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Interview with Robert Müller-Grünow

"Scent is the only sensory stimulus that immediately triggers emotion"

Robert Müller-Grünow is an alumnus of the WiSo faculty and founder and CEO of the company scentcommunication. Since graduating in business administration (diploma course) in 1997, he has been working in Cologne in the field of scent marketing and is involved with Scent Technologies and Scent Communication. His clients come from a wide range of industries: From the beverage manufacturer Coca-Cola to the aviation group Lufthansa or the sporting goods manufacturer adidas. We talked to him about his work in fragrance marketing, his return to the WiSo faculty as a guest lecturer and his favourite place at the University of Cologne.

Mr. Müller-Grünow, you are the founder of Scentcommunication. In what ways can companies use scents? How do you support them?

People perceive with all their senses. We communicate with all senses. Fragrance is the only sensory stimulus that immediately triggers emotions and that is the best way to remember. Companies and brands try to be unique and create positive associations and feelings when a contact is made with people. The scent perceived at that moment is decisive for the evaluation of that moment and also in the long term for the bond to the brand or company. Fragrances can be used in almost every imaginable contact point.

You are dealing with Scent Technology and Scent Communications. Can you explain the terms in more detail?

On the one hand, it's all about choosing the right fragrance that evokes exactly the desired associations and matches the audiovisual and haptic design elements. This is part of the fragrance communication strategy. Then it is crucial to be able to control the scent correctly and the appropriate technologies are necessary for this. We develop both, the scents as well as the technologies, which range from extremely selective scent impressions and the synchronisation of image and sound with scents to the scenting of large rooms.

In October 2017 you came back to the WiSo faculty as a guest lecturer and gave a lecture. How did you experience this return to the University of Cologne in your new role as a lecturer? 

At first sight, apart from new buildings and students with a much more international outlook, not much has changed. But the fact that the lectures and parts of the study program are now held in English is new. That's certainly good for internationalization, but I ask myself: Is it easy for Germans to study even complex subjects in the same depth? And doesn't this have a long-term impact on research, or will there still be relevant literature in German in the future?

Nothing we do is completely independent of the scent we perceive 

Robert Müller-Grünow, Gründer und CEO des Unternehmens scentcommunication
Photo: / Lee_seonghak

The topic of your presentation was "Scent - the underestimated way to communicate". To what extent does smell influence us in our daily lives and how do we consciously and unconsciously communicate about smell?

As long as they breathe, people cannot switch off their sense of smell. Scent molecules always surround us and influence our thoughts and actions. Nothing we do is completely independent of the smell we perceive. Even the choice of partner is largely determined by the scent ("you can smell someone"), because we use our body's own scent to determine whether our genetic disposition is suitable for producing healthy children.

At the same time, however, we have forgotten to consciously think about scents and to classify them. I appeal to you to walk through the world with an "open nose" and to try to perceive, classify and evaluate scents. This is also an excellent brain training, because only smelling can activate all brain areas at the same time.

Does your preoccupation with the topic of smell also sensitize you privately to this topic? For example, do you pay more attention than before to the perfume of your counterpart?

This does not fail to happen, although I try to keep a "normal" nose, also because our customers typically do not come from the fragrance industry, but first of all regard fragrance as something new and are untrained in its use.

When and how did the idea for founding your company mature? And how did you originally come up with the topic of scent?

It was a coincidence. In the year of my exams, a very good friend bought a patent for the implementation of a "scented cinema" - he asked me if I was interested. So we started to develop and market a scent technology. I then took over the company and started developing my own fragrances when Samsung approached us and wanted to develop a branded fragrance.


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The studies enabled me to spend years in Brazil and the USA.

Robert Müller-Grünow
Lieblingsplatz an der Uni Köln: Der E-Raum (Erfrischungsraum) mit Blick auf die Uniwiese. Photo: Fabian Stürtz

How did the foundation go? Were there any difficulties that you first had to overcome?

At the beginning we were able to attract private investors. After the takeover the company grows exclusively with its own funds from cash flow. The investors who joined us early on helped us over time to make the topic of "fragrance" known and to convey its relevance, which even today not everyone has understood.

Did your studies of business administration at the WiSo faculty help you in this situation?

It certainly did not hurt. The studies also enabled me to spend years in Brazil and the USA, which was certainly important.

When you think back to your time as a student: Are there any situations that have had a special impact on you?

I had a lot to do during my studies... with my own small design agency and working for a large Brazilian company, I spent most of my time outside of university...

Is there a particular smell you associate with the WiSo-Facility? And did you have a favourite place at the university?

Actually, I don't remember a very pithy scent. That of the building, stuffy air in crowded lecture halls maybe and that of the e-room ;-) That was also a pleasant place to be.

What three tips can you give our students?

Go abroad, look into other disciplines, do internships. Be as open as possible, get to know many people, travel and find out whether you would prefer to work in a larger structure or perhaps more independently/enterprisingly.

Thank you very much for the interview Mr Müller-Grünow!

The questions were asked by Sarah Brender.