Micheal Seay

. March 12, 2013.

Figuring out a brand’s look is one thing. Figuring out how it smells is another altogether more complicated — and interesting — challenge.

In the unusual world of aroma marketing, figures like Toledoan Michael Seay command top dollar to create customized fragrances for a client’s business, unlocking a golden money-making opportunity in the process. As director of sensory marketing at SensoryMax (part of Toledoan Jerry Brown’s Madison Avenue Marketing Group, formerly Business Voice), Seay creates customized fragrances for a long and prestigious client list, from luxury car manufactures to bank chains. We spoke with Seay about “tuning a room,” how an attorney’s office should smell, and finding Toledo’s signature scent.

How does one get into the business of selling smells?
When I first discovered aroma marketing several years ago, it was one of those things I found amazing. There was customer demand in Toledo, and Madison Avenue Marketing Group realized early on, before I joined, that it was where we need to grow. Psychologically I like the affect  — I like being able to take someone’s brand and elevating it. For so long it’s been visual and audio. Now it’s scent. Before this job, I spent 12 years at Buckeye Telesystem. I was selling the inanimate there, too. I still had to create the experience.

What sets SensoryMax apart from the other people in the aroma game?
We treat your scent as your logo — it represents your brand. We’re the only ones treating it that way. For Ocean Bank in Miami, we recreated the smell of the ocean. Now they’re doing pens with that scent. But it’s not always trying to sell you something. We’re using it in cancer and MRI centers to bring down anxiety. It reduced their appointment cancellation rate by 50 percent — pumping in lavender and vanilla scents created a calming effect.

People might think that aroma marketing is some sort of voodoo they don’t understand.
There’s a blog post that I read that said as soon as you smell citrus in a retail store, get out. Because citrus inspires you to spend more. I saw a guy — and he must’ve been in the industry — who had the best response to that. He said “What about the lighting? What about the way they space the hangers meticulously?” It’s all part of the brand experience.

Fragrance is tied to memory. How does that impact your work?
95 percent of your recall is based on scent. You smell chocolate chip cookies and you think of grandma putting them on the table. We had a legal office chain that used that scent, which worked great for them, but of course now they offer the cookies too, because the one thing you don’t want to do is have the smell of a food and not have it available.  That was a question that we had to really think about — what’s the smell of a lawyer?

Aroma marketing involves ‘tuning a room.’ What does that mean?
It’s making sure the scent is not overpowering; you’re not going to walk in and be slapped in the face with it. An example of not tuning a room is Bath and Body Works. You walk in there and you get slapped in the face with scent — which is not a bad thing for them. But if you walked into a bank and that happened, it’s not a good thing.

What is Toledo’s scent?
That’s one initiative I want to engage folks in Toledo about. I’m hoping to strategically have a way to smell and vote around the area. From a tourism aspect, it’s great if you can develop a scent for a city.