Unlike the generation before them, Millennials aren’t flocking to heritage brands or attracted to the celebrity spokesperson model, instead demanding authenticity, storytelling and a unique point of difference.
“No longer is there a ‘one-size-fits-all’ culture in fragrance consumption as there was in the past,” said Brooke Banwart, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of fragrance at Sephora. “Niche fragrance brands are bringing a new aesthetic and approach to the traditional fragrance model. They have a unique take on self-expression and are connecting more to personality and overall style in a fresh, modern way.”
Banwart and Doreen Bucher, vice president of global marketing for fine fragrance at Symrise, are recipients of this year’s CEW Top Talent Awards, which recognize the achievements of the next wave of beauty industry leaders.
“In the past, people had a signature fragrance and now we realize that the world might not be a signature fragrance place anymore,” said Bucher, stating that many Millennials are looking to fragrance wardrobing to create their own unique scent.
In addition, niche brands like Kilian, Atelier Cologne and Jo Loves are capturing the attention of Millennials with marketing strategies that emphasize digital activations and storytelling.
One approach resonating with today’s young consumers is fragrance marketing that highlights a scent’s quality ingredients rather than banking on a traditional marketing model fueled by overtly racy visuals and big celebrity names — think brands like Clean Reserve, Le Labo or Ex Nihilo.
“Hundreds of years ago, we didn’t talk about masculine and feminine fragrances. It’s a marketing construct,” Bucher said. “You see that in niche brands, it’s all about fragrance. It’s not specifically for a man or for a woman, but it’s just about being a beautiful fragrance.”
Looking ahead, a key challenge in marketing ingredient-driven fragrances is education. The average consumer doesn’t necessarily have an extensive knowledge of fragrance families or specific ingredients.
“The problem for [the fragrance market] is developing the language and teaching customers,” Bucher continued. “Customers don’t grow up learning about [fragrance notes], so the challenge is teaching them that language.”
She elaborated that many customers don’t understand the differences between natural and synthetic ingredients with many leaning toward natural for its supposed benefits instead of synthetics because of chemical properties. However, many natural ingredients can contain allergens and can be harmful to the environment and many synthetic ingredients don’t contain any harmful side effects. A combination of natural and synthetic ingredients can create clean fragrances, so fragrance brands need to educate their customers on what composes a clean fragrance.
At Sephora, the retailer is also working to educate its customers on fragrance families and key notes. Sephora offers Fragrance IQ, which is an online or in-store quiz that helps customers determine their preferred fragrance family and gives them options for what they’re specifically looking for.
“Clients love intuitive, fun-to-use digital tools that make their shopping experience more unique, engaging or a little bit easier,” Banwart said of the quiz.
Since Millennials increasingly shop online or via their mobile devices, the direct-to-consumer fragrance category is burgeoning with new brands. Labels like Pinrose, Scentbird and Phlur have resonated with customers thanks to their digital storytelling across social media platforms.
“Digital platforms are an interesting way of educating customers than at a fragrance counter,” Bucher said. “At a [department store] counter you can spray [the fragrance] and see if you like it, but you might not have the storytelling of a fragrance versus a digital purchase where you get the education on ingredients and inspiration.”
This approach has been successful for many brands, like Commodity, which started as a direct-to-consumer line and is now available in 500 Sephora doors.
Both executives concur that key to marketing to today’s generations of young consumers is delivering an authentic and personal experience.
“[You have to] prioritize personalization while still balancing the needs of the business,” Banwart said. “It’s important we help guide the customer on their journey, especially if you can be a part of their discovery and satisfaction. There’s real magic in shaping the consumer connection to a brand.”
Doreen Bucher: Bucher joined Symrise in 2006 as the director of fine fragrance marketing in North America. Since 2016 she has led global marketing for the fine fragrance business, developing the global strategic marketing and public relations divisions. She is responsible for promoting Symrise’s unique selling points to increase sales and market share. She holds an MBA from Columbia Business School and has worked across entertainment, eyewear, licensing and cosmetics industries.
Brooke Banwart: As vice president and divisional merchandise manager of fragrance, Banwart has been responsible for Sephora’s fragrance vision, strategy, in-store experience and merchandise presentation for the past four years. She also sits on the board of directors at The Fragrance Foundation. Prior to joining Sephora, Banwart worked as the divisional merchandise manager at Gap Inc., and held roles within the company at Piperlime and Old Navy.