delivered through the virtual-reality glasses, on which attendees watched a three-minute promotional video, including imagery and audio complementing the scents of three of ScentAir's clients and one of its scent applications. "The video told our story," Dameron says. "It addressed who ScentAir is, how scent is a powerful motivator emotionally, and how we deploy scent in different client locations to create an experience within the environment, convey a theme, or use scent as a branding tool."

The video instructed booth visitors to "Sit back, relax, and discover the power of scent." It went on to discuss how scent is closely linked to memory and emotion. To illustrate that point, the virtual-reality glasses displayed images of children playing and laughing. As the chairs emitted a baby-powder fragrance, the video discussed how ScentAir worked with Bloomingdales to install the powder scent in its stores' infants departments, evoking shoppers' memories of their own children.

The next segment of the experience featured the M&M's retail store in Orlando, and the chocolate aroma that ScentAir created for it. Since most of its candy is packaged, ScentAir's chocolate fragrance helps "put the chocolate back into its environment and completes the visual experience," Dameron says. This segment illustrated how scent can be used to draw attention to a product, lure customers toward it, and provide an expected experience.

Next, the attendee relaxed with a whiff of vanilla grapefruit - a light, airy fragrance - that accompanied images of various retail experiences while audio discussed how ScentAir matches environments to fragrances, and how there is "a right and a wrong fragrance to convey who you are as a company," Dameron explains. For example, ScentAir connected vanilla grapefruit with crisp, white, modern environments with brushed aluminum and transparent textures.

Finally, the virtual-reality glasses showed attendees images of Westin Hotels, while the ball chairs released the signature white-tea fragrance that ScentAir created for the popular hotel chain. The accompanying audio discussed how ScentAir "can create a signature fragrance that truly speaks to who you are and becomes an extension of your brand."

In addition to the chairs, ScentAir pointed some of its ScentWave scent machines away from its booth and emitted various fragrances onto the show floor. "It's incredible how just putting a fragrance out into our booth space really stopped people in their tracks as they walked the floor," Dameron says. "People aisles over literally followed their noses to our booth."

In the Driver's Seat
With the money it saved by reusing the Fiberglas ball chairs for the 2007 exhibit, ScentAir Inc. retrofitted a 1967 VW bus, replacing the windows with touchscreens and painting the exterior to match the company's logo and the Eero Aarnio chairs.

Attendees explored a mini version of ScentAir's Web site and sampled scents via touchscreen monitors.

Come Out Smelling Like a Rose

Throughout the three-day show, ScentAir gave 700 participants a chance to sit down, relax, and experience the power of scent. From this, it collected about 550 solid leads - five times as many as in 2005.

"I think the experience was so successful because the chairs were so unique and eye-catching," Dameron says. "It was also the actual presentation, the multi-sensory experience of the tactile feeling of the chairs, the audio, the video, and the fragrance. It tapped into four out of the five senses."

ScentAir's focus on the senses proved to be powerful, immersing attendees and blocking out the rest of the trade show. "People walked away from the booth feeling that they were actually taken somewhere and placed in another environment," Dameron says.

Getting a whiff of success with the ball chairs in 2006, ScentAir rolled the chairs back into its exhibit at GlobalShop 2007 - with just a few minor revisions. The company also updated the video content, added new scents, and condensed its scent-delivery system for the chairs down to a 1-by-1-by-6-inch box.

With the money it saved by reusing the orb chairs, ScentAir continued showing how it can install its scent-delivery systems in a range of spaces by buying and retrofitting a vintage 1967 VW bus and positioning it in one corner of its 2007 booth space. ScentAir painted the bus to match its chairs and its logo. Then it removed the bus's windows and replaced them with touchscreen monitors attached to one of its custom scent systems. ScentAir let attendees do some window browsing as they explored a mini-version of the company's Web site complete with case studies and, of course, scent samples on the windows-turned-kiosks.

In 2007, the company's updated ball-chairs-and-bus exhibit helped it speed to success, generating 800 sales leads - a 50-percent increase over 2006's already impressive results. For the second year in a row, ScentAir created a memorable, sensory booth experience that attendees wouldn't soon forget, proving that sometimes, the most important thing is having the balls - the ball chairs, that is - to follow your nose. e

Elisabeth Miller, associate writer;
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