The scents of our lives – protecting our ‘scent heritage’

Scent Heritage

Have we ever thought about protecting our ‘scent heritage’?

In the aircare industry, we are obsessed with finding that new smell, the one that will appeal to everyone and one that has that ‘wow’ factor. Smell is a big business and I’ve spoken in the past about how facilities managers are now realizing the power of scent to appeal to their customers.

The fact is, smell is a very personal thing and not everyone will love the same scent. But it does seem as if we humans are programmed to like, or at least tolerate, certain natural fragrances. There are scents which generally speaking are ‘nice’ for everyone. Citrus is a classic example – it is an inoffensive, fresh scent that is generally tolerated by everyone. That’s why citrus is a popular fragrance choice for public places like restrooms. Often, the most loved fragrances come from natural ingredients like citrus and lavender, which have been around for thousands of years.

But what about man-made scents? I think we would all agree that the smell of artificial strawberry is nowhere near as nice as the real thing. However, new technologies mean we are coming closer and closer to being able to recreate natural smells using more natural ingredients. And some man-made scents are really popular – like leather and tobacco.

So what about the future? How about scent heritage? 

The beauty of natural scents is that most of them will be around in the near future. Lavender is likely to still be growing in 100 years’ time. But what about man-made scents? Can they go extinct? Sadly they can, which is why a researcher called Cecilia Bembibre at the UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage in the UK is on a mission to save scents from extinction and save our scent heritage.

Interestingly, in 2003, Unesco adopted a convention to ‘safeguard intangible cultural heritage’, which includes social practices, oral traditions and performing arts. None of this however mentioned scents.

I would agree with Cecilia though, that scents are worth protecting. When we create our fragrances for our industries, whether it be facilities management, cleaning, or hospitality, we are creating an ‘experience’ which is intended to conjure up emotions and positive memories. All the smells of our childhood – whether that be an open fire or an old paperback book – are part of our ‘intangible heritage’.

They are part of our history yet when they are no longer being produced, they will be lost forever. Museums collect artefacts for us to see and objects for us to touch. They collect sounds for us to hear and cook food for us to taste. But they don’t collect scents for us to smell.

Scent heritage

For Cecilia though, the smell of an old book is important. She is developing different techniques to recover “extinct” scents from the past and to preserve those around today so that we can look back on our scent heritage in the future.

It’s a facet of heritage that is often, quite literally, overlooked. “The proposals made by cultural heritage spaces such as galleries, museums, historic houses, are mostly focused on the sight,” says Bembibre. “The engagement they propose tends to be visual. With some exceptions, the stimulation of senses, like the objects that can be touched or smelled, is reserved for children.”

Bembibre is trying to rectify that neglect of scent. “I wanted to address an issue that has been researched quite little – that has to do with smells as the olfactory heritage of humanity.”

Scent heritage – opportunities for the cleaning & FM industry?

As Cecilia suggests, there is much more to scent than just a smell. Scents are about memories and experiences. This ties directly into a key marketing trend for many businesses – customer experiences (also known as CX). Customer experiences are all about looking at the lifecycle of your customer and mapping all the ‘touch points’ (or connections) that they have with your business, and ensuring that at every point, they have a good experience. Scent can play a key part in this.

Venues are having to look at experiences to encourage guests to attend, especially those in the retail sector for example, who are battling against the online stores. Scent is a great marketing tool and if customers have had a wonderful experience, they are likely to share their feelings with their wider networks – remember, no online store can currently use scent as an experience as a way of enticing customers onto their platform or website.

What better way to celebrate a company’s heritage than with a classic scent reminiscent of the time that the company was founded. Some museums, for example wartime ones, have used scent to try and recreate the experience of being at war – think of gun smoke, gun powder, coal fire, damp and dust.

The more we think of our scent heritage, and as a way of enhancing our customers’ experiences (both now and in the future), the more opportunities we have to truly connect with our customers.

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