When Scent Marketing Stinks: Four Points by Sheraton

I had an experience this week that serves as a great follow up to my previous article on scent marketing. Right now, I'm in San Francisco. I have been staying at the Four Points by Sheraton at the SFO Airport and commuting between downtown and San Jose.

Upon entering my hotel, I immediately noticed the scent of pie wafting from the lobby. In fact, the was pervasive in every corridor, inside my room, even outside the hotel and it didn't take long to suspect scent technology at work.

But first, I had to ask if they had pie at the restaurant. The waiter answered "only sometimes." Interested in how this related to the scent technology use, I inquired about the scent with the manager. He reluctantly admitted that Four Points is using scent technology to create a more home-like and welcoming atmosphere.

Oooh. Okay. Interesting. But here's what I noticed after four days...

  • The smell made me hungry
  • When I learned they had no pie, I then felt cheated!
  • The smell eventually became annoying - especially when I was not hungry. You know how you feel after you've eaten and the smell of your empty plate or leftovers turns you off? Yech.
  • The smell, combined with the stainless steel cleaner they used in the elevator, created a smell similar to that of VOMIT. That's not welcoming at all.

    Okay, so good for Sheraton for wanting to create a more "home like and welcoming" envorinment. The thing is, this goes to show that a comforting smell itself isn't without some drawbacks. Further, smell alone isn't going to create the home like experience.

    There's no doubt, smell can be terrific for memory recall - and can be used to reinforce experience. But what heppens when the experience fundamentals are missing and smell reinforces bad experience? Let's talk about a few of the fundmamentals gone wrong at this hotel:

    Getting Settled.

  • The parking garage below the hotel has elevator access. Bad News: It is locked during the day! Those who have no room key must schlep out of the garage, up the hill, and around the building to the upstairs lobby carrying all their stuff. Grrr

  • Walk in and you're immediately confronted with a fancy set of five stairs with a curved facade.... separated by a brass railing. There's no ramp (although there's a lift for handicapped guests). This seems to defy logic since most people checking into a hotel are carrying luggage.

  • Upon entering my King Suite, I was confronted by about 15 more, rather narrow stairs that led to my sleeping loft. All I wanted to do was to find a bathroom and crash for a minute. Instead, I ended up hefting luggage up the steep incline to my sleeping quarters.

    How about a cold, clammy bath?

  • For some reason, the company insisted on installing SPRINGS on all bathroom doors, which forced them to close behind you. I could not hear the phone or anything going on downstairs from inside the bathroom. I was forced to prop the door open with a trash can so I could listen for the phone and/or knocks from room service.

  • While the curved shower rods around the standard tub created a spacious shower interior, I was dismayed to find a freezing cold bathroom (no heater or controls there) and a shower with really POOR water pressure. Not only was the pressure bad, the water didn't get hot enough, leading to an unsatisfying shower and a freezing exit on to the cold, poorly cleaned travertine floor. This wasn't like home at all!!

  • The hotel boasted bath robes and spa products. My robe was hidden in the back of a closet and went unnoticed for days. I actually used the spa lotion and it was nice -- but my mostly-empty bottle was never replenished for me like they are at other hotels. This felt a bit "cheap" in the end. Why not put out the robe as a welcome and replenish the goodies for the guests?

    Comnecting by phone.

  • The phones were improperly programmed in my room, making it very difficult to connect to the front desk, housekeeping or room service. The first time I dialed the front desk, I tried three times to get an answer. I got no answer, a hangup call, and then an annoyed response after more than 30 rings. It was only 9:45 pm.

    And what to eat?

  • Beyond the fact that they pulled a bait and switch on the pie, the hotel's restaurant menu was uncreative and uninspired: Wings, hamburgers, fries, grilled chicken whatever... It was the same travel fare most of us road warriors are completely sick of. If they wanted to make the hotel feel more like home - why not offer home cooked meals, instead of the same, hotel fare you can find anywhere?

    The point is that customers don't like to go through hoops - we don't have them in our home environment, and we'd rather not have to jump through them at a hotel. In fact, hoops are actually contrary to creating a home-like and welcoming experience.

    For the marketers that dreamed up this experience: Is the scent of Fresh Baked Pie is going to make me feel positive when so many other aspects of the hotel experience were simply annoying? Did the company do ANY experience testing whatsoever with real customers - travel weary people, families, etc.?

    Either Four Points is trying to create a more home-like experience that drives brand affinity and loyalty, or it is not. From my experience at this hotel, it looks to me like they built a lot of marketing hype around a hotel experience that may fail to deliver. The question is whether or not what I experienced is a limited set up hiccups related to this hotel only.
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    LEIGH DURST

    LEIGH DURST
    I’m Leigh Durst, a 20 year veteran in business, operations, customer strategy, ecommerce, digital & social media and marketing. Simply put, I’m a strategist that helps companies (start-up to blue chip) achieve business shift, create more compelling online and offline experiences. I also write, speak and teach about experience design and next-generation business. I’m a futurist, visionary, strategist, doer and connector with a passion for people and helping others. When I’m not on the road, you’ll find me in the San Francisco bay area, working, beaching it and hanging out with my family and dog.

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