A New Standard: Storyselling in an Era of Caution

Brands are taking it back to their core values. We explore how Covid-19 has affected communication strategies across the fragrance industry, and how to reframe the conversation with consumers about what you stand for.

Storyselling in an Era of Caution

The unique economic + humanitarian condition affecting our global community has compounded public sentiments of fear and uncertainty. During a time when in-person relationship building is not possible, brands intending to deliver on the promise of a repeatable experience must now rebuild brand equity with their consumer base, leaning on core values, insightful storytelling, and relatable content. 

Many of us are grappling with austerity resulting from an overall lack of confidence for what the future may hold. Companies able to react to extreme swings in demand and pivot with speed saw lead times on both ends of supply chain and marketing squeezed to the bone. Those who successfully adapted internal processes to support new corporate social responsibility initiatives or repurposed production may have been able to thwart layoffs, but face daily tradeoffs in short-term profitability for long-term brand value creation and customer retention.

Historically popular fragrance advertising sold abstract dreams with emotional provocation. This hyper-targeted messaging seemed extraneous almost overnight, requiring perfumeries to find new ways to engage consumers’ other senses and address digitally emergent, behavioral expressions with compassion and relevancy.

Over the last several weeks, we consulted and interviewed executives within the international fragrance industry value chain to understand how their companies have been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. The depth of takeaways is invaluable.

Social listening for relevancy

Consumers are postponing purchases of clothing, color cosmetics, and fine fragrance, countering the surge in demand for skincare, home cleaning products and air fresheners. While carts full of discretionary desires have been abandoned before checkout, B2B fragrance suppliers are better insulated from extreme market swings due to their portfolio diversification across prestige splurges and mass channel products with in-demand functional benefits. Premium and luxe consumer-facing brands with more indulgent product lines require greater tolerance for economic turmoil to ride this destructive tidal wave to shore unscathed.

To understand how to best reach consumers amid changes in preferences and affordability, we must simply ask the right questions, listen for the answers, and make behavioral observations. Your listening scope does not have to be geography based. Many companies have surprised themselves by finding out they have pockets of diehard fans in locations previously untargeted. But branded interactions, regardless of circumstance, should always be relevant to both the consumer and brand values.

This is your voice, the distinct expression of your brand’s personality through words. The message itself can be educational or entertaining, but the situation will advise your tone. Observed social media conversations surrounding the coronavirus lead us to believe that the emotional inflection, or tone, suitable for most communication today should be conscientious and solution-driven.

We connected with Camille Le Feuvre, CEO and Founder of pH fragrances, a new generation of clean, perfumed products based in France. She believes that “health will become a key element with strong consumer expectations towards even more transparency,” and reiterated the need to identify what’s become important to her users given market feedback. “It is the perfect timing to rethink an economic model towards more meaning. A huge shift is coming; a complete overhaul of the economy and this shift will be an accelerator of mega trends. Clean beauty is a mega trend. A hygienic wave is coming, and an awareness of the importance of what is in a product, where it is made and under what conditions it is made.”

With new insights and a pause on physical retail, Le Feuvre and her team were able to create videos of their products, ingredients, manufacturing process, and artistic process that (re)educate the consumer on the clean and ethical sourcing commitments of the brand.

The announcement of handwash donation makes no more sense for a shoemaker than it does for a beauty label to start producing latex gloves. Stay on brand, even in a crisis. Strengthen the messaging surrounding your own core competencies, and you won’t need to borrow from anyone else’s.

Stories sell: connecting through the ‘other’ senses 

Perfumed brands which can no longer rely on the sense of smell at shelf must exemplify appropriate use cases for a future where the home and outside world embody moments of equal pleasure. This is where Storyselling – the art of revenue generation through a connection to stories – comes into play.

Natalia Outeda, Founder of Frassaï, the first woman-owned niche perfume house in Argentina, describes the origin of her most popular scent. “Inspired by a French fairytale, Blondine is about a girl who gets dropped off in the forest. It's in the dark hours and she has to go through this journey where she emerges as a new person. This is a metaphor for life, of all these difficult situations that we go through. So now we can help each other get out of the forest and emerge from this time of darkness with a new perspective.”

Connecting stories to a business imperative is not the immediate goal, rather a case for building rapport, a cultural association and a branded voice with which consumers can identify. Outeda continued, “For me, it's not having more and more, it’s about launching fewer, but better fragrances that have a meaningful story behind them. It’s about promoting my culture as well. It's not only fragrance, but also the richness that Argentina has to offer."

This is where social listening cues are tested. Understanding your current and target audiences allows you to craft storied content that resonates with emotional and contextual inferences. It is an imperative today as much as it will be when the doors reopen. And with a slowed, cautious economy, we have the time to iterate.

Authentic communication strikes the heart 

Socially connected experiences in the home have become all the rage. From live-streamed workout classes to nightly DJ battles, brands formerly associated with in-person events innovated their way into housewarming invitations. But how does this translate to consumable goods?

Consumers are smart and can sense the difference between empathetic, solutions-based messaging and hard selling tactics that take advantage of a disadvantaged, browbeaten crowd. One highlights a product or service which could alleviate crisis-related challenges, while the other feels like an exploitation of an unfortunate situation. Any temporary market share grab under the guise of cause marketing will come off as self-serving.

Ajmal Perfumes immediately bolstered their e-commerce offering with free 48 hour delivery in Dubai and increased online SKU availability from stores. They also personally reached out to customers with video messaging detailing how the company is taking all health precautions to provide high quality products right from manufacturing to the last mile. COO Abdulla Ajmal noted, “One of the key values of our brand is TRUST which we have steadily built over a period of seven decades. We strongly believe that we can continue leveraging this trust factor with consistent focus on offering quality products and impeccable service to our online consumers.” A previously retail-heavy channel, their e-comm business has since experienced a fifteen fold increase in number of daily orders.

In lieu of admonishing brands that have, for example, continued to showcase imagery featuring unattainable exotic locations we’ve been banned from visiting, we want to highlight a few Instagram posts from those who intensified engagement with their consumers in ways authentic to their core DNA.

Fashion & CPG Examples

3.27 @bulgari was one of the very first luxury houses to transform existing production facilities into the manufacturing of hand sanitizers, hospital scrubs, and/or masks. This immediate response was lauded internationally for selfless contribution.

4.14 @dove paid homage to all healthcare heroes on the frontline with this touching video clip, while also announcing the redirection of media investment toward hygiene education and PPE donations.

3.25 @omoarabia released a poignant GIF utilizing a play on words that both related to its key product line in laundry care, and the overwhelming need for reassurance by the public. The resulting message is on brand and compassionate.

4.15 @vogueitalia selected imagery for its ‘Far Away So Close’ portfolio created by 40+ artists under quarantine, now featured in the #WhiteCanvas April 2020 issue. A beautiful representation of isolation in real time.

Fragrance-First Examples

4.20 @freshbeauty is leaning on education with multiple posts inviting viewers to escape into the Story of Rose. An air of exclusivity (and contact info collection) was created to view the YouTube documentary with an RSVP, only accessible by secondary engagement touchpoint - IG Stories.

4.8 @omanluxury began weekly IG “Live Fragrance Talks” in April, featuring perfumers and industry experts with whom perfume lovers could interact and learn more about their inspiration. Their second chat featured acclaimed perfume writer for Fragrantica, Miguel Matos.

4.26 @Scentbird repurposed fan photographer art to convey (an achievable) lifestyle setting of relaxation with several brands carried by the e-comm subscription platform. Subtle and relatable.

3.27 @kilianparis connected with the increased use case for hand cream, while simultaneously sharing a personal tidbit (his birthday) as a timely reason to offer this complementary gift with purchase.

While some were already excelling in a digital-first world prior to sheltering-in-place orders, others were able to drastically reduce marketing campaign approval loops in order to intensify responses related to the changing consumer circumstance. This nimble agility begs the question: will the cumbersome layers of internal red tape be necessary again post-Covid?

As these examples show, now is not the time to ‘go dark’. Canadian diffuser and aroma oils manufacturer, AromaTech, has been weathering the storm of changes with a willingness to satisfy demand while absorbing deep margin concessions. Well-received promotions on a product line that makes increased time spent at home more enjoyable prevented any staffing cuts to their teams. CEO Dimitri Gallit impassioned with optimism, "For the last couple of months our main focus has been on enhancing residential environments through our scent diffusers and fragrances for those that are stuck at home. We decided to stay open, keep our employees staffed, and turn up the intensity of how we are targeting our clients and impact their daily lives at home with scent. This is a great opportunity for companies that are especially on-line to not go dark, but instead connect even more with their customers. Learn about them, create long lasting relationships and turn customers into loyal brand ambassadors."

If you’d like to keep up with praiseworthy instances of municipality support and relief efforts across the fragrance industry (there are SO many more), please visit the Fragrance Creators Association Covid-19 Activity Tracker: People Doing Good.

We cannot idly wait for the economy to reopen while treading water. The public will remember fondly the companies who personified their values and spoke their language when the weight of uncertainty was taking its toll, and reward them justly with enthusiastic patronization and referral. 

Which stories will lead you to shore in the new era?

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