The Fragrance Lab – A lesson in how to do customisation

By Evie Monnington Taylor

a lesson in customisation at Selfridges' Fragrance Lab

I was lucky enough to experience the Fragrance Lab at Selfridges last week. It was a fantastic retail experience but what it really got me thinking about was customisation.

In a market saturated with cheap, mass-produced goods, we’re demanding more. It takes more to get our attention, more to get us to engage with a product or brand. In response to this, many brands are running campaigns that encourage consumers to customise products. Walkers re-introduced their “Do Us A Flavour” competition earlier this year and Coke ran their  “Share a Coke with…” campaign last year. These campaigns have been massively successful: traffic to Coke’s Facebook increased by 870% and this year Walkers hopes to improve on the one million votes cast in 2008’s campaign.

However, these campaigns aren’t taking proper advantage of the opportunity customisation offers: brands could be using it to showcase their category expertise. Instead, they are allowing consumers to create a variant in their range: a variant that’s beyond the brand’s control, a variant that risks being off-brand.

The Fragrance Lab, on the other hand, is the perfect example of a customisation process not only encouraging consumer engagement but also showcasing a brand’s expertise in a particular category.

It’s notoriously difficult to choose a new fragrance, as Anyvonne Carnot Kiock, Givaudan’s Head of Global Insights explains, “There are so many different products, the category is very fragmented… How do you choose between different products? It’s usually by the brand or there is a nice sales lady to help you but in many cases it’s not the case.”

The problem, as Kiock explains, “Most people don’t have the language for perfume. You don’t know how to say what you like because you don’t have the words.” – it’s a vocabulary that needs to be learnt, like wine connoisseurs talking about the tastes of different wines.

However, what they do at the Fragrance Lab, is to guide consumers through an almost synesthetic journey of turning a consumer’s reaction to certain visual and sensorial stimuli into a scent. In guiding, advising and providing a ‘curated’ selection of scent choices (you won’t end up with a horrible-smelling perfume!), The Fragrance Lab heroes Giavudan’s expertise.

That Givaudan can create a (and I have to agree with other commentators here) ‘spookily’ accurate Personal Analysis, that they know what a smell can express, that they know how to ‘distil’ your character into a scent- all this is seriously impressive. And so it’s through this customisation experience that Givaudan showcases its category expertise to the consumer.

It’s not only that, though. The perfume, by being customised for me, by being a ‘distillation’ of my character, is worth far more to me than a scent chosen from hundreds on a shelf. It represents me and so belongs to me in a way a standardised product could not.

The extraordinary level of consumer engagement created by a customised product is why Future Laboratory Chief Executive, Chris Anderson, thinks, “The future of retail is less about choice and more about informed recommendation.”

So, the Fragrance Lab is a stellar example of both how to hero your category expertise and create an engaging consumer experience. I would only suggest one small improvement to the experience, though: it was a pity that the Fragrance Lab was not created in association with one of the great fragrance brands like Chanel or Dior. It would have been interesting to have seen the customisation experience branded by the fragrance: what would a Chanel customisation journey feel like? What would a customised Dior fragrance look like? But perhaps, the reason is that these brands are all about their select, signature smells and having 1,000 different scents to suit every consumer would destroy their brand equity.

Customisation is on the horizon, though, so every fragrance brand should be thinking of how they can take advantage of the opportunity it offers, before someone else does.

At ECHO, we have a simple formula for injecting a little bit of madness, magic and meaning into the brands we work with:

  • STEP ONE: Find the launch pad. Analyse your brand and establish a platform to build from, identifying any assets that have been stripped back in the past. To achieve this you will have to truly understand not only your brand but also the major demographic and societal trends impacting upon your market place.
  • STEP TWO: Analysis alone is not enough- you need to take a brave creative leap. Creative inspiration can come from various and unexpected sources, ideally you will harness an eclectic team of people to help you build a 360 degree view of the world in which your brand exists and where it could flourish in the future.
  • STEP THREE: Deliver your core values in many ways and manifest these across all facets of your brand, from product performance, packaging and logo design to brand activation work.

If you want to see how we imagined a customised vodka that showcased the brand’s expertise, see our latest journal, Absolem – request a copy here.  

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