Sensory turn in in management education

Based on our research projects we have been working on developing new teaching offerings from early on. A first attempt was the class Jimmy Schmid invited me to teach in his program on Environmental Communication Design. At this time we were happy to involve Ashraf Osman on this journey. Since 2015, the course on smell culture has been part of the contextual studies at the University of St.Gallen.  

More recently we have even been working on contributions to postgraduate management education. Last fall Bettina Rychener and Claus Noppeney have had the chance to develop and test courses (1-2 days) on leadership and team dynamics for Bern University of Applied Sciences. Smell & Leadership? How? Why? In fact, part of the session deals with the olfactory dimension at the workplace. This theme has recently also been explored by Samantha Warren und Cathleen Riach. The most recent publication on this theme is actually part of the edited volume: Designing with smell! But smell is also used as a perspective on leadership & management issues. Claus Noppeney shared some experiences at the IAO #ExperimentalScentSummit in Berlin in May 2017.

More recently, we have once again expanded the scope of our topics. This time we provided an alternative view on scent marketing that goes beyond the common “success stories” and prejudices. In fact, we took a consumer culture (CCT) approach and share numerous cases. In particular, we explored the potential one product and one olfactory note. Even this limitation allows the students to go on a journey crossing the boundaries of diverse products, services, failures and successes. 

Is there a role for scent in management education? We reflect in this interview on the approach and one specific case. The feedback is pretty encouraging:

Bildschirmfoto 2017-10-20 um 20.53.16

Thank a lot for the valuable feedback!

How Present is Scent Marketing?

Sensory and scent-marketing highlight how the sense of smell affects our everyday purchasing decisions. Accordingly, one expects an abundance of scented products in contemporary consumer culture. Yet, we can also witness an increasing awareness of multiple chemical sensitivities that might promote an opposite trend. This is the commercial context of a recent thesis submitted in the BBA International Program at Bern University of Applied Sciences by Jennifer Zwyer and supervised by Claus Noppeney: How prevalent is the sense of smell in today’s consumer culture? How prevalent are scented products on the shelf in supermarkets today? How openly is the olfactory status communicated to the consumer? Verbally? Visually?

How Present is Scent Marketing?

Scent & The Most Hated Retailer

Abercrombie & Fitch (A&F) has often been portrayed as an iconic case of scent marketing.  It was one of the first brands to make scent a crucial part of its identity.  Even Charles Spence, head of the Crossmodal Research Lab at Oxford, referred to A&F’s dominant multisensory experience as “very popular among younger shoppers“.  In fact, following the opening of its flagship store in Tokyo, A&F employees reported in online discussions that trucks drove around the area and sprayed the streets with its signature fragrance, ”Fierce”.

ILLUSTRATION : Universal Studios - Los Angeles - 14/04/2014

However, among critical consumers A&F has already long been discussed as a negative example of how retailers manipulate sight, smell, and sound to trigger purchase behavior in consumers. The secret power of subliminal forces backfired as a perception of manipulation. Even Time magazine popularized a study, which argues that the cologne sprayed throughout the stores actually causes consumer anxiety.  Building on the same study, a Fast Co. magazine even concluded that A&F should simply change its store signature scent.

This week, business media published the results of the most recent American Customer Satisfaction Index. A&F scored the lowest out of 22 specialty retailers. Forbes speaks of A&F as the most hated retailer in the US.  Much has been written about the brand’s problematic overtly sexual advertising. But what Forbes and other media do not talk about is the role of the prominent use of scent and its promotion in a large part of the business community. It is high time to get beyond gut feelings and naive beliefs about the use of scent in service settings.

Further Reading:

Spence, C., Puccinelli, N. M., Grewal, D., & Roggeveen, A. L. (2014). “Store Atmospherics: A Multisensory Perspective.” Psychology & Marketing, 31(7), 472–488.


A Nose for Innovation: A Bernese Tradition?

The city of Bern runs a lively blog that monthly discusses business related issues in the economic area of the Swiss capital. Through it, a diverse selection of people from business, culture, civil service and society engage in public discourse. In this context, Claus Noppeney identifies “olfactory milestones” in the remarkable history of the city and shows how this tradition leads to current product innovation. A Nose for Innovation: A Bernese Tradition?