Signature Seductions

Is your spa engaging clients' 5 senses?

Take a look around your spa right now: Are there pumpkin diffusers and cinnamon-spice wreaths in your boutique? Evergreen satchels in the lounge? With the busy holiday season in full swing, these festive accents can only boost shopping impulses, right?

Not so, according to sense psychology. In fact, seasonal aromas, sights and sounds could do more to disrupt clients’ perceptions of your spa’s brand. As Simon Harrop, CEO of U.K.-based Brand Sense Agency (, puts it, “Your sensory environment should set your business apart and tell a story. And it needs to be consistent in order to spark customers’ somatic markers—those sensory triggers that help us recall nice experiences and good feelings.”

Translation: If the candles in your retail area smell like the relaxation lounge—where guests unwind—that memory trigger instantly puts them in a happy place. “When you’re happy, you’re willing to spend more,” Harrop says. “Your signature scents, sounds, look and feel have got to be derived from your business’ inherent message.”

That message is your brand, the set of features connecting people with your spa through subconscious associations. If holiday peppermint isn’t normally an element of your brand, then using it may interfere with your clients’ perceptions of your spa. Smell in particular has a direct tie to the limbic system, the part of the brain governing emotions. “It happens without us even thinking about it,” Harrop says, “which is why scent is such a powerful branding tool.”

But scent shouldn’t be the only tool in your arsenal as it’s just one of five powerful portals to clients’ emotional memories. “When it comes to senses, one plus one equals three,” Harrop says. “Psychologists call it superadditivity, the concept that if you can create an emotional impact through one expression, say smell, then when you put it together with sound or sight, the effect is multiplied exponentially, making your business a more compelling place to be.”

DAYSPA powwowed with branding experts to glean simple ways of communicating and reinforcing your brand through multisensory marketing. Keep in mind, success relies on the synthesis of your efforts—you want to send the same basic message, but targeted to multiple senses.

"Psychologists call it superadditivity, the concept that if you can create an emotional impact through one expression, say smell, then when you put it together with sound or sight, the effect is multiplied exponentially."


Your client’s line of vision is where to launch your multisensory charge. This includes your logo, website, store front, service menu, business cards, ads, linens, signage—anything your clients see or read. If your logo includes a tagline, that’s your opportunity to literally spell out your branding message.

“Put your logo everywhere,” advises Felicia Brown, owner of marketing firm Spalutions! “It should be on your website, walls, business cards, and all press and marketing materials.”

Keith West-Harrison, spa consultant and co-owner of Great Face & Body in Albuquerque, New Mexico, didn’t want people to think that “just another day spa” had come to town when he and his partner set up shop. “That’s why our tagline is ‘eco-urban lifestyle market,’ ” he explains. “We want people to get right away that we’re green, modern, hip and trendy.”

Create a color motif, and make sure it’s consistent and complementary to your design (no point in installing fuchsia shower curtains if nothing else in your spa matches that shade). The vibrant orange hue of Great Face’s logo matches the spa’s decor, from the carrot-colored glassware and linens to the spa walls.

“We also partner with a women’s charity, CARE, that uses an orange logo, and when guests check out, we ask them to drop pocket-change donations into our bright orange CARE elephant bank,” West-Harrison says. “Clients love the orange bank! They say it helps them remember to bring change next time they visit.”

If your logo includes a tagline, that’s your opportunity to literally spell out your branding message.

Once your color scheme’s taken care of, you can have fun creating standout visuals. For instance, Spa Villagio, situated in a rustic, Mediterranean cottage in the heart of Northern California’s Napa Valley, features treatment rooms outfitted with flat-screen TVs displaying a nonstop slideshow of Impressionist paintings. “We wanted to create a residential but sophisticated feel,” says spa director Leslie Wolski. “Like a home you might find in Tuscany. We have overstuffed couches, fireplaces, tea brewing and a beautiful art show set to soothing classical music.”

Would displaying artwork jive with your spa’s aesthetic? “Consider approaching local artists, who may be happy to display their work on your walls for the free exposure,” suggests brand strategy and marketing communications specialist Ido Kadman. As with all questions surrounding your brand, vet the artwork beforehand. Advises Brown, “If you’re a water-themed brand, you’ll want imagery of flowing fountains or the sea.”


The spa industry practically wrote the book on attracting and retaining customers through pleasant smells. But are you infusing your spa’s entryway, gift wrapping and printed collateral with one specific aroma?

“Putting clients under the influence of your signature scent leads to a ‘flow state,’ during which they’ll lose sense of time and become totally absorbed in a current experience,” Brand Sense’s Harrop says. “Flow state can last a few seconds or several minutes, as nerve links in the limbic system are busy giving instant meaning to the identified scent.” Which means your signature aroma could be powerful enough to bring clients back to a pleasant place and time, thereby motivating sales.

“Take the clothing store Abercrombie & Fitch,” West-Harrison adds. “They launch new fragrances a couple times a year, but the smell in that store never changes; they want you to remember it. Smell is the only sense where the nerves don’t pass go, don’t collect $200; they go straight to the brain.”

Accordingly, the Great Face & Body team created an orange-dominant essential oil blend as its aromatherapeutic mainstay. “There are undertones of vanilla and cocoa, so when you walk in the door, you get an energizing, yet comforting feeling,” West-Harrison says. The scent also echoes the spa’s visual motif.

“Putting clients under the influence of your signature scent leads to a ‘flow state,’ during which they’ll lose sense of time and become totally absorbed in a current experience.”

“Citrus is fresh, upbeat and vibrant,” Harrop says, adding that lavender may work better with a more soothing, water-based environment, while vanilla could complement cream-colored walls and help serve a younger clientele.

Whatever fragrance you choose, use it to tell your story. Spa Villagio relies on a lemon juniper blend to enhance its Mediterranean feel. “Both plants grow on our property and they appeal to masculine and feminine sensibilities,” Wolski says.

If you’d prefer to draw attention to the products for sale in your boutique, Harrop suggests working with your manufacturer liaison to create specific, point-of-purchase aromas. “They may offer special technologies to promote their supplies’ fragrance.”

Already have a unique aroma? Scent everything with it. “Use diffusers in the changing room and reception areas, and spray linens, towels, and eye and neck pillows,” Brown says. “Anchor the scent in your spa and then sell candles and essential oil blends matching it. When you send out mailers, fragrance your paper with it.”

Harrop suggests mixing your spa scent into your fabric softener, gift certificates and even invoices. “It’s all part of building that subconscious, emotional tie to your business.” He also advocates gifting loyal clients with signature-scented candles. “By burning them, they’re automatically thinking of your spa.”


Chances are, you’re already using music in your treatment rooms, perhaps even offering guests several choices of background sound. While you score some points for tailoring the experience, branding experts don’t necessarily endorse musical options, because just like smell, sound makes a beeline for the limbic system.

“Consistent cues from your ambient environment—perhaps a specific wash of sound—works on the basis of somatic markers,” Harrop says. “So your spa’s music should be driven by its core personality to build your business in the long-term.”

At Great Face & Body, the same soundtrack follows clients as they go from reception to the relaxation lounge and are escorted down the treatment room hallway, and then throughout their service. “They can bond to it that way,” West-Harrison says. And the soundscape always comes care of Putumayo World Music, a “Latin dancey” label offering a range of multicultural beats and rhythms. “It’s energizing, and we retail it,” West-Harrison adds. “If I’m just playing Pandora, I don’t have those songs to sell to people when they love them and want to recreate our spa experience at home.”

Sahra Spa at the Cosmopolitan hotel in Las Vegas was inspired by Africa’s Sahara Desert. Accordingly, African tribal beats are piped throughout. “Many guests are in search of an energizing spa experience to get them ready for Vegas’ nightlife,” explains chief marketing officer Lisa Marchese.

“Once you land on a sound that’s congruent with your look and smell, research shows you can see preference for your brand almost double,” Harrop points out. “That’s when you start to get the superadditive effect.”

Already have your spa’s soundtrack picked out? “Now consider adding a song to your website,” suggests Brown.


Although taste buds are powerful memory triggers, branding your spa’s offerings needn’t require chefs or complicated recipes. “Consider infusing your water or adorning your glassware with a slice of fruit matching your spa’s identity,” Kadman says.

West-Harrison always flavors his spa’s water with a specific liquid supplement blend from Pure Inventions: Tropical Mango Green Tea. “It’s very vibrant, very energizing. If we do parties, we make it in a big decanter and throw in some fresh fruit. When people love the taste, we sell them bottles of it.”

Spa Villagio’s seasonally infused waters and teas have made a positive impression on guests. “We’ll use pomegranate in the fall, watermelon-mint when it’s warm,” Wolski says. “Repeat visitors are always curious to find out what we’re serving.” They take it even further with refreshments: “We put out piles of homey treats—chocolate truffles, homemade muffins, mixed fruit and nuts—all to express, ‘Help yourself, and make yourself at home.’ ”

"Consider infusing your water or adorning your glassware with a slice of fruit matching your spa's identity."

A consistent spa spread also helps build emotional recall. “For spa events, select foods that work with your overall motif, and take caution that they don’t clash with your signature scents,” Kadman says. “It’s best to avoid foods that smell too strong.”

If you offer more elaborate refreshments, Harrop advises working with a chef who can create a menu that complements your spa’s story. “Professionals can literally determine the flavors of your core personality,” he says.


While it may be the weakest of limbic triggers, pleasant or unusual textures can certainly enhance clients’ recollections of your spa. Sahra Spa quarried more than 420 tons of sandstone from its high desert surrounds to create sculptural walls that invite guests to pass their hands over the uniquely textured surfaces. “Our goal is to leave guests with a story worth telling,” Marchese says.

Choosing specific building materials that echo your brand is one thing, but an already-built spa can still engage clients with signature textures and gestures. “Offer up a warm, soft towel for guests to wipe their hands after treatments, and incorporate a brief scalp massage ritual,” suggests Kadman, who adds, “Simply holding a warm beverage can add temperature into the mix of scents, sounds and sights that are already engaging the client.”

Villagio looks to warm, fuzzy throws to build upon its welcoming, homey character. “They’re all over chaise lounges in the ladies’ locker room, and we put them on our pedicure thrones, along with heating pads,” Wolski says. (Conversely, the men’s lounge features leather couches.) “We also warm the linens. After massages, we give guests heated robes, which they go crazy for in the winter.”

"Simply holding a warm beverage can add temperature into the mix of scents, sounds and sights that are already engaging the client."

Multisensory marketing presents an opportunity to be as imaginative as you’d like in creating signature flourishes that reinforce your brand. Start by asking yourself what is unique and different about your spa. “Once you’re clear on that,” Harrop says, “you have a strong basis on which to start expressing yourself.” •

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