Fragrance Communities: Building awareness & earning trust
2022 . 01 . 14 |
Fragrance communities abound in the virtual world whether on social media platforms, websites or elsewhere. On the surface we may think they exist to bring like-minded people together to share their love for fragrance, but it’s not always the case. Over the past year I’ve been following about a dozen communities to get a feel for the kind of activity and chatter that occurs regularly. The ones I tracked range in size from over 200,000 to just a few hundred members. Most of them attract members from all over the world, while a few were centric to North America, the UK, the Middle East or India. Certainly there are groups who are passionate about perfume, but there are also plenty where members are looking for cheap deals, or they’re buying for and selling from their personal collection. Or they’re bragging about said collection by posting photos! There is also an active fragrance review community which, according to YouTube’s official blog, is only ten years old. During the early days of the pandemic, views of videos in this category grew by 50% over the same period of the prior year. There are some knowledgeable reviewers out there but there are many who lack legitimacy. These observations got me thinking, what is, or isn’t a fragrance community today? What can fragrance industry professionals learn from listening in on the conversations? I caught up with with dana sandu, hi-tech consultant and amateur fragrance anthropologist, to dive deeper into this topic and to get some insight.
Perhaps we should start by defining what is a community?
Communities are defined by four points. First comes the scope, it’s the premise, the reason for the group to exist. Next you have the leader or moderator, followed by the members, and ending with the context or the circumstances. Underneath all of this, there’s the assumption that there is a common language, as well as some basic cultural overlap that allows for the act of communication to exist—but that’s a conversation for another date!
On a practical basis, we also have to recognize that there are brand communities and non-brand communities, but let’s look at the four points.
The scope is related to business when the group is brand centric. It can be about raising awareness about the brand, creating the image, bringing awareness to the brand values, and driving sales. However, most online communities aren’t brand related – for them, the scope is murky since it’s usually associated with the interests of their leaders/group founders. Sometimes the scope is community building: to make friends with like-minded people who have a similar passion, such as lovers of vintage fragrances. But there are groups out there who are selling product that they are somehow acquiring, and then the true scope is not to gather people with a common interest. This is when the scope and the leader become more entangled and may not really be what is declared.
The role of the leader varies depending on whether the community is branded or not. For brand communities, it matters less who the leader is or even the owner: think about a brand like Le Labo or Editions Frederic Malle who are owned by Estee Lauder. Leaders of non-brand communities can be charismatic figures who gather followers like gurus of fragrance. They may be well-known or emerging through building their community.
The members join the communities because they rally around the scope or the leader. They are in sync with the message being communicated. Lastly, in regard to circumstances, or context, these are fluid and changing. The pandemic, for example, shifted things a bit.
What observations can you make about how the pandemic affected communities ?
COVID forced people into situations: some people lost their jobs, they were separated physically from others, they were in front of their computer all the time, they got bored with the content they were seeing, and they started to care about stuff they didn’t have time to think about before. They started looking for venues where they could find information or kinship. Sometimes people found that they no longer resonated with the group they had been in – perhaps because of political issues, women’s issues, environmental issues and so on. Individuals were forced to find their own space, and the aggregation of that space creates a new way for us to look at communities.
How did this dynamic affect the communities?
The pandemic brought up some questions of ethics and morality which slowly forced the leaders, the communities and the brands, through a bottom up pressure coming from the members, to pick a place and fill it. Normally this takes a long time, and can occur due to wars or major events, but because we have internet, and everything is happening so easily online, the changes have been accelerated. People paid more attention to what was being said, but also to what was not being said – the negative space. Silence means something and people take notice.
Communities and brands can no longer be in a position to say, “I don’t want to bring xx subject into the discussion”. There are too many questions that will be asked. People notice inconsistencies too: take for example the groups who start using certain hashtags to piggyback on issues and causes, when previously they never had a position. Members keep an eye on what is being said, they voice their concern, and the way they react is starting to take practical forms such as “Here is a list of brands and groups who have taken a stance, and here is a list of the ones who didn’t talk about xx cause so let’s boycott them.” Membership in communities has exploded – we see groups with 50,000, 100,000 even 200,000 members, and with volume comes responsibility and the chance that you cannot be neutral anymore.
Are there any communities we should watch out for?
There is a rise in what I call “anti-groups” where there is a motivation to be exclusionary. The scope could be “French or nothing”, or “We hate synthetics”.
There is also a select group of communities that center around the “Alpha Male” energy. Their scope is upping everybody else and making fun of people who aren’t Alpha Males. Fragrance for the Alpha Male needs to be “beast-mode”, meaning very long-lasting or even “panty-droppers” which the meaning is obvious. I’ve seen members in these groups post pictures where a gun is next to their bottle of fragrance. Not knowing about these communities is natural since we gravitate to what we associate with. People who are looking for inspiration and pure artistry are a much smaller segment- mostly because fragrance is, in all truth, an instrument—and not merely the idealized notion these art seekers are trying to pursue.
The alpha-through-fragrance is not an isolated philosophy; it may not be representative for the industry at large, but it is certainly not to be ignored. It’s important for brands to be careful to try to understand the entirety of the market. This sector does generate a lot of sales, so if your scope is only to sell, this is definitely a passionate portion of the market. If it’s not the sort of energy you want to be associated with, then you need to know if your product gets picked up and hyped in this kind of environment.
I think there is room and space for everything but we just need to be aware of it
What can we deduce about fragrance usage from conversations in communities?
The purpose of fragrance has diversified, maybe thanks to the internet. Perfumery is not just art, it’s also something functional, and it was that way centuries ago when it was used in rituals and religious rites. It is now more functional than ever before. It hadn’t been about self-expression - which is a societal function - but now that’s very prevalent.
With less disposable income, we see that people are paying closer attention to the financial aspect of things – such as value. What does value mean for me in isolation? It’s less about going out and fishing for compliments because of what you own or what you exude. You can’t be the most original smelling person in the room in lockdown. You can’t expect your fragrance to speak for you because you’re too shy to say things as loudly as it does for you! All of these things can contribute to a value. So now what kind of value does a fragrance have when societal value isn’t there? What’s left after you take away its social role?
I think some brands were surprised to see fragrance sales grow or decrease during the pandemic. For those who didn’t see an increase, it could be a sign that their particular brand is used as a social instrument of communication. Since that tool is no longer useful, those who bought it as a tool and not for the smell, stopped buying it. People have become more sincere with themselves; they don’t have to enhance anything or mask anything so self-purchases more accurately reflect what people actually like.
What kind of repercussions do you think we can expect?
The truth is relevant more than ever now, and it means people are getting exposed for things they can no longer get away with. For example, we see members start questioning whether a viewer is authentic or getting kickbacks. People start to lose trust – and you can see that in numbers.
And trust is going to be very important. What are the three pillars of trust? First, building positive relationships so look at the way you treat your community, your employees, your customers and even your non-customers. Secondly, look at your expertise. Bring talent and expertise together, drop the ego, be good at what you do while letting others contribute. And finally, be authentic and consistent. Walk your talk! How short is the line between what you think, what you say and what you do? Be a good role model, set a good example, be consistent, honor commitments and keep your promises.
Reflecting on what I have observed over the past year, along with the input I got from Dana Sandu, here is a short list of takeaways that could be useful to fragrance professionals when navigating communities and forums:
- Start by looking at information about the community which is generally posted on an “About” page. Who is the leader? What are the rules of conduct and posting? Some groups don’t allow promotion or sales posts, some ask that posts be positive and respectful only, some warn members to refrain from coarse language and risqué photos. This will help you determine where you will find like-minded members.
- See how your brand is talked about and in what ways. Are people writing reviews? Is your fragrance their Scent of the Day or Evening? Are other members commenting? What can you learn from the feedback. Use any constructive criticism for potential improvements
- Join a few groups and get involved. A popular YouTuber gets regular comments from a niche fragrance brand’s creative director even when other brands are reviewed. Effectively, he becomes a contributing member of the community.
- Understand that there are varying levels of knowledge in the community. Some members are novices and some are fragrance junkies who are very informed. Fragrance professionals can actually promote learning with their input.
- Give it time. Even groups that tend to speak about mainstream brands have members talking about niche fragrances, and this is good news. Visit the communities you decide to follow at least several times every week.
- If you are so inclined and have the manpower, start your own community. But don’t do it unless you can lead and monitor the group on a regular basis. This is a way of strengthening relationships with the public – just be sure you earn their trust.
Dana sandu is an amateur fragrance anthropologist, a discerning reviewer known as @a_nose_knows, the lead Romanian-language content creator for all Nas de Nas channels, a regular contributor to CaFleureBon, and a hi-tech consultant observing Fast Data and IoT in Silicon Valley. She participated in Esxence’s Digital Event in September 2020.