Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Can you do your own creative thing and still focus on the consumer?

For an independent perfumer -- particularly one who does not have to earn a living at it -- there is a strong tendency to do your own thing creatively and, only later, worry whether you can sell your fragrance or not. I find myself in this situation constantly. I have a fragrance idea I want to develop and I go for it, regardless of consequences. Then, at times, I find myself scratching my head wondering what I can possibly do to sell it.

Perfumery is an art, a creative art. So too is marketing. But the thought patterns needed to achieve great perfumes are not the same as those needed to achieve great sales.

Over time I have found myself thinking more about "my market" as I set out to develop a new fragrance. Even so, working along with no one to prod and push the development of my fragrances, I find myself following the inclinations of my idiosyncratic nose rather than obsessing over what I think "people" want. I want people to want my perfume. But it is more for the ego gratification of having others enjoy what I have created than for visions of large financial wealth. Obviously with this attitude following hot trends is out.

When the new fragrance is "done" -- in the bottle, ready to sell -- I turn to marketing. I confess that I love marketing as much as I love creating the new fragrance. But I must also admit that, when I "switch over" to marketing, the perfumer side of my brain shuts off. Instead of doing my daily exercises with aroma materials, smell shuts down entirely; the perfume because "the product." I detach myself from all that energy of my own that went into creating the new fragrance. At this point my thoughts revolve around how I might build a bridge between the product and the consumer. Marketing and advertising are the tools with which these bridges are built.

Flipping to the marketing side of my brain, I must look now at my fragrance though the eyes of my consumer. How does he or she see it? (Here's where the independent creator-perfumer gets the biggest shocks!) Always the consumer sees it differently than does the creator. And this is why I can no longer "be" the perfumer when I step into the role of marketer. As the perfumer I would want to argue with the consumer and scream, "NO! YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND!!!" But as the marketer I want to grab hold of the consumer's understanding, get inside his or her mind and go with it. I want to USE the consumer's understanding and turn it on them to make my sale, just as an judo practitioner uses the strength and speed of the opponent to make the fall, by redirecting this strength and speed in a direction the master has selected. You can ONLY make sales by giving the buyer what THEY want but you do have to get them pointed in the right direction.

So we study the buyer and how the buyer relates to the new fragrance. We look at what we have through the buyer's eyes. How do they judge the aroma? What image does it convey to THEM? This will be our clue as to how we present it commercially. We may have to shift the image we were aiming at to the image we have actually "hit" with the buyer.

Packaging is always a major headache for the small, independent perfumer because (1) you don't have enough money, (2) you don't have a fantastic graphic designer, and (3) even if you did have #1 an #2, if you turned them loose to do their thing -- to do what THEY thought was the ultra-marketing presentation -- you would discover that your cost per bottle was so high that you could never make it back on sales. Marketing is not just about making sales. Marketing is about making profit.

So now we begin thinking of price. Price is a funny thing. Long ago business people discovered that price and product are not so closely linked as you might imaging. Lowering the price may -- OR MAY NOT -- increase volume. Raising a price may -- OR MAY NOT -- increase profit. We have to know our costs and do the math and be guided by the math in our marketing.

While the "creative perfumer" side of you may groan over this requirement, the creative marketer side of you will immediately see that the situation DEMANDS creativity ... the creativity of developing advertising and sales promotion that will take the product -- at is is -- and present it to the consumer AS THE CONSUMER WOULD LIKE TO SEE IT -- all within the financial constraints that our mathematics has given us. Tell me that's not an invitation to be creative!

What I am finding, more and more, is how essential it is to separate the mind of the perfume creator from the mind of the perfume marketer. Each requires intense creativity, but of different kinds. And, if each is allowed to work without interference from the other, sales will be made -- profitable sales -- and when those sales start to make the cash registers ring, the two sides of your brain can shake hands with each other and congratulation each other over a job well done!