Special Edition: Fragrance Trends

In a ‘tumultuous’ year, industry must remember ‘fragrance trends reflect people’, says expert

By Kacey Culliney contact

- Last updated on GMT

The fragrance industry is well placed to give relief and help people back back to ‘normal’ after a plethora of uncertainty and difficulty this year (Getty Images)
The fragrance industry is well placed to give relief and help people back back to ‘normal’ after a plethora of uncertainty and difficulty this year (Getty Images)

Related tags: Fragrance, Perfume, Marketing, Emotion, scents, Fragrance industry


The year 2020 has been acutely shaped by health, political and environmental uncertainty, and fragrance manufacturers and brands must consider this on an emotional level when working to connect with consumers, says a fragrance marketing expert.

From devastating forest fires in Australia to lengthy Brexit ambiguity, the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement, 2020 has, so far, been “a tumultuous time”​, said Nathanial Davis, a multi-sensory marketing expert offering online professional training in fragrances and flavours and lecturer at the University of Côte d’Azur.

Consumers looking to fragrance to get back onto ‘an even keel’

Davis told CosmeticsDesign-Europe consumers had been polarised in so many aspects of life this year, with the COVID-19 crisis in particular creating seismic change for most people worldwide.

“People during quarantine have either been working very, very hard because business models have been changed, and some of these people have been very busy and not been taking time for a lot of self-care. Some people have been put on a kind of pause and gone more towards self-care and rituals but driven both by anxiety, fear, sense of loss (…) and they’ve been using products that are then going to get them back onto an even keel. And in fragrance, we’ve been doing that for years. The fragrance industry is well placed to give relief and help people back into ‘the normal’,”​ he said.

But the needs of these consumers presented very differently across groups, Davis said.

“I think the main thing to remember is that fragrance and fragrance trends reflect people.” ​Some consumers may perhaps be looking for comfort to calm anxiety; others might be looking for confidence to overcome fears – there was a wealth of emotions a fragrance could spark in a consumer, he said, and it could be extremely powerful.

Emotional association - 'scent memory is unprocessed'

“People get very linked to scents and that’s because of the way the brain works. Scent memory is unprocessed. Unlike vision or hearing, it’s just emotion that leads those scent memories.”

Teaching perfumers and chemists about emotional associations to scents is hugely relevant (Getty Images)
Teaching perfumers and chemists about emotional associations to scents is hugely relevant (Getty Images)

“…One thing I teach perfumers and chemists is the idea of layering. You’ll start with a product and a feature, and then ask: what does that product gives you? What’s the benefit of that part of the fragrance? And then you get to something which is a bit more emotional. Really, behind it all, you’re getting beyond the technical aroma chemical and getting to something which is a very emotional association.”

Teaching perfume creators to have deeper knowledge on emotional associations to scents, he said, was hugely important and could be very influential in how fragrances were designed and marketed.

“When a fragrance lands, it lands on an emotional level,”​ he said, and manufacturers, brands and marketeers had to understand that.

Sensory marketing – giving consumers ‘what they want’

Davis said the first encounter with a fragrance was particularly important, though that ‘first encounter’ wasn’t necessarily smell; it involved all the preamble that went before.

“A lot of the independent brands are very good at fostering a community and people around them who genuinely believe in the product and lifestyle. People are going to then want to try something new from that brand. They’re already half-way convinced.”

And Davis said tapping into emotions was crucial to the preamble and marketing of a fragrance. “It’s about helping consumers get what they want, but the marketing must genuine”.

Products and related marketing had to be built on a truth, he said, but a truth that consumers could discover themselves. “People don’t like being told ‘this will make you feel’ something. We don’t like that. If we discover it ourselves, we’ll own that truth because we think we’ve found it. I think companies owe us that.”

“…Manufacturers must learn to identify the practical – rational – factors that give the consumer confidence that the product works but also the important unconscious triggers that make the consumer truly believe it,”​ he said. “They key to great cosmetic products is that not only do they work, but the consumer feels they work. So, both rational awareness and a subconscious level belief in the product is important.”

The difficult part was communicating all that to consumers, he said, and the simplest way was to talk about emotions, because there wasn’t a well-developed language to truly describe scents in layman terms. “We understand emotion. And with the clarity of communication, particularly if it’s well thought-out and reflected in the packaging and sets up the experience, you’re leading [consumers] into a product well.”

Fragrance future? ‘A lot of disruption to come’

Asked what the biggest challenge for the fragrance industry was in 2020 and beyond, Davis said: “It’s still an industry that hasn’t been disrupted as much as other industries – look at cosmetics or even male shaving. I think there’s still a lot of disruption to come.”

And this would transpire through changes in transparency and the concept of clean labelling, he said. “Our industry is quite traditional and word-of-mouth and cloak and daggers, and it’s changing. There are a few perfumers who seem to be very open and others very secretive – that’s the disruption that’s coming.”

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