I just finished watching my first “scented webinar” – an educational/marketing production hosted by Tracy Pepe of Nose Knows Consulting. The subject was considerations and effectiveness of scent-based marketing for both business and consumer target audiences. Although I found the content interesting and thought provoking, that’s not what I’m here to write about. I’m not a scent marketer.
I was interested in whether the use of scent in a webinar setting would prove effective, and I wanted to see how Nose Knows would handle the logistics. The company took this webinar very seriously. They made sure to send registrants several emails ahead of time, detailing what to expect and when to expect it.
A few days before the event, we received a padded bubble pack mailer with a fancy printed instruction card that also detailed additional webinars in the series. There was a smaller postcard marketing glossy and our scent generators (provided by third party sponsors eager to show off their scent delivery products to prospective customers).
One of the scent gadgets was a little plastic pouch with a slit cut in it. Squeezing the pouch blew a puff of scented air. I found that it took some experimentation to find an optimal distance from my nose where the scent was clear but not overwhelming.
The second gadget was a plastic USB stick (just like the flash memory drives you are familiar with). The plastic case was empty, with a hinged flap that opened to reveal space for a little foam pad. You place the pad inside the case and close the flap. Then you place a few drops of special scent liquid on the pad through a hole in the case. When you stick the device in your computer’s USB slot, it heats up, releasing the aroma of the liquid. I wasn’t quite as happy with the performance of this device. It was hard to figure out the optimal amount of liquid to place on the pad, the tiny bottle of provided liquid didn’t want to dispense properly, and the plastic heater got really hot… I couldn’t leave my hand on it while plugged in and I wasn’t entirely comfortable having that hot item resting next to the plastic case of my laptop!
I did notice that immediately upon opening my items and without even trying to generate scents, I was hit with that “Woman’s Fashion Magazine” sensation of overly concentrated mixes of smells assaulting my olfactory receptors. Then I started playing with each of them individually to try to isolate the aromas. And I decided I didn’t particularly like the USB smell.
It turned out that Tracy made this exact point after we got underway… The combination of scents in the USB liquid were notes that are often used and that individuals may like, but can produce negative reactions in the larger populace. I found myself wondering though whether the initial negative reaction from attendees might not produce a negative halo effect associated with the webinar and with her company as a provider.
The other problem with the USB device was that it produced an overall area effect that stayed present the entire time. Tracy couldn’t turn on and off the experience for her audience to match the points she was trying to make as a speaker. Even when we were done talking about the base, mid, and top-level notes of the smells she was demonstrating, my office still smelled a lot perfumier than I wanted. I pity the coworkers of people watching this in a cubicle environment!
The puff pouch was much easier to link to a specific point in the webinar. Tracy could tell the audience to take a whiff while she talked about something related to it. The smell didn’t linger and as I mentioned, I could control intensity simply by changing the distance to my nose. But I felt that Tracy might have been more explicit on setting up exactly what we should take away from the pouch scent experience. She basically told us to have our pouches handy while watching a short streaming video. But the video didn’t directly relate to the provided scent. I usually advise speakers to make the connection explicit for audience members so they are primed for what they should know or believe once the factual points have been made. In this case, I wanted a summary of exactly why that scent had been provided and why we were using it at that point in the webinar.
It was an interesting experiment and I can certainly see how it’s beneficial to provide a tangible common experience for audience members when talking about something as ethereal as odors. It makes sense for Tracy and others in the aroma industry to give audiences a practical demonstration of the webinar concepts being discussed. Would I want to use these devices myself for a webinar not associated with smell as the topic of discussion? In most cases I would have to say no. The drawbacks are:
- Forcing early registration deadlines. You need enough time to send people their materials.
- Mailing costs. Obviously you have to provide, package, and post the scent generators to each registrant. But if you charge for your webinar you can pass this cost along.
- Relying on audience actions. You have to trust that attendees have their scent generators at hand and are comfortable getting them set up. The puff pouch is a big winner here. And you have to separate their casual use while playing with the devices from specific use while you are making a related point involving the smells.
- Follow-on dissatisfaction. It’s now an hour since the end of the webinar and my office still smells strongly. I could see attendees getting tired of the lingering aftereffects.
I’m happy to see there are still new frontiers to be explored in online collaboration. I commend Nose Knows Consulting for taking the time and effort to put together something unique in the now ubiquitous world of marketing webinars. But next time, could you send me a pouch that smells like candy?