Even in an At-Home World, Fragrance Still Comes Up Roses

By Hearst InSites Archives
Cover image for  article: Even in an At-Home World, Fragrance Still Comes Up Roses

Social distancing and quarantine are no match for the power of fragrance. At a time when Americans are physically distant from work and social events, they're still turning to perfumes, colognes and home scents for comfort, joy and inspiration. While it might seem unconventional, fragrance brands are in a prime position to connect with new consumers and grow their business. What they say to consumers and where they say it is more important than ever.

The COVID-19 pandemic has produced unprecedented changes in how consumers shop and use beauty and wellness products, fragrance included. In the last year, Americans have been turning to personal and home scents more than ever for comfort, self-care and a sense of normalcy.

According to new fragrance industry research from Hearst Magazines, The Fragrance Foundation and MarketCast on the role of scent in an at-home world, 75 percent of fragrance wearers are using their scents just as much or even more than before the pandemic. They want fragrances that make them feel clean, confident, sexy and happy. This is even true on Zoom calls, with 30 percent of those talking about fragrance on social saying they've worn their favorite scent for important virtual meetings.

The past year has produced a marked shift in the types of fragrance products that Americans are buying. At home, 87 percent of survey respondents said they're using essential oils, home fragrances and candles more than ever, and BIPOC consumers are especially reaching for home fragrance for self-care. Home fragrance helps them delineate their days, trigger particular moods and bring back memories.

In their own homes, Hearst executives are enjoying these scent-based experiences. Kristen O'Hara, Hearst Magazines' chief business officer, has perfume that reminds her son of a past trip to Italy, while Jenna Rosenstein, digital beauty director at Harper's BAZAAR, has been burning Christmas-themed candles to evoke holiday vibes.

While Americans value fragrance more than ever, how they engage with scents is changing, and that's where brands need to tune in. Where fragrance used to be a public and group experience, it is now personal and close to home. In fact, according to Hearst's study, 60 percent of fragrance users said they now wear scents less for an occasion and more based on their mood or how they feel. Those sentiments were even stronger among consumers of color and Gen Zers.

Despite difficult economic times, Americans are still willing to shell out for home and personal fragrance products. What's radically shifted is how they shop and discover new smells. Where shoppers could once pop into a department store or Sephora to test out scents, many Americans have been cut off from in-person retail experiences. In response, scent strips in magazines, free samples, subscription boxes, as well as recommendations from family, friends and social media influencers have taken on increased significance.

To reach consumers in this altered market, the Hearst study urged brands to meet their shoppers where they are. It is imperative to have strong social content on young-skewing platforms like TikTok and Instagram. Among Gen Z, 60 percent of respondents said they're turning to social media for fragrance discovery.

More than ever, shoppers want to engage with authentic influencers and celebrities. The Hearst study found that consumers are most comfortable trying scents from celebrities who are involved in the product's creation and wear a scent themselves.

"Knowing what fragrance a celebrity loves or even created appeals to consumers who want to channel or embody that celeb's characteristics," said Lauren Feldman, research manager at MarketCast. "The fragrances that are purely promoted by celebs have less traction and more skepticism."

Today's fragrance shopper also wants to see themselves reflected in advertising. They want fragrance brands to represent their identity and self-expression, rather than being told to conform to a product's image. For instance, gender-neutral scents are growing in popularity with both men and women. Consumers want their individuality recognized. "The benefits people seek from fragrance have shifted. Brands should consider emphasizing how scents can make someone feel. Fragrance can be your secret weapon; the new red lip, your superpower," said Todd Haskell, chief marketing officer for Hearst Magazines.

Equally important, shoppers want fragrances to reflect their values. In Hearst's study, respondents said they want fragrance brands to be authentic, relatable and diverse, and 75% percent said they are interested in fragrance brands that support diversity and inclusion. When it comes to marketing, today's consumers, particularly Gen Z and Millennials, want to see people of color and different genders in advertising campaigns.

Environmental awareness is also factoring into brand perception, with 75 percent of consumers saying they're at least somewhat interested in a fragrance brand embracing sustainability. Increasingly, shoppers want to know what goes into their fragrance. But the study found there is some market confusion among shoppers that brands could help address. When respondents said they preferred "clean" fragrances, some thought it meant a fresh-smelling fragrance, while others expected it translated to environmentally friendly ingredients and a low-impact production process. The term "sustainability" could have dual meanings, either as long-lasting or environmentally friendly. Marketers can help solve this confusion with informative advertising, Haskell noted.

To effectively market to today's fragrance consumers and weather the current uncertainty, Hearst executives urged advertisers to be flexible and responsive. Fragrance shoppers may not be in the office or at parties, but they still want to feel like their best selves. With the right messaging, fragrance brands may even be in a position to grow their market share and attract new consumers.

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