Aroma-first thinking

What’s the first thing you notice when you approach a Starbucks store? Almost always, it’s the aroma. Even non-coffee drinkers love the smell of brewing coffee. It’s heady, rich, full-bodied, dark, suggestive. Aroma triggers memories more strong than any of the other senses, and it obviously plays a major role in attracting people to our stores.

Keeping that coffee aroma pure is no easy task. Because coffee beans have a bad tendency to absorb odors, we banned smoking in our stores years before it became a national trend. We ask our partners to refrain from using perfume and cologne. We won’t sell chemically flavored coffee beans. We won’t sell soup, sliced pastrami, or cooked food. We want you to smell coffee only. [Solving Starbucks Problems, Idea Sandbox]

However, since Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz said this, things have changed. Coffee comes pre-ground, “FlavorLock” packaged for a longer life and, in some regions, food is being cooked within the store. The smell of fresh coffee, which used to wrap itself around you, inviting you inside, isn’t as omnipresent as before. Where’s the aroma? Where’s the theatre of beans being ground daily in front of you?

There’s no use pretending, human beings are all but rational, and your products need to have a spark that makes us feel special – whether it’s the aroma wafting from your bakery or coffee shop, the handcrafted feel of your beauty products or the shine of your electronics.

What are the key emotional deciding factors for your product or service? Why did your customers cross your doorstep the first time?

No aroma, or no enticing factor, means that no new customers being led in, but it also means no emotional reminder for your previously loyal users. The business decisions you make shouldn’t steer you away from the source of that emotional tie. Your Aroma doesn’t have an ROI attached to it, but you need to take it in account when making decisions. Don’t compromise on it.

We love to believe in stories that match our worldview. We like to buy from our local cheese shop rather than buying it pre-packed from the supermarket, even if it involves going out of our way on the way home. It’s more “real” and we feel we’re helping local business. Sometimes, that worldview is a romanticised truth. We like to think of Starbucks as fair trade, even though most people order regular non fair trade coffee.

It makes us all fuzzy inside.

So how does your product make users feel fuzzy inside like the smell of fresh brewed coffee in the morning?

[Note: This post was salvaged from a project I started last year I never fully set live, so you may have spotted it before… Still as relevant as ever, though.]

2 thoughts on “Aroma-first thinking

  1. Paul (from Idea Sandbox)

    Thanks for finding Idea Sandbox, and commenting and linking to the post about Starbucks and Aroma.

    You’re right… You can’t quantify the ROI of scent, nevertheless… Appealing to all the senses possible to surround your customer in a pleasant experience has a dramatic impact.

    (By the way… while most of Starbucks coffee isn’t Fair Trade, Starbucks trades fairly with its farmers. It’s a mis-perception that the only “beneficial” coffee is Fair Trade. Fair Trade coffee isn’t necessarily good or quality coffee, either.

    Starbucks, from the beginning, has always treated farmers as partners.

    Fair Trade was invented to protect farmers from the HUGE coffee roasting companies (Maxwell House, Folgers) who used to buy coffee sight-unseen for as cheaply as they possibly could.

    It’s hard to protest Maxwell House (where do I stand with my protest sign, Aisle 8 of the grocery store?)… So Starbucks became an easy target.

    Starbucks hasn’t done a good job telling their coffee story. They should have announced that Starbucks Coffee is Fairer Trade… or Fairest Trade coffee and that Fair Trade is a great company, but that customers can feel good about every cup of every coffee at Starbucks because they treat the farmer as a friend and partner, not someone to exploit.


    I worked for Starbucks for 9-years and was always disappointed that they didn’t blare the story to the world.

    Thanks for the link, Vero!

  2. Moof

    I love walking into the Chocolat Factory store in Palma. It’s a store you have to walk down a ramp and through a perfectly-timed sliding glass door to get into, there’s still some sunlight, but it’s muted, as the store is about a metre under pavement level, it’s air conditioned (naturally), and it’s full of stuff that is incredibly bad for you, in a good way, and stunningly packaged, to boot.

    The thing is, I don’t have quite the same attachment to the other two chocolat factory stores I know, one in a shopping centre in Palma, and one in Barcelona airport.

    And I worked out why when talking to one of the store clerks. As you walk in to the shop, you get this overpowering smell of chocolate. It actually comes from some stale chocolate sitting in a fondue pot out of the way behind the counter, which gets replenished every now and then. It’s a rich, heady aroma, that promises good things, and means that the fact most of the products are prepackaged doesn’t affect you so much.

    The ones in the shopping centre and airport have constantly open roller blinds, so people don’t have to open a door when walking in, it’s part of the house style of both of the places. As such, they either don’t have the melted chocolate in the background, as it annoys the traders next door, or the HVAC is far too efficient.

    It’s just not the same. I certianly don’t spend anywhere near as much there.

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