A FRESH TAKE ON THE ‘SENSURROUND’ EXPERIENCE
By WALTER SIM
TAKE a whiff when you next visit the Pan-Pacific Hotel and you may notice hints of musk and amber undertones as well as an intoxicating suggestion of watermelon and cedarwood topped with cardamom, nutmeg and orange. This is scent marketing at work.
The company behind these alluring scents — and often music to go with them — is a Singapore pioneer in what is called brand atmospherics. Equal Strategy assesses a client’s brand values and then sources the best music styles and fragrances to suit them.
All this may seem inconspicuous to the unassuming public, but chief executive Simon Faure-Field said it can be a powerful sensory tool in marketing.
“You choose the right ambience for a particular kind of customer, and the type of products or services you are offering,” said Mr Faure-Field, a 42-year-old Briton who has lived in Singapore since 1995. “It’s about maintaining a consistency without becoming monotonous. This has the power of affecting behaviour at a subconscious level. “When the music and smell is right, it can be reflective of the brand and it has the power to touch people.”
He said the right mix can differentiate five-star hotel brands. The firm incorporated Vivaldi’s music in the Starwood Luxury Collection hotel in Kuala Lumpur, for example, to reinforce its “opulent” and “commanding” brand message.
Last year, Equal Strategy, which employs about 15 people, recorded revenue of about $1 million. It charges clients on average $20 a day for the scents and between $10 and $30 daily for the music in each area of the complex. It has a portfolio of more than 130 clients locally and regionally – with 80 in the hospitality industry. These include brands such as Marina Bay Sands, the Resorts World group and the Starwood range of hotels like Sheraton, Westin and the W. It also works for Solaire in Manila, the newest integrated resort in Asia.
In Equal Strategy’s repertoire, a bewildering range of perfumes can be blended from over 40 ingredients, and matched with music from a collection of over 7.5 million licensed tracks.
“No two clients have the same scent and music profile,” said Mr Faure-Field. For the fragrances, he works with the “creme de Ia creme” of the perfumery industry – Drom in Germany, which designs for luxury brands such as Anna Sui, Gucci and Dunhill. And it boils right down to the details. Mr Faure-Field works with a company in the United States to produce detergents bearing the client’s scent so that there is no conflict with their signature fragrance.
Besides the hospitality industry, he also works with retail, energy and finance companies. In addition to the flagship office in Singapore, there are offices in Malaysia and Hong Kong, with Shanghai and Sydney offices in the pipeline. Mr Faure-Field, who is a business management graduate, took about a decade before he struck upon the winning formula of combining sound and scent.
The company, which was launched during the heart of the Asian financial crisis in 1998, focused on telephone marketing in its early days. “It was a time when everyone was trying not to spend any money,” he said. “But I strongly believed that a tea lady’s voice coupled with gaudy telephone music as the first point of contact with the customer would just turn them off.” He recounted meeting with a lot of resistance from sceptical companies – especially when “advertising agencies which were focused on above-the-line marketing became part of the meetings”. Above-the-line marketing refers to using the mass media to promote brands. But as the economy grew better, more companies came on board. The business was later expanded to physical spaces, and after learning about the powers of scent marketing at a meeting with branding guru Martin Lindstrom, Equal Strategy entered this market in 2005.
Mr Faure-Field, who also deejays and once had “(Formula 1 driver Fernando) Alonso dancing until 4 am”, counts his love for music as instrumental to being able to sift through the millions of tracks to find the right mix for each client.
He remains hungry for further successes. When asked what’s next for the company, he replied: “Besides entering more Asian markets, clients are taking us to more mature Western markets. “But I am looking into going into the digital signage business to develop a fully integrated, engaging sensory experience.”