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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.

page 4 of 8

The researcher conducted this study as an offshoot of her fragrance consulting practice. From a client base of more than 1,000 women served between 2007 and 2010, she selected 372 to participate in the study. The study design was simple: Respondents identified all of the fragrances “ever enjoyed” and considered to be “favorite” scents. Respondents were encouraged to include the names of scents they may have abandoned for any reason, as long as those scents brought pleasure to them at some time in the past. Study findings are based on women who named at least three scents as “ever enjoyed” and “favorite.”

More than 80% of the interviews took place in a multi-brand retail environment where hundreds of scents were available for testing by respondents. Perfumes eliciting immediate and unqualified positive responses were added to the list of the respondent’s favorites. A critic of this study design might be concerned that any shopper’s quick reaction to a new scent in a retail environment is not a reliable indicator of her taste over a lifetime, since that shopper has not fully experienced the perfume’s heart notes and base notes. In fact, the threshold for inclusion of a scent on each respondent’s list was quite high. Only enthusiastic initial responses to a scent without any hesitation triggered its addition to a list; the researcher was conservative, erring on the side of exclusion, when determining whether to add new scents to individual lists. While the study did not require readiness to buy as a precondition for inclusion, clear preference for new scents was established beyond any reasonable standard.

Fragrances of the World, the authoritative reference for scent classification, was used to anchor the study. In the simplest terms, the research was designed to discover how scents on individual women’s all-time-favorite scents lists clustered into wedges (akin to pie slices of various widths) of The Fragrance Wheel (F-1). The key study facts are as follows:

  • Total number of respondents: 372 women participated in the study.
  • Total number of entries on “ever enjoyed”/“favorite” lists across all respondents: 1,786 person-to-perfume matches are included in the study database.
  • Minimum quantity of scents per respondent: To have their data included in the study, respondents needed to list three or more scents as “ever enjoyed” and “favorite.”
  • Unclassified scents: A small number of scents listed were not found in editions of Fragrances of the World published between 2001 and 2010. These may have been long discontinued or obscure scents that were never classified. Fewer than 0.005% of “ever enjoyed” and “favorite” scents were discarded from analysis for this reason.

Slice the Olfactory Pie to Find Out What Perfume She Likes

This study used four related but distinct methods to prove and quantify patterns of olfactory preference among individual women. The methods, explained in detail below, were based on:

  • 14 families in The Fragrance Wheel;
  • clusters based on the 14 families and defined by the researcher;
  • subfamilies of the 14 families defined in the Fragrances of the World database and guidebook; and
  • four major categories of scent: floral, oriental, woods and fresh.

Concentration of preference in fragrance families: Fifty-seven percent of all women have half or more of their scents falling into any one family. As an example of how this works, for women naming just three scents as “ever enjoyed” and “favorite,” the half-or-more standard required a full two out of three scents to fall into a single family. For all women in the study, the bar for establishment of concentrated preference (half or more scents in a family) was high, given that there are 14 families in The Fragrance Wheel (F-2).