In Brands, Insight, Marketing

As a fragrance fanatic (and occasional educator at the Fragrance Foundation), my own bathroom and dressing table bear out various perfume market truths. Out go traditional mass designer/celebrity scents and in come niche/artisanal fragrances. Euromonitor puts total growth of the fragrance category at 6.5% over the next five years, but the mass segment is predicted to show flat or even negative growth. No wonder “Big Beauty” is on a niche buying spree: Estée Lauder with Le Labo, Frederic Malle, and By Kilian; Shiseido and Serge Lutens; and L’Oréal with Atelier Cologne. Whether those businesses can preserve what makes their acquisitions special is a question for another article entirely. But the broader issue remains—what can fragrance brands do to continue their momentum or make a comeback?

It might seem obvious, but perfume packaging still needs to figure.
The hyperfocus in recent years on notes and ingredients has been a refreshing change, but may have gone a little too far. Brands are underestimating the experience, delight, and beauty of perfume pack design.
Pared back, simple stock bottles with black, ecru, white labeling are modern and gender neutral, but lack personality. These days it’s almost shocking to see any splash of colour on shelf at high-end department stores and niche perfume boutiques. A truly collectable fragrance bottle is something to aim for—fantastic from a sustainability and brand-building perspective.

Nutella jars. Coke bottles. Nike trainers. Personalisation is here to stay. And when it comes to fragrance people don’t want to smell exactly the same as the person next to them.
With its inherent blending and layering ability, perfume is perfectly placed to build on this trend. Niche and artisanal fragrances like Experimental Perfume Club and 4160 Tuesdays offer perfume workshops and custom blending.
Mass brands typically go down the route of engraved bottles and truly limited editions. While personality perfume profiling is common in brand boutiques like Frederic Malle, or Harrods and Harvey Nichols, much more needs to be done in mainstream beauty halls to enable consultants to deliver a truly personalised experience. Penhaligons’ online tool shows how easy it is, with fairly minimal cost.

As people become more informed and engaged about perfume, they are also more transient with their scent wardrobe. The concepts of day and night, summer and winter, work day or evening/weekend “panty dropper” are now widely understood amongst consumers. However, a key barrier to purchase is the full bottle price. In the US, brands at all levels solve this with a nod to the “on-the-go” trend, selling 9-15ml rollerball formats at an average price of $20. Sampling can be patchy in places like the UK and Europe, so this approach is a win-win for customers and brands. Multitasking fragrances with additional benefits like KENZO World Silky Body Mist also offer greater discovery opportunities.

Perfume is such a sensorial experience, but fragrance brands are late to the game in delivering rich brand stories and experiences. It might be harder for scents to be brought to life in a visually driven social media world, but it’s not impossible. Penhaligons and Diptyque create fantastical illustrated immersive worlds, online-only upstart Phlur tells lifestyle stories via Spotify soundtracks and Chanel uses video to great effect. Away from digital, Jo Loves brings its fragrances to life with cupcakes and cocktails events. Close cousin Jo Malone has a pimped up ice cream van, handing out free posh and scented ice cream. Fragrance can evoke emotion almost instantaneously, so mainstream brands are missing a trick if they don’t go any further than the usual in-store Prosecco evening. But perhaps not as far as Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop perfumes, which claim to ‘harness the healing and even mystical powers of plants, flowers, and barks’. Niche should mean authentic and intriguing, not utter codswallop.

This article was first published in SPC, volume 90, number 9. SPC is a product of HPCi Media Limited. For more information visit SPC.

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