Have you ever asked yourself WHY people buy perfume? Let's consider it with the focus on women's fragrances.
** Perfume as a gift.
Men buy perfume for women as a gift. While some men -- a minority -- may have some knowledge of brands and fragrances, the basic motivation is to please and impress. Thus, it has to be a "big" brand, or a fragrance from a big celebrity that the female recipient admires. A guy would not generally buy an off brand or a knock off for a woman unless he's pretty downscale, pretty cheap, or pretty clueless -- or (worst of all) knows that the woman is TOTALLY clueless.
For a woman to buy perfume as a gift the situation gets more complex. If the gift is for a daughter or mother, either it is going to be selected because the buyer knows that the recipient LOVES the fragrance OR the purchase may be made to EDUCATE the recipient, to elevate her taste, to introduce her to a new fragrance style, to "update" her, to help her present herself as younger and more modern or older and more sophisticated. In this case we can expect that the buyer has some knowledge of fragrances currently on the market and has probably paid some attention to fragrance advertising.
If the woman is buying a perfume for someone who is NOT a relation, the test will be to find a fragrance that is APPROPRIATE FOR THE OCCASION. Cost, status, their social relationship are likely to be the deciding issues. Even if the buyer KNOWS a particular perfume is really great -- well made, fragrant, unique, tenacious -- if that perfume is little known and perhaps not packaged quite so nicely, it is not likely to be chosen for this sort of gift. The IMMEDIATE PERCEPTION OF APPROPRIATE VALUE on the part of the recipient is what this buyer is aiming for. The exception would be a close, long standing friendship in which case the "buying for mother or daughter" rule would apply.
** Perfume women buy for themselves.
Much is written about this in the trade magazines. The recent economic storm (not quite over) is said to have made changes in women's shopping patterns. Some, I have read, are simply scaling down their spending, going for less expensive items even if their income remains unchanged. Others, so I have read, are going "earth friendly" in some cases and "traditional values" in others. Still other women, so I have read, ignore economics and continue to express their personalities as before.
A lot of nonsense is written on this topic but without this nonsense, a lot of magazines would be out of business.
Let's look at women's purchases of perfume for themselves from a LOGICAL point of view (backed up by some keen observations.)
*** Professional presence.
For a woman to present herself as a "professional," perfume can be a requirement. The perfume itself must be APPROPRIATE to her professional field and standing and those with whom she will interact. For the "high power" executive woman or entrepreneur, brands become important. She can't be seen (smelt) wearing a fragrance that the office secretaries are wearing any more than a high power male executive could show up for an important meeting wearing a cheap suit. If she is meeting with other powerful women, the selection of her perfume becomes even more important as at least some of these women are likely to RECOGNIZE her perfume and judge her by the judgment she used in making this selection.
In the non-high power professional world, the appropriate choice among mass marketed possibilities goes something like the cliche that was once used by male executives faced with a purchasing decision: "You can't go wrong with IBM." For the mid-level professional woman we might say: "You can't go wrong with Estee Lauder."
** Personal presence.
For a professional woman, "professional image" is very important, perhaps even more important than for a professional man. But obviously not all women buy perfume for "professional image" and even image-conscious professional women also buy perfume for their private pleasure and private fantasies, and for personal social occasions, and for romance. Here the pressure is off. Brand means little. Bottle and packaging mean little. I have written a lot about the importance of PACKAGING and PRESENTATION but in this case THE FRAGRANCE ITSELF makes the sale.
Perfumes that survive in the market place for more than a few seasons are the ones that win out because of the perfume itself. On "private" occasions a sophisticated woman will chose a perfume that she favors personally ... because of the fragrance itself.
Here we are talking about celebrity fragrances, fragrances that ATTRACT prospects through their celebrity connection. Here the buyer is generally a less sophisticated perfume selector. If she admires the celebrity and if the fragrance itself works for her, a sale can be made. The power to DRAW prospects of course depends on the power of the celebrity, the bond between the celebrity and the WOMAN, the degree to which the WOMAN identifies with the celebrity. And of course the fragrance itself must be acceptable.
** Recommendations ("girl talk").
Hey, to fit in you have to buy what's right! You find out what's right by listening to what your crowd is saying. They KNOW -- although what they know might have nothing to do with the perfume itself. This shopping method incidentally, relates to "girls" of all ages. For the girls, the "talk" can also include "reviews" by "experts' such as Luca Turin, Chandler Burr, and a multitude of happy bloggers.
** Sophisticated purchasers.
There are, no doubt, women of sophisticated taste who can, when a really great new perfume comes along, pick it out immediately. For those buyers the local mall is too small a market. Even America may be too small a market and here the woman may look at the INTERNATIONAL fragrance market and brands that are still unknown in America. The problem with these women for most marketers is that there are not very many of them and even within this small group, only a handful can AFFORD to indulge their refined tastes. This is why the "big boys" prefer the mass market where the REAL MONEY is to be found.
If I'm wrong in any of this analysis, don't hesitate to point it out to me. I'd love to improve my own understanding of why women buy perfume. Wouldn't you?