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The Case for Fragrance Family Loyalty

By: Laura Donna, Consumer Fragrance Education, LLC
Posted: May 23, 2012, from the June 2012 issue of GCI Magazine.

This article originally ran in the February 2012 issue of Perfumer & Flavorist magazine. All rights reserved.

Fine fragrance marketing initiatives and sales training continue to ignore the fundamental tie that binds people to their perfume—the olfactory experience of wearing a favorite scent. The fragrance industry continues to dance around the edges of olfactory marketing, but hasn’t gotten religion, investing only half-heartedly in promotional programs based on fragrance families. Sales training and tools have yet to properly harness the power of The Fragrance Wheel and its ability to predict scents that will inspire loyalty and repeat purchases (F-1). New research proves overwhelmingly that women purchase and wear perfume falling into a narrow olfactory range. Isn’t it time for the industry to do a better job connecting consumers to scents they will enjoy?

Fine fragrances belong to categories based on their olfactory characteristics. Research by Manuel Zarzo and David Stanton proved that two-dimensional maps of scent developed from the late 1800s to present are largely consistent.1 Summarized in layman’s terms by this author, Zarzo and Stanton’s research confirms that Michael Edwards’ Fragrance Wheel has earned its place as the gold standard for fine fragrance mapping.2 This wheel is the basis for Edwards’ Fragrances of the World, a comprehensive database and annual guide that allow users to search according to a fragrance of interest and immediately identify others that have much in common from a smell perspective.3 It is also possible to search olfactory categories for commercially available fragrances within them.

Sales Practice, Training and Tools Today

For most readers, the existence of fragrance families is hardly a news flash. Then why aren’t they used more commonly in perfume and cologne marketing? The bottle, packaging and branding contribute in important ways to the relationship between consumers and their scents. Marketers understandably emphasize visuals when promoting fine fragrance. Personality and lifestyle questionnaires are also commonly used to suggest scent purchases. These tests are indirect at best and unreliable at worst in predicting smell preference. In a terrifically crowded fine fragrance marketplace, is it not in the interest of fragrance manufacturers, marketers and retailers to assure that shoppers are better equipped to narrow the field to something they might actually enjoy smelling?

While some retailers have launched consumer-based computer applications and mini-displays of fragrances based directly or loosely on Edwards’ work, the concept of olfactory marketing has not entered sales training and practice in a consistent or meaningful way. In its introductory curriculum, The Fragrance Foundation briefly mentions fragrance families. In more advanced training, the foundation covers the families in somewhat greater depth, but at no time does the curriculum explicitly demonstrate the process for using fragrance families to identify scents customers might enjoy.