The Design of the Scent-ury

Almost without fail, the last thing anyone … even experienced exhibit designers … think about is what your exhibit smells like. Even now, after reading that last line you’re wondering where can I possibly be going with this?

For a moment, stop. Close your eyes and put yourself in a place you can recall by smell. I can easily recall the smell of baking bread with my grandmother, my grandfather’s pipe tobacco, apple orchards and burning pine needles in the fall at our family cottage. It’s amazing how well you can mentally recreate the smell without really having it available. Equally amazing is how a smell you encounter can trigger a memory. My mom used to decorate cakes for fun, and when we were kids she would make all kinds of fun cakes for birthdays and holidays. I can’t smell buttercream frosting anymore without seeing my favorite sailboat cake … chocolate buttercream frosting, coconut on the sail and peppermint ring candies for portholes (seriously, it’s pretty stellar) … and I haven’t had one in nearly 35 years (mental note: put in order with mom). Why does it work that way, and how does it relate to exhibiting?

Design of the Scent-ury


Let’s start with the best understanding we have of “why.” Science has discovered that the sense of smell is handled in the olfactory bulb in your brain which is closely connected to your amygdala and hippocampus. These two regions of your brain handle memory and emotion. Before the sense makes it to your thalamus to be run through your brain’s “processor,” it interacts with your memory and emotion regions.


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Okay, that covers the “Thank you, Mr. Wizard” portion of this article. How does this relate then to exhibiting? When you’re interacting with attendees on the show floor, how much value is it to you to make an emotional and memorable impact? See that connection? Most of us manage to engage our prospects visually. And in many cases we find ways to talk with them and engage the auditory sense. According to some studies, you can achieve a 70% increase in brand impact when you trigger three out of five senses. And particularly if you can trigger smell because it connects so directly to memory and emotion. Research tells us that ambient scents increase positive product ratings by 25%. That same research suggests that people linger in places that smell nice 40% longer and that the intent to purchase can be increased by nearly 80%. If we can attach an aroma to something, we’re 100 times more likely to remember it than if we see it, touch it or hear it.

Imagine on the trade show floor, through all of the hustle and bustle you manage to attract attendees to come visit your exhibit. You really want to reinforce the idea that your company is trustworthy and takes the hassle and errors out of your customers’ way. So, as people enter your exhibit they are immediately introduced to the smell of Lavender or Jasmine. Either of these essential oil scents have been shown to calm nerves and reduce emotional stress. Both have been shown to address headaches and migraines, and Jasmine has some uplifting properties that can help boost confidence, optimism and revitalized energy. Almost immediately through the sense of smell, you’re imprinting the exact message you were going for and giving your visitors a boost to take on the rest of the show. How much of an impact would it be if over half of the people leaving your exhibit felt better than when they entered it? Imagine being able to boost people’s memory of your exhibit by over 60%, and impact them in such a positive way. That’s some pretty spectacular power to achieve for a marketer.


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Erik Koglin

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Erik Koglin

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