What the rest of the world can learn from how the luxury fragrance market uses language
A linguistic analysis of the fragrance market, showing how younger brands are using new positionings to stretch the market
Who doesn’t want a 98% margin?
The fragrance business is the toughest test of whether you can create a magical belief in your brand. And it’s the best demonstration of how, when you succeed, that magic can create value.
For anyone who wants to learn how to create an aura of magic around their own brand, the fragrance industry’s use of language is instructive.
Fragrance is a commodity. The vast majority of luxury fragrances are made by just 5 manufacturers. The average cost of the ingredients in a £100 bottle of fragrance is about £1.50. 1 And, in a blind test, 90% of women preferred Lidl’s £4 perfume to a bottle from Chanel priced at £70.2
Now, as more people start to buy fragrance online without even trying it3, there is even more pressure on the language to create the magic. Sound familiar?
In our recent work in this sector, we’ve discovered 3 strategies that brands are using to create magic and add value.
Our research also shows how new brands are stealing market share by looking beyond the classical language used by traditional fragrances.
Strategy 1: Use language to conjure a dream world which only your brand inhabits.
Our sense of smell can transport us out of our present reality to another time and place. Some brands, such as Acqua di Parma, skilfully use language to direct our journey. These brands have a strong conception of the time and place in which they live, and they use strongly figurative language, painting pictures in the reader’s mind. To do this well, brands should use adjectives that specify time and place, just as a novelist might. The trick is not to fall simply for poetic sounds, but to stay focused on real imagery.
A tip for the brand owner: Be bold. You’re fighting a Blue Ocean Strategy for someone’s imagination. You can use nostalgia, or create entirely new worlds. It’s all about creating an emotional yearning.
A tip for your writers: stick a detailed image of your brand’s world to your monitor.
Strategy 2: Use language to reveal the magic of your processes.
Le Labo uses language to transfer the value of their particular process and philosophy into the fragrance itself. There’s no rational reason to care about the process, as ultimately it’s the smell of the scent you wear that should govern your reaction (and other people’s reactions) to it. But the ‘make’ story adds emotional value to the product. Brands that focus on proprietary processes often use esoteric words that are rooted in science, or in subcultures.
A tip for the brand owner: Even if your brand doesn’t have something unique in its process, you can use language to romanticise the key ingredients, or your philosophy, to create value in your products.
A tip for your writers: don’t let the rational words and thoughts overwhelm the emotional appeal. The functional subject matter can be lightened by using a more personable, progressive tone.
Strategy 3: Use language to elevate your product designers to the status of artists.
Frederic Malle is a perfumier who celebrates the ‘noses’ behind the scents. Each fragrance has a ‘creator’, and each creator is worthy of a small biography on the website. By using stories to increase the perceived value of the creator, the brand increases the perceived value of the product. To accomplish this, the brand acts as a curator, talking in the 3rd person about the genius of each perfumer.
A tip for the brand owner: You don’t have to rely on PR to elevate the reputation of your product designers. The language you use online and in-store to describe them frames people’s perception of them, and can create a magical aura around them. This makes anything they produce more valuable.
A tip for your writers: don’t forget to tell the stories of the people in your brand, not just your products.
Hot off the press: Coco Chanel’s favourite verbs
In July 2017, Chanel launched their first new fragrance for 15 years: ‘Gabrielle’. They chose Coco’s birth name for the brand, perhaps to suggest a removal of the brand-hype layers and the promise of something more intimate. Language is, of course, key to the product’s positioning.
On the front page of the website, there’s more play with how evocative language can be, with a short video telling the story of Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel through “her favourite verbs”.
They are: “Choose, Desire, Be, Conquer, Master, Love, Seize, Dare, Create.”
In launching a new product for an established brand, Chanel have also chosen to reinvigorate an old perfume trope: the ‘solar fragrance’. Proof that Chanel understands both its market and its brand.
How to analyse your brand’s language
As we’ve shown in the examples above, language isn’t just the product descriptions – it’s the entire positioning of the brand, conveyed by the language it uses. To analyse your brand’s language, consider it on 3 levels:
Your brand’s narrative voice (10,000ft) – this is the story that everyone who works in your brand needs to have in the back of their head. More than an ‘About Us’ section on the website, it’s the philosophy of the brand: what you stand for; the kind of people you are; what you’re up against. Even if it’s not expressed explicitly, it should guide every piece of brand writing.
Your brand lexicon (Ground Level) – the individual words you use define the associations your brand has in your customers’ minds. For example, on your website do you have a ‘shopping bag’? A ‘basket’? A ‘trolley’?
Successful brand language aligns its tone of voice and its lexicon with its narrative. It feels coherent, complete and convincing to consumers. If you held your hand over your logo and read your copy, could it be your brand – and only your brand – talking?
3 A client we’ve worked with recently has noticed almost 90% of new sales directly through the website