The last time you were in a hotel, what did it smell like? Do you recall any sounds? While I think sensory branding is important for all businesses, hotels have a particularly strong opportunity to practice it. After all, their customers enter the hotel environment completely, providing plenty of opportunities to both delight the senses of the guests and provide consistent branding cues. Of course, all too often hotels do the reverse, assaulting guests with unpleasant odors, noisy ice machines and hallways, and other elements that detract from brand perception.

At least one hotel chain, Starwood’s Le Méridien, is putting serious effort into a memorable and consistent sensory experience:

When you step in to any of the eight Le Meridien hotels in India, indeed any in the world, you should be able to smell almost as soon as you step into the lobby — emerging through a portal, an art work usually, at the hotel entrance — a peculiar scent of old books and parchment in a library. The scent machines in the lobby, not always visible except to the most discerning of the guests, are there to get you in the “right frame of mind” in sync with the hotel chain’s positioning as a destination for “guests who seek out a new perspective and cultural discovery in their travel experience”.

As you step into the lift, there will be more such psychological tinkering. The music that you may hear in the elevator would most likely not be the usual piped strains that you come across at other places. Instead, it may include the sound of “horses galloping in water” — unusual enough for you to talk about it later with the barman! And finally, when you take out your room key it may enable you not just to unlock your hotel room but also a museum or art gallery in the city. [From the Business Standard (India) - Tweaked to please by Anoothi Vishal.]

The approach taken by Starwood is quite different. Most of the examples of olfactory branding tend to fall into either the product category (e.g., coffee aromas for coffee shops) or conventional perfume-type scents (like Singapore Airlines). Piping “old books and parchment” into a stylish and modern hotel lobby is quite unexpected, though it is certainly distinctive. Ditto for their auditory branding. Instead of a conventional piece of music (think United Airlines and Rhapsody in Blue), “horses galloping in water” is different indeed.

The only downside I see to these elements of sensory branding is that they may be a bit harder to extend across an entire marketing program. United Airlines has repurposed its signature music in endless ways – television commercials, ambient background music at airports, and so on. Sadly for Gershwin lovers, it’s hard to hear Rhapsody today without thinking of United. “Galloping horses” may be not quite as effective, and it’s unlikely that anyone will leave the elevator humming the sound.

The Le Meridien elevator music is actually a 24-hour sound track composed by Henri Scars Struck, who, with 20 musicians around the globe, composed and performed the massive piece. The objective of the unusual elevator music seems to be less oriented to creating an earworm and more to being noticed. Struck says,

“When the business guy who just did 10 meetings in a day arrives at the hotel, all he can dream of is room service and sleep,” he says. “We want to reset his mind!” [From FastCompany - Créme de la Curator by Danielle Sacks.]

Le Meridien’s use of sensory marketing to enhance their brand is indeed interesting – have any Neuromarketing readers visited one of their properties lately, and actually experienced these sounds and smells?

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