Exclusive interview

Culture in Fragrance part 2: Shifting from gifts to aspirations

By Natasha Spencer

- Last updated on GMT

Culture in Fragrance part 2: Shifting from gifts to aspirations
We talked to Philip Hwang, Brand Strategy Director at Brandimage some more about how APAC is embracing the fragrance sector and how brands can leverage cultural heritage to make an impact.

Eastern versus western habits

Fierce competition and the need to stand out more creates innovative fragrances launches, coupled with the fact that Asian consumers are becoming educated and knowledgeable very fast and increasingly sophisticated.   

These drivers are only unique to the APAC region in the sense of speed and also in terms of different growth curves and usage curves that is inherent to every single different market.

In western markets, including the US and Europe, that are numerous habits that are ingrained into daily life. These differ considerably to APAC fragrance consumers’ needs.

For example, in Europe, consumers are invited to experience small neighbourhood-based shops full of fragrances.

“This discovery trip often does not contain high-end or prestige items, but rather the act of perfume shopping is deep-seated as a habit and used as a way to show style and as an act of self-expression,”​ Philip Hwang, Brand Strategy Director at Brandimage noted.  

All about aspirations

As that habit has not existed in Asia for as long, or at least because its history and markets have experienced breaks in its fragrance habits, purchasing at the prestige end of the market and tends to focus on aspirational traits.  

“Even now, in China, only 20- 30% of fragrances are purchased for self-use, while the rest of fragrance buys are given as gifts,”​ highlighted Hwang. The reason for this is simple: it is an affordable prestige item attached to a big name such as Burberry, Chanel and Hermes that connotes an inspirational high-end lifestyle.

“Aspirational positioning, thinking and fragrance imagery is, therefore, going to take time to diversify. It is happening but at different paces within the Eastern marketplaces,” ​Hwang stated.

Individual markets

Delving into the Japanese market once more, Hwang commented how the country “has historically been a terrible fragrance market but is now warming up as young people are getting more expressive”.

In big markets like China, well-known names account for a considerable chunk of value, especially with the younger generation, who are opting for smaller, more niche salon fragrance brands.

The Indian and Vietnamese markets are still developing, yet at a different speed as big players as education remains the key priority for these markets, even relaying basic principles relating to application techniques and amounts.

“As the economy and sophistication grows within Asia, trends show that consumers are all growing more and more emotional on a personal level,”​ Hwang points out.

When I talk to younger interns, Hwang emphasised how “fragrance ceases to be about the gift-giving, aspirational items and more about ‘brightening my day’ in whatever shape or form it takes”​. It may not be perfume, but rather body wash, shampoo or hair mist.

Faster cycles

Due to the fact that in the APAC region, economies and wealth are relatively new and speeds are fast, consumers are always looking for something new, which explains its rate of innovation.

“In Asia, we do not see boundaries between categories and that is why you see powerhouse markets such as Korea rising in terms of beauty,”​ said Hwang.

South Korea mixes and matches so many trends together including ingredients, design, brand story, and provenance to create products and offerings that are totally different to those brainstormed up in the West.

The Korean beauty industry is developing new products every two-three months, for example, compared to the traditional cycle of potentially up to two-three years in the West.

Cross-category triumphs

There are numerous examples of popular and exciting cross-category innovations in the fragrance sector.

Beauty name, Demeter, launched its cushion perfume, which “I am in awe of”.​ In terms of styling, it is in accordance with the South Korean beauty craze through its deliciously designed, pastel colours super cute and perfume in a cushion innovation, which banks on the CC cushion trend that South Korea first started.

New format innovations in cute aesthetics that cater specifically to Asian consumers and crosses category boundaries are emerging, and are a great demonstration of how APAC brands are distinguishing themselves.

Korean beauty brand, TonyMoly, also unveiled its perfume stick and gel perfume innovations. This updated the old image of what the perfume category should look like, and instead transformed it into a category that is less rigid with more freedom and space to experiment and mix and match with different trends.

Still, the most prominent brands within APAC are the global prestige brands such as L'Oréal and Coty. At the top level, it is global brands that are contributing USP offering to the APAC fragrance markets.

Buying culture

Commenting on how important a part does culture play in creating fragrance stories, Hwang relayed how in Asia it has always been about culture.

“You cannot separate fragrance products from their cultural messages because it is perceived to be a western import. Therefore when creating fragrances, we are purchasing the culture; we are not buying anything else,” ​Hwang stated.

The third and final part of our interview with Philip Hwang, Brand Strategy Director at Brandimage will be published on Monday 9th October 2017.

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