Article Date: 9/1/2013

The Smell and Sound of Success
sensory marketing

The Smell and Sound of Success


Should your “vision” of your optical include ambient scents and music?


For optometrists looking for a competitive edge, it may be music to their ears or the sweet smell of success: Recent studies show that ambient scenting and music increase consumer spending. The research suggests that just as you plan the visual aspects of your optical to attract your patients’ dollars, the right smells and sounds can also increase the likelihood of a sale. Consider the following examples:

► The amount of money gambled in slot machines increased an average of 45% after that area of a Las Vegas casino was “odorized,” reveals a Psychology & Marketing study.

► After researchers introduced the scent of chocolate into a bookstore in Belgium, sales of chocolate-related books, such as drink, food and romance works, grew 40%. For “non-chocolate” merchandise, sales grew 22%, shows a Journal of Environmental Psychology study and an article in Time magazine.

► A total of 18.3% of consumers bought one or more items when exposed to music in an open-air market. When no music played, an average of 10% of consumers bought one or more items, reveals a European Journal of Scientific Research study.

► French music played in a wine store led to French wines outselling German wines, and German music had the opposite affect on French wine sales, reports a Journal of Applied Psychology study.

The sensory-sales connection

What is the connection between smells and sounds and sales? Pleasant sensory experiences are connected to the brain’s limbic system, which is responsible for emotion, reports several studies. Emotion, or one’s mood, plays a role in buying decisions. Scent and music increase consumer dwell time, or the amount of time one spends in a particular establishment. A dwell time increase of 1% has been shown to result in a sales increase of 1.3%, says an article in The Economist. So, when a consumer’s emotional response to a retail establishment’s lingering scent and music is positive, that consumer is more likely to well, linger and buy something.

But, that’s not all: Emotion is tied to memory. So, that retail establishment becomes indelibly ingrained in the consumer’s mind, becoming the first place he/she thinks of when requiring a related product.

For example, whenever Sandra Grossett, O.D., of Eyes in the Burg, in Fredericksburg, Va., has to travel, she tries to book a room at a Westin because, “it has a very unique scent that is just fabulous,” she says. In fact, in realizing the hotel chain’s scent had her hooked on staying there, she decided to research using a similar scent to increase patient dwell time in her optical. Dr. Grossett says that while she hasn’t tracked whether the scent in her optical, acquired from the same scent marketing company responsible for the Westin’s aroma, has had any affect on sales, it has definitely had a positive impact on her practice.

“I’ve only been open for seven months, but I’ve used it [the scent] for three of them, and I get comments now from probably eight out of 10 of the people who come in here about how nice it smells and how welcoming the environment is, and nothing has changed except the scent,” she explains. Dr. Grossett adds she’s noticed patients have stayed longer in the optical, and overall, they don’t seem as “cranky” as they can sometimes be. “I spend quite a bit of time with my patients, at least 30 minutes with each one, so even at the tail end of all that, they still go out [to the optical], and they look and they sit,” she explains.

Jennifer Brady Cook, M.S., O.D., of Visionary Eye Care, in Lutz, Fla., has been using ambient scenting for four months and says her patients have commented on it and asked where they can get it.

As a result of the connection between pleasant sensory experiences and memory, Caroline Fabrigas, president of the Scent Marketing Institute, a scent marketing company, recommends retailers extend the use of their signature scent into items the consumer can take with them. “If you can translate your signature scent notes into candy, pens or into the case of the optical frames, you can reinforce that positive experience and memory of your brand,” she explains.

Alishia Chan, O.D., who opened her practice 20/20 Eye Wellness Optometry in Pleasanton, Calif., in April, says she decided to use ambient music from the start because, “I like to be relaxed, so I figured my patients would like it too.”

Gary Gerber, O.D., president of The Power Practice, an optometric consulting company, in Franklin Lakes, N.J., adds, “The right choice of music sets the tone and helps to reinforce the culture and brand you’re trying to promote in your practice. Obvious examples are playing child classics in a pediatric practice and upbeat contemporary or hip-hop [music] in a young downtown urban practice …”

In addition to increasing intent to buy and binding customers to a retailer, ambient scent and music also positively differentiate a retailer from similar retailers who don’t use these senses, a study in the Journal of Retailing shows.

Holiday Scent and Music

Retail establishments are packed with consumers from November through the end of December. As this particular time makes them feel warm and nostalgic, capitalize on this feeling by temporarily changing your optical’s scent and music to reflect the holiday season. Examples of such scents: gingerbread, cinnamon and pine. Music selection here is obvious. But, remember: It’s not going to work unless the rest of your optical has the holiday look.


Consumer evaluations of retailers have been more favorable when a Christmas scent has corresponded with Christmas music, a Journal of Business Research study shows.

“I grew up in the bitterly cold Midwest, and I have very fond memories of going to the mall and shopping during the holiday season because of the decorations and music,” explains Mr. Horton.


Choosing the right stuff

To capitalize on this intent-to-buy phenomenon and make one’s retail stand out from the competition, business owners must permeate the scent and music that will create a positive emotional response in their consumers. There is no quintessential scent or music. Instead, the “right” scent and music is relative to the retail environment. The reason: Consumers view retail environments holistically, says a study in the Journal of Retailing. therefore, if the lighting, color scheme, product offerings, scent or music is not in harmony with the other qualities of the retail environment, consumers are less likely to have a favorable reaction and make a purchase.

Brian Spittle, O.D., of The Eye Place Optometry, in Midlothian, Va., says that although the scent diffusers in his practice are hidden behind the optical boards, the scent wafts across the practice’s expansive entry and reception area. “We want it [the scent] to be consistent and barely noticeable,” he says. Scent and music consistency throughout one’s practice also makes sense when one considers that often times the buying conversation begins in areas other than in the optical, notes Gina Wesley, O.D., M.S., F.A.A.O., of Complete Eye Care of Medina in Medina, Minn., who is considering ambient scenting and music for her new office.

Research in The International Review of Retail, Distribution and Consumer Research shows that when ambient scent and music correspond with one another, in terms of stimulating qualities, consumers see the environment in a more positive light, display greater levels of approach and impulse buying vs. when these senses aren’t in sync. Specifically, floral shop consumers spent more money in the presence of love/romantic songs vs. in the presence of pop music or no music.

Further, the arousal levels of ambient scent and music must match to enhance the consumer’s shopping experience, says a study in the Journal of Retailing. That is, a retail environment that has a low arousal scent, such as lavender, and low arousal, or slow tempo, music garners higher consumer likeability than a retail environment that uses lavender with high arousal, or fast tempo, music.

“If your optical has a very serene look/mood, select a scent that emulates your brand values… using a signature scent with a different theme creates an emotional disconnect for the consumer,” explains Ms. Fabrigas. “This disconnect can result in consumers seeking the product elsewhere.”

Roger Dooley, author of Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing (Wiley, 2011) and president of Dooley Direct, LLC, a neuromarketing and web marketing company, uses music as an example. “If you’ve got a very trendy retail look, and you’re playing a Strauss waltz, that’s an inconsistent message to the customer.” See “Holiday Scent and Music,” page 76.)

Something else to keep in mind: Be careful about choosing scents that are easily identifiable with other areas of the consumer’s life, as those scents could have negative connotations, says Mark Signorin, director of Fragrance Development at ScentAir, a scent marketing company. “In Mexico City, for example, a top bathroom cleaner is scented with Lavender,” he explains. “So, if your retail establishment is in Mexico City, you don’t want to use this scent.” He says scent marketing companies have the research and ability to provide options that will work.

Dr. Grossett says her practice’s bathroom has a different fragrance for this very reason: “You don’t want someone associating the smell of your bathroom with your retail,” she explains.

Staff Effect

Employees in pleasant-scented environments have reported higher self-efficacy, have been shown more likely to employ efficient work strategies and set higher goals vs. those in non-scented conditions, says the book Olfaction, Taste, and Cognition (Cambridge University Press, 2002). Also, workers in pleasant-scented environments were more alert and had better outcomes on anagram and word-completion tests. Further, quality of work was lowest and time-on-task was longest sans music in a study on the effect of music on work behavior, shows a Psychology of Music study. Specifically, the author found that music improved work behavior because it improved mood.

As a result of these findings, it may be worth testing an array of scents on your staff to determine which they like best. in addition, consider enabling them to listen to their favorite music when not in direct contact with a patient. Of course, establish rules for listening, such as keeping individual volumes at a low level.


Sound designs

In addition to the importance of congruency, ambient music experts say retailers should employ good speaker distribution, be sensitive to lyrical content and avoid playing songs that exceed 4:00 minutes. (If a song is longer than this time it negatively effects dwell time and shopping experience, as it’s deemed repetitive.)

“Stereo systems are designed for the right and left ear,” explains Sean Horton, director of Music Strategy and Development for PlayNetwork, a sound and visual marketing company. “In a retail environment, there is no left and right side,” he explains. “As a result, you want a sound system that includes speakers — typically hung in a mono configuration — that are hitting each area with the same dispersion. You don’t want to have a dead spot or a loud spot because this can be disconcerting to the consumer’s retail experience.”

Noel Steen, creative director at Music Direction, a sound marketing company, agrees. “Multiple smaller speakers evenly distributed throughout the retail environment is optimal, as it creates a nice, even ambient sound.”

Lyrical content that contains references to alcohol, sex, drugs, religion, politics and violence can be offensive, causing your consumers to sing a different tune about your business, say those interviewed. In addition, you want to be sensitive to brand mentions, adds Mr. Horton. For instance, if an Oakley rep is in your optical, and Don Henley’s the “Boys of Summer,” which contains a line about Wayfarers, is playing, it’s not going to help your relationship with that company. This is one of the reasons he, among other sound marketing professionals, warns against using top 40 radio stations in retail.

“On most radio stations, a lot of airtime is filled by things that aren’t music,” explains Brian McKinley, senior vice president of Marketing and Creative services at Mood Media, a music, visual and scent marketing company. “There are D.J. segments and interruptions as well as ads that could be promoting the competition. You run the risk of inappropriate content — whether its music, ads or D.J. talk — that might offend or just not create the right mood.”

Mr. Horton adds that Top 40 radio in a “hip” retail environment sends the message that the retailer is “just kind of throwing in the towel instead of trying to do something original. Consumers want to hear something new. They want to hear emerging artists they’ve never heard of.” If a retailer can do this, he says, it creates an additional draw for the consumer. For example: “Let’s check out Eye on Eyes. They always play such cool music.”

Finally, keep in mind that, if the overall consumer experience stinks, figuratively speaking, the scent and music of your optical won’t make a difference. For instance, being told, ‘I’ll be with you when I’m off the phone with my boyfriend,” may strike a sour note with consumers. (See “Staff Effect,” page 78.)

“A scent can help promote loyalty, it isn’t necessarily the solution to it,” explains Mr. Signorin.

Sensitivity issues

Despite the benefits of using scent and sound in retail, research and sensory marketing professionals reveal potential negatives.

For instance, one study in the Journal of Environmental Health shows a significant percentage of the U.S. population reports adverse health effects or irritation from scented products, with higher numbers among asthmatics who have chemical sensitivities.

In addition, Diana Derval, president of research firm DervalResearch and author of The Right Sensory Mix: Targeting Consumer Product Development Scientifically (Springer, 2010), says music, at a certain frequency and amplitude, and synthetic scents can cause headaches, nausea and general discomfort. “Wrong scent and music can be really inconvenient, especially in an optical, where someone has to spend a set amount of time browsing, trying on frames, etc.,” she explains. “Color, on the other hand, can be used to attract the target customers into the outlet. I worked with an optical store on a marketing campaign, and we were able to attract nearsighted and farsighted customers for an eye consultation with flyers in specific colors.” (Ms. Derval presented the findings in a poster at a 2011 ARVO meeting titled “Lower-Order Aberrations and Relaxing Color in Young Chinese Adults.”)

Given the prevalence of allergy and asthma, in addition to conditions that cause auditory hypersensitivity, such as autism, it may be worth questioning your staff and examining your patient records for such conditions to determine the probability of success of adding ambient scent and music to your optical. Also, consider researching your choices of ambient scents and music and their likelihood of inducing negative reactions. Sensory marketing companies, for instance, say they take these issues into account when producing products for their clients.

Controlling the experience

Some of you are, no doubt, wondering whether proactively selecting an ambient scent and sound for your optical dispensary is a necessary investment.

“Your optical is going to have some sort of smell anyhow,” explains Alan Hirsch, M.D. (a neurologist and psychiatrist), F.A.C.P., director of the smell & taste treatment and research foundation. “The question is, are you going to use smell in a more judicious scientific manner to help facilitate the perception of your optical, the perception of you directly? Do you want to be able to control how you’re perceived by patients?”

Dr. spittle says, “If scents can potentially drive profits because people are more comfortable in the office, I really don’t see much of a downside.”

Mr. McKinley says that silence in a retail establishment is a “big mistake.” “It can make for a cold and lifeless shopping environment,” he says.

Examples of Scent Marketing Companies

Air Aroma:



DMX Scent:



Scent Marketing Institute:


Creating the experience

If you’re interested in adding scent and/or music to your optical, you have two options:

Do it yourself: Conduct research on aromatherapy, and use the scents that evoke the emotions that tie in to your retail environment, says Dr. Hirsch.

For instance, if your optical is high energy, you may want to consider using peppermint as your ambient scent, as it has been associated with alertness, energy, motivation and speed, say studies from Wheeling Jesuit University and Perceptual and Motor Skills. If your optical has a Zen-like environment, check out lavender, which promotes relaxation, says the Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand.

Examples of Sound Marketing Companies

Cloud Cover Music:

Dynamic Media:

Mood Media:

Mood Mixes:

Music Direction:


Prescriptive Music:

“Get some potpourri from the grocery store, or buy a liquid electric plug-in, and assess consumer reaction,” recommends Dr. Hirsch, “From there, you can always move up to one of the many scent systems on the market.” (Visit for guidelines on scent usage in a retail.)

With regard to music, companies, such as iTunes, Spotify and Pandora, enable one to create their retail’s soundtrack. Be aware that licensing fees are associated with retail music. For instance, The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers typically charges retail stores $200 to $300 per year for access to 8.5 million songs.

Hire a sensory marketing company. These companies boast expertise in coming up with the “right” scent and soundtrack for businesses, in addition to the ideal delivery and strength, with an eye on safety. Some scent marketing companies have scent libraries and portfolios based on personal fragrance business data, aromatherapy studies and past client surveys. Also, some can create, and have created, exclusive scents for an array of businesses to enhance brand identity. In terms of dispensing the scents, they offer various systems. (See “Examples of Scent Marketing Companies,” left.)

To determine the ideal scent for each business, scent marketing companies ask their clients a series of questions, such as “what is your brand about,” and “what emotions do you want your customers to feel?”

“There are many nuances to this process, which is an art as much as a science,” explains Roger Bensinger, EVP of Business Development at Air/Q, a division of Prolitec.

Sound Marketing companies work much the same way as their scent counterparts. Some have music supervisors who assess the retail environment and patron demographics, research the music charts, blogs and websites to acquire the “right” tunes. Also, they have music genre databases, and some supply media players. Further, they say they can facilitate music licensing fees for clients. (See “Examples of Sound Marketing Companies,” page 81.)

Now, hear this

While most O.D.s focus on their optical’s look, compelling data reveal ambient smell and sound play significant roles in retail success. Given this research and the fact that the AOA says 36% of gross receipts resulted from frames and lens sales in private and corporate O.D. practices in 2011, perhaps you should take a whiff of and a listen to the potential benefits of these senses in your optical. OM

Take Home Points

• Ambient scenting and music has been shown to increase consumer spending.

• The ambient scent and sound you use must create a positive emotional response.

• Some research and sensory marketing professionals reveal reservations about harnessing these senses.

• To add ambient scenting and sound to your optical, you can do it yourself, or hire a sensory marketing company.

Optometric Management, Volume: 48 , Issue: September 2013, page(s): 74 - 81