Banking—a new scented space, kind of…

Today I experienced one of the worst scented spaces I’ve encountered to date. I was standing in line at my local bank, prepared to discuss some issues with the teller and out of nowhere I heard a soft “psst”. The next thing I knew, a foul rendition of a tropical suntan lotion/pina colada aroma seeped into the room. It was the kind of aroma you find in a truck stop restroom along the highway.

I stood there in amazement. I bank with one of the top five chartered banks in Canada, The Bank of Montreal. This institution was founded in 1817, which makes it the oldest Canadian bank. It is the fifth largest in Canada and is a major international bank with over 1100 offices worldwide. For Canada, the BMO is an iconic brand.

As I have discussed in the past, scent design is used primarily to enhance a space. I understand why scent is a strategic branding initiative for a company such as the BMO. Scent can help reduce the anxiety a consumer may experience while waiting in line to see a teller. The current economic situation has caused consumers to feel anxious and many do not trust banks in general. Thus, a scent can add feelings of comfort and trust to the psychological association with the bank. Furthermore, the iconic color scheme of the BMO, which is primarily blue, can enhance the sensory effect by adding a calm, soothing element of tranquility. These feelings can easily be translated by a fragrance combination, but I am baffled as to why this brand would choose tropical sun tan lotion with a quality so pathetic as to induce sickness to achieve such a purpose.

I have smelled successful campaigns in which scent and banking mix harmoniously. My colleague Simon Harpo completed a project with Helm Financial Institute located in Columbia, South America. The focus of the project was to capture various sensory aspects that would reflect the values of the brand. The project took 2 years to implement. Simon’s team assisted the company through the entire process matching the sights, sounds, smells, and feel of the brand capturing all elements and truly reflecting the client’s wishes. The client was so satisfied that they offered a testimony broadcast on youtube.

Simon’s focus is similar to mine:

“We take the brand values, personality and any big brand idea and create expressions which are sensory interpretations of these values and the emotions they are intended to communicate to the target audience. In this way all sensory attributes are congruent with the brand promise and are fully coherent with each other. This also ensures brand expressions which are ‘smashable’ or ‘ownable’ and can be used to differentiate and build loyalty.”

My issue with the BMO’s fragrance choice is simply that the aroma of tropical coconut does not appear to reflect any of the values of the Bank of Montreal. As this poor quality product (and as a trained evaluator I am referring to the quality of the fragrance) fills the space in the bank, it is accompanied by a horrible spraying sound. Liquid diffusion or aerosol diffusion does not send a positive green message; liquid diffusion is actually being banned in some countries (Germany for example). The appropriate form of diffusion is dry diffusion. This is when the aroma diffuses naturally within a space through evaporation creating an appropriate scent trail—a subtle message that captures the brand’s identity.

If I were to improve the scent and capture the BMO brand message, I would begin with the color of their logo and the visual sharpness of their message. The top notes would consist of crisp, fresh accords that represent alertness—“Making money makes sense”—simple and clear. I would then add a cocooning security element and tie in the freshness of home elements. I would use aromas that translate the message that consumers’ money is safe with their bank—“It’s your money; keep it that way” or “100% security is a good place to start.”

Capturing the brand’s message with fragrance is a fundamental atmospheric decision. Combined with the visual messages presented on the digital monitors located in the branch, an appropriate fragrance may help consumers feel better about having to wait over 15 minutes to speak to a teller. Not to mention that such a fragrance would have captured my attention instead of making me plug my nose and wish to God that I was anywhere but the bank!

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