Scents: A New Client Development Tool?

Scents: the new client development tool.  Well, why not?

This week’s Economist discusses how odors–even faint ones– are proven to influence our judgments about other people.  Scents and Sensitivity describes a study in which participants reacted to photos of other people and rated their “likeability” while smelling even undetectable traces of various odors (both pleasant and unpleasant).  The undetectable bad odors negatively influenced how the participants felt about the people in the photos, whereas pleasant odors created a positive reaction.

So, if you want other people to like you–especially potential clients–should you alter your scent for a desired response? According to the article,  the study shows how scent can be used as a “powerful method of manipulation” in the business context. It suggests that business people might increase the success of their meetings by releasing small amounts of pleasant scent into their conference rooms.

So, could an attorney increase his or her rainmaking by wearing a pleasing scent? Perhaps.  If so, how can a lawyer determine which scents will appeal to which potential clients? 

A person’s cultural background may impact which scents smell pleasing.  To take a common example from the field of cuisine, the smell of juicy steaks likely appeals to beef-loving Americans but repels many Hindu Indian nationals.

Of course, a client’s personal preference will influence what he/she finds appealing, and there is no guaranteed way to know a potential client’s scent preferences–without asking. However, here are some rules of thumb about using perfumes and cologne:

1.  Do not wear too much.  If you fear that you have doused yourself too enthusiastically, ask a neutral third party (spouse, colleague, hotel concierge etc…) before entering a client gathering. Remove some in the bathroom before entering the event.

2. Women (and men) should avoid overly floral scents at business gatherings. Floral scents suggest femininity; while this is not bad, it may reinforce certain stereotypes.  Opt for a pleasing but gender neutral scent (like one produced by Hermes), or at least perfumes that is not excessively floral. 

3. As a general rule, scents with hints of citrus are considered pleasing in most cultures.

4. If you will be interacting with people from a culture that is unfamiliar to you, gather advance feedback about appropriate dress–and even scents.  Call (anonymously if you wish) embassy personnel or someone else familiar with that culture.

As long as it captivates others, why not add scent to your ainmaking toolkit?

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