Prestige Perfumes:The Cultural Marketing Exceptionality
Howard Moskowitz **
Batool Batalvi ***
Prestige perfume is not a product like others
Many people, including those in the perfume industry, think that prestige perfume is a product like any other, to be handled by traditional marketing approaches. This would be convenient for management … but it is not the case. Despite the fact that prestige perfumes are sold and bought as any other products, they are truly different.
One does not buy a prestige perfume for the benefit of “a unique selling proposition”. Prestige perfume is an involving product; one wears a prestige perfume to display one’s personality. We can indeed regard prestige perfumes as “a cultural marketing exception”.
And there lies the problem. Not everyone wants to express the same message: “tell me what you wear and I’ll tell you who you are!” A same perfume mix, appropriate and effective for one brand of perfume, proves disastrous for another.
The DNA of a Prestige Perfume brand
It is through the values of its ‘brand’ that a perfume enters into the personality of its user. Indeed, women never buy a prestige perfume of a brand with which they don’t feel some affinity … as the brand is meant to speak volume about themselves. Thus to be successful, a perfume mix should fit its “Brand DNA”, that is to say that it has to meet the specific needs of women who are “in affinity with” its brand.
The DNA of a brand varies from one brand to another. For example, research suggests that the DNA of the Estée Lauder brand is made up of “good American values,” whereas the DNA of the Calvin Klein brand is made up of “rule-breaking values”.
Being ‘in affinity’ with a brand is not particularly difficult, in practice. Research by Open Air market research, unveils that for every person who buys a brand there are approximately six or seven who may be ‘in affinity’ with the brand, but who do not buy. For example, women in affinity with the brand Estée Lauder amount to 45% of American women, and women in affinity with Calvin Klein may amount to 35% of American women.
To succeed, a prestige perfume should fit its brand’s DNA. For example, “the wise beauty concept” works when it is expressed by Estée Lauder in its perfume “Beautiful,” but the same concept fails when it is conveyed by Calvin Klein in its perfume “Beauty”. In the same way, “the rule-breaking hallucinogen concept” leads to a success when it is expressed by Calvin Klein in its perfume “Euphoria,” but ends up in somewhat of a disaster when it is conveyed under the Estée Lauder brand in its perfume “Beyond Paradise”.
Defining a Brand’s legitimate territory
A brand’s ‘legitimate territory’ is a function of its DNA. The “territory” is defined by:
-the “types of women” that the brand attracts with its perfumes; “classy women” or “naughty girls” …and so forth,
-the “positioning that the brand grants users” through its perfumes; the positioning of a high-end upper class woman or the positioning of fashionable trendy woman, etc.
-the “message” that the brand conveys through its perfumes: such as the promise of seduction or of radiance, etc.
-the “product benefit” that the brand puts forward: such as the benefit of an excellent scent or an acquaintance with a celebrity, etc.
-the “tone” that the brand uses for advertising its perfumes: such as a romantic tone or a “rock’n roll” tone, etc.
-the “setting” in which the brand places its perfume communication: such as an exotic setting or an urban setting, etc.
-the “type of femininity” that the brand uses through its models: such as eternal femininity (grace) or desire, attraction (hot, sexual) etc.
-the “families of fragrances” that the brand uses for its perfumes (its “natural olfactory territory”): rather fruity, sweet, sparkling or amber, powdery, sensual, etc.
The legitimate territory of a brand, as defined by these eight criteria, is broad enough for a brand to exert its creativity. It moves creativity in the right direction by drawing boundaries beyond which a brand should not venture. A corollary to this notion of legitimate territory is that which may be fruitful for one brand indeed often turns out to be counterproductive for another brand. For example, “OneMillion” would not have succeeded had it been branded Chanel. Correspondingly, “Bleu” would not have succeed had it been branded Paco Rabanne.
Market research – the need for sector experience and ‘experimenting empathy’
By now the point has been stressed that one should not deal with the psychology-laden, identity-laden world of a new perfume using the simplistic, normative, and often inappropriate methods of market research, methods which may work for cereals, services, and finances, but fail in the world of perfume. One ought not pre-test a new perfume according to the “plain Jane” (or “everybody’s”) criteria; women and men wear a fragrance specifically to stand apart from the average Joe, and thus to define THEMSELVES as they wish themselves to be. It’s far more sensible to assess any new proposition of perfume according to the DNA of its brand’s criteria, that is to say according to the specific expectations of the women in affinity with its brand.
It is however impossible to identify these specific criteria by asking direct (and naïve) questions. One might be better advised to adopt an indirect way to achieve this pivotal goal. This is “Mind Genomics3”, conjoint analysis applied to perfume. It is based on the statement of fact that “although people are not able to tell by themselves what they want, they can easily assess a product comprising a mixture of benefits”.
Thanks to the science of “experimental design”, submitting each respondent to 50 ideas of perfumes, made up of the seven components of a perfume mix, Mind Genomics elicits the role of each dimension (its “utility”) in the response of a woman towards a perfume. Each criterion can be positive, neutral or negative … depending on the brand: “what is good for a brand can be toxic for another”. The science, the experimenting, is well worked out. What remains is the empathy, the intuition, the creative, which focuses the science, and is rewarded by the resulting knowledge.
Rating a new perfume mix “by variable geometry” depending on the brand
Once we have established the expectations of women in affinity with a brand towards a prestige perfume, the marketer now ‘profiles’ any new mix of perfume according to the DNA’s of the perfume brand. This is achieved through the “Utility Rating System” that grants the new mix points when it is associated with a feature of “high utility” for the brand and subtracts points when it is associated with a “counterproductive” item.
We can define this approach as the “rating by variable geometry” because one does not use the same criteria, depending on the brand. Why would we consider the opinions of women that don’t like your brand when assessing a new proposition of perfume mix of your brand?
The bottom line – WiiFY (What’s in it for YOU?)
Techniques which have proved reliable for many other products fall short for prestige perfumes. WHY? Because perfumes are a cultural marketing exception that demands sector knowledge and experimental science conjoined with empathy.
Ignoring this oddity may drive a brand, operating out of the main stream, to the bruising experience of a failed launch because women in synch with this brand are precisely looking to “stand-out from the crowd”. The mass market approach, one size fits all, simply does not work. Psychologists, experts in psychodynamics, know the reality of individuality. It’s time that the perfumers and perfume marketers of challenging brands avail themselves of this science-based empathy and intuition. Lest the perfume market may stall, stagnate and become dull … at the expense of everybody for “joie de vivre” is the cornerstone of perfumes.