A message to the fragrance industry: “Take scent out of the sales environment” (Odette Toilette Interview)

...this is the way to create a meaningful relationship with consumers nervous of the fragrance hall

Although she has never worked in the fragrance industry, Odette Toilette had a gut feeling that there could be a different way of doing things. She has always spent a lot her disposable income on fragrance but couldn't find any events on the topic –so she decided to start her own scent sessions designed to debunk the mystery fragrance houses so like to build up around their brands.

I caught up with Odette recently when she was a guest speaker at one of the CEW Mentoring sessions. She shared her ideas about how consumers could be better educated about fragrance and new ways for brands and retailers to connect with customers.

What gave you the idea of setting up fragrance events for consumers?

Specifically, I have always placed the discovery of fragrance as a pursuit that while of course part of beauty, is also so much more than that. I wanted to bring together the fun with the intellectual and to take scent out of the sales environment because, counter-intuitively, I think this is how you can best create a meaningful relationship with consumers who are nervous of the fragrance hall.

How do your scent sessions work?

Broadly speaking, the events take a little bit from salons, a little from cabaret nights and more still from book clubs. Everyone sits around tables, with friends or meeting new people, often armed with wine, and for the next two hours, will be immersed in a themed journey into fragrance. It could be anything from perfume and art, music, teen nostalgia, fashion, travel or even wine. Sometimes it’s pop-culture, sometimes it’s highbrow.

There’s usually a presentation from a guest speaker which introduces the connections between the subject matter while the audience get to sniff lots of perfumes and feedback their own ideas and even anecdotes and personal stories triggered by encountering a scent. It’s a lively atmosphere and there are usually parlour games somewhere in there, too... I've got people doing Haiku writing competitions, perfume-inspired teen ‘dear diary’ entries, and matching movie clips with anonymous vials of scent. This sort of activity always creates discussion, with someone on a table saying, “THIS perfume is the western film”, and the person next to them insisting, “no it’s not!”

What lessons do you think the fragrance industry can learn from your approach to teaching consumers how to appreciate fragrance?

To do more than the one-size-fits-all campaign, and to reach out to particular and niche groups of consumers who can champion the brand. I think the idea that brands could offer more in the way of fragrance education or workshops would be fantastic. Not just raw materials (synthetics as well as naturals, please!), but the history of perfumery, or experientially living the concept behind a perfume would be wonderful.

Be more creative with sampling. It really does work and yet I always feel shifty when I ask for one! And make your sampling interesting; give it a twist. By this I mean think about the story you are telling with the sample - the copy, the imagery, the format for production of the thing itself - and how you can offer people a mini-experience when they get home, to draw them into the fragrance.

Collaborate more for the benefit of the industry overall. The coffee trade has made huge gains over the last few years having really embraced customer education and engagement. The London Coffee festival was on recently, and I do wonder, when will the fragrance world come together to throw the best week of fragrance events ever?

To think about how fragrance can reach out and engage with other creative industries, from food to design and fashion.Invest in launch experiences for key customers as well as for press junkets. Get them out of the store and offer them something intriguing and special.Explore the curation of brilliant digital content around their product. While I love getting to watch the HD, extended edit of the latest big-budget Christmas ad as much as the next girl, there’s far too much whizzy video and flash which slows down my laptop, and not enough to really fire up the imagination of the customer. I really do think that so many brands are living breathing museums; why not open up the archive, especially old adverts and historic footage, and let people have a play?  I also think archives could help brands see new direction for marketing and art direction.

Honour the older ranges. I remember when I was in a shop once, and asking about a perfume from a luxury brand, and being told it didn’t exist. Six months later, that perfume was re-launched and suddenly everywhere I went, I was being sprayed with it in the shops because it was a hot topic. It’s funny because you go from thinking you’re mad, and that I was imagining this perfume, to being exposed to it everywhere once the marketing machine kicked in! I don’t think this honours the customer, and while space in retail outlets is of course at a premium and not everything can be kept on, remember that somebody might have fallen in love with that perfume that got replaced, so making sure your sales team know about it and how it fits in with the brand history is so important.

You can find out more about Odette and her views on fragrance here.