Launching a signature fragrance is both exceptionally difficult and wonderfully exciting. It is also daunting and exhilarating. A fragrance launch is many things, but what it is not, is rocket science.
While both involve an attempt to blast off and to reach the stratosphere, the similarities end there. For example, typically no one’s life is at risk because of a fragrance launch. That being said, a promotion or even careers have been in the balance because of such a launch. Also, while there are many complex calculations that are part of a fragrance launch related to the formulations – the financial projections and logistics – none of this math even borders on aeronautical engineering or requires physics. Furthermore, a fragrance launch does not require you to deal with immutable laws of nature – such as the laws of gravity or inertia.
However, having been responsible for putting numerous cologne and perfume products on the launching pad over the last several years, I have observed a few basic patterns and have acquired quite a bit of empirical data, albeit mostly anecdotal, about how to launch a signature fragrance. So here goes…
1. Don’t Worry About Making A Mistake
Worry about doing the right things to make the fragrance launch successful. Worry about the formulation. Worry about whether the packaging “pops” and has a strong shelf presence. Worry that the marketing messages are consistent and compelling and are delivered to the right consumers at the right time. Worry about making the product the best possible combination of design balanced with the appropriate retail price point.
Of course, there are downside risks. There is risk of potential excess inventory. There is credit risk with retailers and there is design risk, just to name a few. Acknowledge these risks, understand and consider them. Success comes from focusing on the larger vision of creating something so compelling that consumers simply have to have it. Then make sure that they know about it.
It is essential during this process to be intentional about what you are creating and to have clear reasoning about each component of the product and the overall communications strategy. You cannot worry about missing the mark; rather worry about hitting the mark.
Develop a product that will absolutely delight the core customer (helpful hint: be sure to delight the sales associate who has the job of selling it). Remember that if there are consumers who love the product, there will be consumers that dislike the product. Disregard the latter and focus your time and energy on the former.
2. Don’t Launch A Product
Launch a brand, not just a product. Fragrance is about an experience. The emotional connection and the intimacy of cologne and perfume are unlike any other consumable. The successful product evokes so much more than a beautifully designed bottle and cap. It touches something deeper. This does not always mean it is sophisticated or dramatic. Rather, it is often the opposite. The simple connections to happiness and freshness as well as the connections to a musk or animalic scent have proven to be quite powerful.
The essential concept is that every part of the product and every part of the messaging provides subtle yet powerful and consistent signals as to the purpose of the fragrance.
Originality also plays a significant part here. So many launches are duplicates of what has been done in the past. Most assuredly we should study history, but we must also break new ground. Each brand should have its own point of view. Sadly we often see a new scent as the result of product developers or retailers who prefer the short-term approach of creating “dupes,” otherwise known as designer imposters.
3. Don’t Skimp On The Juice
This may sound obvious but in practice, this happens all the time. My theory is that the actual fragrance is seen by most as the least tangible component of the product because our olfactory sense is untrained. We can feel the heft of the bottle. We can see the color of the bottle and appreciate the design of the packaging. It is much more difficult to understand the impact of the juice.
In this regard, it is important to spend money and time. Good quality fragrance, regardless of its scent, maintains its color and has longevity. It has a top note, a heart and a base note. It can be complex or simple, but will still maintain its integrity. In terms of the scent, focus groups can provide insight as to trends and preferences, but the data collected must be analyzed for biases and outliers. It must also be understood that consumers do not always know what they want and, at a minimum, often do not possess the conceptual understanding or language to describe their desires.
True innovation comes from making the leap to something new and different rather than an incremental change from what already exists. Sometimes you may get it wrong, but if you are intentional about your purpose, you will have the ability to learn and adjust accordingly.
When the scent is right, the wearer not only enjoys the fragrance herself but also receives compliments from others; a long-term customer has just been established.
4. Don’t Underestimate The Power Of Sampling
Sampling is more than an opportunity to try the product. Although it can provide added assurance to a consumer to feel compelled to make a purchase, it is also a significant means to build awareness of the product. The availability of testers allows for customer interaction with the fragrance while also allowing for sales associates to pick their favorite to wear each day. This type of associate engagement results in significant increases in sales productivity.
Vials on cards and magazine blow-ins with the microencapsulated scent help the consumer become familiar with the fragrance and increases awareness. Whereas these methods might not directly result in an immediate purchase, simply because of where and when they are experienced, they should not be overlooked.
Sampling in many respects helps in achieving the old marketing adage – make the familiar new and make the new familiar.
5. Don’t Be Unrealistic Regarding Your Time Frame
So many brands are squelched just as they reach their point of accelerated adoption. It is also the case that many brands start strong, but do not have the staying power to maintain a significant level of sell-through. This is the same for fragrance, so the process must be carefully managed.
The slow, steady sales build belies the most favorable sales results. See if you can identify a steady stream of early adopters which then result in a few repeat purchases by this group. Remember, the early adopters are not your core purchasers and, by definition, are not big repeat purchasers. The core comes in the second wave. These are the people who are in the exact center of your intended target. As this wave grows, you should start to observe repeats and gifting of the product. The actual timing of each wave can vary significantly. The interval between waves is certainly a factor to consider, but it’s important to identify the existence of each wave.
On second thought, perhaps the launch of a signature fragrance does involve an immutable law of nature, which is simply called human nature. Virtually everyone wants to feel sexy and good looking, and a beautiful cologne and perfume help us do just that.