Byravee Iyer
Aug 30, 2013

Banking on fragrance and music to attract customers

ASIA-PACIFIC - Don't be surprised to find your bank filled with the aroma of the finest white rose or citrusy tangerine while Beethoven plays in the background, as banks in the region are increasingly using music and fragrance to attract consumers and differentiate their brands.

UOB Bank sets a mood with specially crafted aromas and music
UOB Bank sets a mood with specially crafted aromas and music

According to Simon Faure-Field, CEO of customer experience company Equal Strategy, bland service centres, uninspiring bank branches and traditional displays are things of the past. While the banking sector has been slow to catch on, many banks are now keen to offer a differentiated offering by engaging a sense-based experience for their customers through fragrance and music.

The trend began about three years ago, noted Faure-Field. Today about 10 per cent of Faure-Field's 120 clients are from the banking sector. They include Standard-Chartered, CIMB, UOB, OCBC, Bank of Singapore and Straits Bullion.

“A bank branch is no longer seen as a destination for transacting business as quickly as possible,” said the 42-year-old CEO. “They have begun to style their interiors in a multi-dimensional way, which takes into account other senses in addition to the visible.”

Research has explored the effects of pleasant ambient stimuli such as music and scent on consumer reactions, he explained. “Consumers tend to rate the environment more positively, exhibit higher levels of approachability and impulse buying and admit to better satisfaction,” he said.

UOB Bank in Singapore decided to design its Privilege Reserve in the Marina Bay Financial Centre branch as a first-class lounge in a Boeing Dream Liner. It used a scent inspired by the essence of Bergamot and a playlist of different genres to suit the themes of its varied meeting rooms. Standard-Chartered in Hong Kong was one of the first banks to opt for specially crafted fragrances to reposition its Lan Kwai Fong branch. The brand chose the fragrances based on its Indian and African heritage. Standard-Chartered has now extended the use of fragrance and music to its Pudong and Shenzen branches.

A tour of Citibank Singapore’s Citigold Private Client lounge, which services high-net-worth individuals, revealed an exclusive environment using fragrances and music. The back has even gone a step further and gifted customers a diffuser set containing the same scent. “This way when they use this at home, Citibank will be top of mind for them,” Faure-Field said.

He added that banks in Malaysia are also showing interest in sensory branding. CIMB Malaysia and OCBC Malaysia have implemented fragrance styling private banking suites. Campaign Asia-Pacific contacted UOB and OCBC for the purpose of this story, but neither responded by press time.

Faure-Field said Equal Strategy has also done extensive work for another leading Southeast Asian bank, but he declined to name it citing a non-disclosure agreement.  

To be sure, sensory branding is by and large used in spaces that service high-end customers. Faure-Field admitted that mass market retail banking is yet to implement this kind of marketing, with CIMB being the exception.

The brief for the theme usually comes from the client. Faure-Field sits in on several of the client meetings figuring out a company’s objectives. It’s important to know what the company wants the desired experience to be, their key business objectives, how their brand is currently perceived and finally what competitors are doing. Details such as brand values, area concept, mood associations, race, culture, international exposure of consumers, and sophistication of the target audience are also kept in mind. “Even the little details are important for us as reference points,” Faure-Field said.

Based on that information, Faure-Field and his team set out a strategy. After shortlisting the most appropriate aromas he sends a brief to Drom, a fragrance house based in Germany. “It is no longer about the old fashioned squirt machine," he said. "Consumers are seeking signature fragrances so the scent is unique to their brand.”

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