These provenance stories resonate very successfully with Asian consumers. We buy out of habit and we are also consuming the culture around fragrance and its image, which is relatively aspirational, Philip Hwang, Brand Strategy Director at Brandimage, described.
Prestige brands have a stronger heritage, which makes it easier to build a story and narrative. These brands also have every incentive to do so because theirs is a story that sells the product.
There may also be another interesting angle that makes Asia different in terms of consumer needs: Buyers, like learning about things and so to learn about the cultural backstory, attributes, heritage and history of a product, is not a chore.
In fact, “consumers delight in learning new things because APAC is still emerging, and once we know these cultural stories, they become cultural currency because we are more in the know”, Philip Hwang, Brand Strategy Director at Brandimage, observed.
As a result, the cultural narrative has always been a staple of marketing strategies, especially in fragrance and in prestige brands.
Gardens, art and oud
One of the biggest success stories in the greater China area over the last few year has been Jo Malone, Hwang stated. “We buy it because of its English garden heritage.”
We purchase it in the same way as we buy Acqua di Parma because of its Italian artistry, which is all rooted in culture. “When brands have an experiential story that showcases its cultural heritage, it sells,” Hwang relayed.
On a product and ingredient level, provenance and the cultural story is still eminently important. The recent oud trend, for instance, as an ingredient is interesting to watch as it unfolds. When considering brands such as Tom Ford, the ingredient is linked back to the Middle East and associated with exoticism and orientalism.
Even in China, this is an attractive story. Oud, the ingredient, and agarwood, is used as a culture story with two different angles. For example, in China, marketers can turn its inclusion into something we are culturally familiar with. Tom Ford, a western premium brand that emphasises its exotic roots, still works because it is less familiar to Asian audiences.
Culture and provenance case studies in Asia
One innovative brand that is utilising culture in their fragrance promotions is mass beauty brand from Korea, Innisfree. Its line of Perfume notes is a provenance story as it is based on Jeju island. It is strengthened by the cultural story of Jeju Island, where items are grown naturally and this natural stance is reflected in the light and airy scent. The range is based on famous sights on Jeju island and has now become synonymous with the brand.
In China, one of the country’s largest beauty groups, Jahwa, has a heritage brand emanating from the 1920s Pearl of the Orient, which is famous for floral water, otherwise known as eau de toilette. The revived brand bases its messaging on selling glorious Shanghai in its heyday as its cultural angle. Traditional Chinese medicine is also forming a large part of cultural heritage stories.
Premium Korean brand, History of Whoo, has a premium perfume that intersects with big beauty brands through linking to the country's heritage in terms of ingredients and packaging. While there are some provenance stories native to Asia, these are expected to develop in the future.
What is next for fragrance?
The fragrance sector is expected to experience growth in the coming years, particularly in APAC, which is a high volume market. As a multitude of categories including household care and toiletries, food and beverages are poised to grow by approximately 4% a year, the region still has relatively low spend per capita, creating a lot of potential, Hwang stated.
The cultural narrative in fragrancing in APAC is expected to take shape and evolve through continuous and relentless innovations, new formulations, the blurring of boundaries and more local stories - as opposed to the western stories that we are used to.
As a whole, we are still trading up and upgrading our consumerism. Prestige brands still play a big part and will still be growing. However, actual mass-market brands will still witness growth, experience more innovation and — what is defining most categories within the Asian market — see reactive speed to market approaches, extremely fast product cycles and new trends that are exported beyond the APAC region.
“In 2018 and beyond, we can probably expect to see a lot more niche and specialised brands, along with the rise in personalisation,” Hwang concluded.