How to create your own brand ‘smell’

There’s something in the air in the Cathay Pacific lounges – a new signature scent. But how do you decide what a brand smells like?

We can trust our sense of smell. It’s the most reliable sense we have, and there’s a powerful link between smell and memory: at some stage we’ve all caught a whiff of something that transports us to another time or place.

Canny retailers already know that we are led by our nose, using tactics such as flooding stores with the smell of freshly baked bread to stimulate our appetites – and likelihood to purchase. But creating a signature scent that marries our memory to something as conceptual as a brand is a more complex issue. After all, what are the components of a signature scent for Cathay Pacific? How do you make it memorable?

Passengers at the lounges at Hong Kong International Airport and the new lounge at London Heathrow Airport will meet Cathay Pacific’s signature fragrance, Discover. It will mark the beginning of the lounge experience, alongside signage and greeting from the lounge staff.

Lavender rose petal composition
Credits: Left: Paul Edmondson/Mint Images/Getty Images. Right: Sacco & Watt / Gallery Stock / Snapper Media

‘The sense of smell stimulates the memory better than any of the other senses,’ says Sabrina Klick, worldwide lounges manager at Cathay Pacific. ‘We are trying to make use of that psychological phenomenon.’

Klick’s background is in luxury hotels – many of which have been working on signature scents for a number of years, either by creating a fragrance for public areas or in branded bottles for guests to take home. ‘A lot of hotel chains have attached a signature scent to their brands,’ she adds. ‘When you walk into the lobby, the scent triggers memories and associations. Hopefully over time, passengers will associate this new fragrance with Cathay Pacific in the same way.’

The Cathay Pacific product team asked scent specialist Air Aroma to connect the airline’s brand pillars – contemporary Asian, heartfelt warmth, considered simplicity and the joy of discovery – with the lounge experience.

Air Aroma account and marketing manager Maggie Kyle says: ‘We began the process of designing the Cathay Pacific signature fragrance note by note, using the brand pillars as inspiration and the lounges’ mood and materials, including warm lighting, natural woods, onyx, limestone and bronze.’

Air Aroma’s speciality, alongside sourcing and blending the individual ingredients for the essential oil, is mapping them using Kansei engineering, which connects people’s emotional responses to the characteristics of a product. In that way, it is possible to map a brand’s signature scent against others – say that of a hotel chain – and place it in a grid, using keywords such as ‘excitement’ or ‘sophistication’, for example.

Klick says: ‘Originally, Air Aroma came back with a handful of fragrances reflecting the Cathay Pacific brand values, and explained them using a map of words showing where the brand fitted in the Kansei table.’ Eventually, Cathay Pacific fragrance ‘number seven’ met with approval, and the name Discover was chosen. So what is in it?

Kyle says: ‘The fragrance opens with refreshing elements from Asian cultures: scents of tea leaves and bamboo. Then there’s a gentle wave of cedar wood and white musk, complementing the natural materials of the lounge interiors and inspired by the heartfelt warmth of service and sincerity associated with the brand.

‘There is also a touch of relaxing lavender, to convey a sense of purpose to the lounge experience, and it finishes with an inspiring mix of juniper berry and jasmine to excite the senses, evoking feelings of delight and vibrancy, which are reminiscent of the joy of discovery.’

Discover will be used as part of the welcome experience of the lounge, not throughout, as Klick explains. ‘You come out of the lifts, you see the desk, the warm smiles of our staff and the scent will add to the experience as you go into the lounge,’ she says.

When people have noticed the fragrance, the feedback has been positive – although it will take time for it to embed itself in our memories. Klick adds: ‘Some of the hotels that use signature scents have hundreds of properties, so the scent is more anticipated, while at the moment we only have 6,000 passengers a day who are experiencing ours.’

This number will grow with the recent opening of the new London Heathrow Airport lounge. You’ll know when it’s happened: just sniff.

Cathay Travell Book


Discovery online brings together all the inspirational travel writing from our two inflight magazines, Discovery and Silkroad. Be sure to look out for the print editions when you next fly with Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon.
Discovery Book Silkroad Book