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Brief Published: 12 Mar 2014

Customised Scent Via Sensory Algorithms


With the help of a scent-selecting algorithm, San Francisco-based start-up Pinrose is personalising fragrances to match consumers’ moods.

The company was founded by Erika Shumate and Christine Luby, alumni of California’s Stanford Graduate School of Business. They hope to tap into the blossoming online perfume market, which is now a $4bn industry in the US alone, according to international market research agency, Ibis World.  

The service is based on how consumers respond to colours, shapes and sounds. Customers complete an online quiz which results in three recommended fragrances – each of which can be tried at home, free of charge. Each scent comes with an online playlist and a Pinterest inspiration board – further bolstering the relationship between scent and consumers’ visual and sonic senses. 

Dubbed ‘Scent Finder’, the questionnaire is based on a special algorithm developed as a result of collaboration between Luby, who studied the psychology of scent at college, and US olfactory expert Dr. Alan Hirsch from the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago. It was inspired by Hirsch’s research, which proves that musical properties, colours, shapes and light intensity relate to different odours. Pinrose states that the questionnaire allows it to predict scent preferences with 75% accuracy.  

“It can be an esoteric industry, and using other senses gives people a better vocabulary to describe the scents they like,” says Luby. “Spiky shapes often mean you want citrus notes. And for those who pick rounded shapes, a preference of vanillas and musks is much more common.”

The company is now looking to leverage social data – the colours in users’ Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest profiles – to further link visual and scent preferences.

For more on using co-creation as a way to channel consumers’ individualism and build brand engagement, see Product Hubs: Experimentation & Co-Creation in the Future of the Store Industry trend, and Bespoke Beauty.