Monday, September 10, 2012

DimiNICHEd? An approach to niche perfumery

Perfume Magazine has always interesting articles, but this last august issue brought one that really capture my attention - Paris correspondent Sarah Colton, wrote an article called "The New Niche" - where she explored the subject Niche Perfumery, bringing many opinions of celebrated perfumers, transcribed here only for the purpose of discussing this subject:

"Niche has become a misnomer. But the name sticks. Today niche is confusing. There are the small luxury brands and the exclusives of big brands, which are, of course, huge. When people speak of niche, they are primarily speaking of "luxury" or "exclusive" fragrances, big or small". (Patricia de Nicolaï)

"Niche is dead. In any event, niche is not niche anymore. Niche means small, but "Lifestyle", a new word for niche, is 65% of the market at Saks 5th Avenue. How can you be niche when you are big and international?" (Frédérick Malle, Editions de Parfums)

"Niche is still alive, it just got dull and mainstream." (Antoine Lie, Etat Libre D'Orange)

"Leave niche alone. Niche is where the future lies. The problem with niche these days is that there is real niche and fake niche, and ordinary people can't tell the difference between them." (Jean Claude Ellena)

“It used to be that niche was something underground-like, and known only by a happy few. Nowadays, niche means “different from the mainstream, and at the same time luxurious, expensive, and prestigious. But it’s not necessarily small anymore. Big brands like Dior and Prada are doing it too, though on a smaller scale than their usual products”. (Shyamala Maisondieu)

Photo credit: notcot

So, the question that has been disturbing me for a couple of months (almost a year I may confess) is the following: What is the definition of Niche today? Is niche to be considered a synonymy of luxurious and exclusive…If so, has it been diminished in that sense?

According to Oxford Dictionaries, NICHE means: A shallow recess, especially one in a wall to display a statue or other ornament; (one's niche) a comfortable or suitable position in life or employment; specialized but profitable segment of the market; and (as modifier): a niche market for quality food

The origin of the word NICHE is early 17th century: from French, literally 'recess', from nicher 'make a nest', based on Latin nidus 'nest'.

Adam Short, the co-founder of Niche Profit Classroom, has built over 300 profitable niche websites, (which bring him a 7 figure earning business per year) has given a very clear definition of NICHE: “In business, a niche is defined as a focused targetable portion of a market sector. It is a small group or market that looking for a specific product or service that is not yet being addressed by mainstream providers or suppliers. There are unlimited niches out there but they are not always obvious. Some of the niches could be so tiny and specific and might not ever in your thought”.

QFinace defines niche market as a very specialized market segment within a broader segment. A niche market involves specialist goods or services with relatively few or no competitors. Customers may look for exclusiveness or some other differentiating factor such as high status. Alternatively, they may have a specific requirement not satisfied by standard products”.

Business Dictionary defines niche as ”Concentrating all marketing efforts on a small but specific and well defined segment of the population. Niches do not 'exist' but are 'created' by identifying needs, wants, and requirements that are being addressed poorly or not at all by other firms, and developing and delivering goods or services to satisfy them. As a strategy, niche marketing is aimed at being a big fish in a small pond instead of being a small fish in a big pond. Also called micromarketing”.

The website teaches how to define Niche Marketing:
“One way to define niche marketing is to look at how it differs from mass marketing. Mass marketing is about selling to everyone, i.e. the masses. Niche marketing focuses on a specific segment of consumers. A niche can be defined by a consumer's age, gender, ethnic background, occupation, hobbies, and other interests. Even problems can be a defining characteristic. A niche can also be created by a need, a want, or a preference. It can be anything from being wild about the color green to wanting a water slide in their backyard. Some niches are defined more broadly than others. Teenagers and home-based entrepreneurs are two examples of broadly-defined niches. When marketing to a relatively broad niche even by a single characteristic, you still specify both who is, and who is not, included in your market. That means you can tailor everything from product features to advertising media to that specific market. A single product can be effectively marketed to different niches. The key is to direct a different marketing strategy toward each one, emphasizing the features and the benefits that appeal to that particular segment. In many cases, the same product features might be marketable to several niches. Even so, it's important to target each niche with a message to which they can specifically relate. Each niche, by definition, has its own special place in the market. Home-based entrepreneurs, pet owners, computer users, chocolate lovers and gardeners are all separate niches. Some consumers might belong to several of those niches. Once you define a niche, you are likely to find many other niches within it. Pet owners, for instance, include dog, cat, and exotic bird owners - and that's just to name a few. Even within each of those sub-niches, there are many others. Dog owners, for example, can be "niche-ified" by the size or the breed of their pet. Even a small niche can be very profitable. That's the beauty of the concept”.

From all these definitions we can extract some common elements:
-       Small
-       Specialized
-       Market segment
-       Specific
-       Marketing strategy

All leads to the common meanings that niche perfumery is 1) A specialized market segment in perfumery, or 2) A marketing strategy created to sell perfume (according to the needs, interests and wants of a group of people).

Sarah Colton mentions the fact that Jean Claude Ellena is to be considered the father of niche. I won’t discuss if this is correct or not in this article, but I went back to his book LE PARFUM (French edition of 2007) where he defines niche in chapter VII – Le Marketing (in English - The Marketing), sections I – Le marketing de la demande (in English – The marketing of the demand) and II – Le marketing de niche (in English - The niche marketing) to check what this master perfumer has said in the past about this subject:

He mentioned that brands like Annick Goutal, L’Artisan Parfumeur, Comme de Garçons, Diptyque, Frédérick Malle, The Different Company were the precursors of the awareness of the immediacy, the “déjà vus” or stereotypes of mainstream perfumery and its lack of surprises. According to him, these niche perfumers (he gave us this name in the book) could be only discriminated by the system of distribution they have adopted, which was mostly, to sell their fragrances in their own boutiques, with a set of criteiras set by them to understand their commercial approach. In section II he defines niche as a marketing strategy: a non-use of advertising support; the perfumers are placed in front of the perfumes (meaning you know who they are), and most of all: the perfume must speak for itself; it has to have a very strong identification, more olfactive. A great deal of attention is given to the name of the brand. In his opinion, a niche perfume is not only a way of distributing and selling perfume; it is also the way the brand shows its difference. He also mentions the service given to its clientele: the places where these perfumes are found are relatively closed places, where clients receive personal attention. Their satisfaction is crucial. The complicity is crucial - the mouth to mouth is the best advertising of these products. As per the creation itself, perfumers are free to create with an olfactive independence.

It all sounded nice when I first read it – but let’s be frank here Mr. Ellena – although I love your work and respect you so much, the niche brand you created with your daughter Céline - The Different Company – does not fit in these descriptions of niche. The fragrances are sold like any mainstream perfume, in many online shops such as LuckyScent, Aedes de Venustas and many others less hip than these 2, in shops worldwide with representatives in no less than 26-27 different countries, with the same approach any brand like Dior, Cacharel, YSL (you name any). By the way, advertised in full gear, just as any brand you will find in Sak’s, Sephora, or whatever department store you can remember now. And as for the personal attention – I never got that. Although the brand sent me all the samples they had – I never got a single e-mail from Céline, or husband, or Ellena. I was treated just like all the PR of mainstream brands treat me – general and kind attention to get an article published. I dare even to add - the ONLY niche brand I have ever related to so far, with a cold attitude...

 50 vials aroma set - for whisky & perfume lovers
Photo credit: notcot 

But back to the question itself, what is niche? To me, the best definition of niche lato sensu is a marketing strategy to sell perfume. If the advertisers are using luxury, exclusiveness, high quality materials, or artistic approaches to sell perfume, this is all a matter of STRATEGY. Find the public you want to reach, find its needs, dreams and standards, and you will have a niche brand. In that sense, niche is not dead, misunderstood, or diminished (playing with the words – dimiNICHEd). Dull? Maybe yes, maybe no. But this is a problem of the minds creating them, the perfumers – not a problem of definition.

There is real niche and fake niche” – I don’t think so. By definition, niche is niche. Simple as that.
I think Shyamala Maisondieu has given the most acceptable definition of niche. Maybe in the past, the segment in which some brands were focusing was really small, a few more demanding clients who wanted to stand out. But niche has developed as a concept. Today, with social medias such as facebook and twitter, “mouth to mouth” became twit to twit, or wall post to wall post/comment to comment/e-mail to e-mail. Perfumers today became celebrities, giving interviews in blogs, sites and perfume communities.
In the 21rst century there is no such a thing as NO ADVERTISEMENT. All brands advertise their products. Either by placing and ad, a post in a social media, giving away samples etc… we all know that. It is very naïve to try to sell to anyone that in fact you are not advertising anything. The minute you are telling on line that you don’t advertise – you have already set an advertising strategy.

In my opinion, niche is there, not dead, nor misused. 
As a brand, place your nest where you want, hatch the eggs to profit anywhere you think your public is. As a client, all you have to do is find out is what is the niche every brand (nest) is focusing on, and see for yourself if you fit in (or like the eggs the brand is hatching). 
I won’t accept that niche can be defined as expensive. That is absolutely ridiculous!
When brands such as Dior, Van Cleef, Chanel are launching exclusive lines, you might not find that a niche line – but in lato sensu it is – these brands found inside their clientele, another segment – another niche to explore. 
L'Artisan will be sold at Sephora? Who cares?

Purists or extremists, call them as you like, may say that niche is dead. I live that as a question mark, for you to reflect about it...

photo credit: Etat Libre D'Orange


Anonymous said...

I loved this post. You sound very passionate about this. I agree with most of your points but being a biologist I have known the term through biology, ecology to be specific, and the definition there is " a term describing the relational position of an organism's species". In my mind "niche" has to do with a special relationship to the rest of the "species", the rest of similar products that exist. So in my mind real niche has some special characteristics that usually come either from the personality of the perfumer (Hilde Soliani, Andy Tauer etc) or from the concept of the brand (Comme des Garcons, Editions de Parfum Frederique Male etc). What makes people talk about "the death of niche" is attempts like D&G Anthology: they do not have a clear concept other than naming and packaging and they sell right next to D&G mass market releases. Of course one can talk about superior materials, creativity etc but this can also be just marketing copyright.

Nich of course isn't dead, on the contrary it is flourishing and becoming more mainstream than ever. But the beauty of evolution is that no matter what happens there will always be new concepts, new personalities creating products that place themselves opposite to the rest, in a special place, a special nest, appealing to people/clients with slightly different tastes. So even if "niche" becomes the new mass a new niche will emerge. Long live niche :)

+ Q Perfume Blog said...

Dearest, you are right. When I was researching about niche, it all lead to biology. I don't disagree in anything you said here. But even D&G has established long ago their personality and the concepts behind the brand. So in that sense, they have their own niche of clients who want to feel that they have a D&G special edition. Call it niche, call it exclusive...
I think that inside the general title NICHE PERFUMERY, we can catalog different types of niche: the subversives, the artistic, the formal corporate perfumers who went indi, etc... the ones that have larger approaches - L"Artisan, Annick Goutal - we can say they are in the middle between niche and mainstream, maybe.
I do believe that the mind and taste behind must be part of the concept, no doubt about it! :-)

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