The sweet smell of success — what drinks giant Diageo learnt from the fragrance sector

Posted: May 30, 2014

by brand development and marketing insight consultancy Added Value’s Hazel Barkworth, Cultural Insights Project Director

Women are complex creatures. Any man, or woman, can tell you that. In previous projects with Diageo, Added Value has worked to better understand women across different cultures, finding the best ways to speak and engage with them. But it sensed that it could also learn a lot from looking at other sectors.

“A brief that started with a hunch that we could learn from another category has turned into one of the best received pieces of work that we have done,” expressed the client.

Added Value turned its attention to the fragrance sector, digging into its emergent edges, deconstructing it through a semiotic lens, and then turning the findings into valuable, tangible recommendations for its client.

On the surface, perfume is a category that has a lot in common with alcohol: the importance of brand and marketing, the role of packaging, the sensory element. But there was one key difference. Perfume brands are masters at creating powerful emotional connections with women, something that alcoholic spirits tend to lack.

At its best and most inspiring, perfume branding far exceeds its product in a way that alcohol rarely does. It taps into wider cultural trends and context. Whether it is myths and legends, artisanal food or science, it reacts to the cultural world that surrounds it, and does so in a playful, challenging and rich way.

Added value’s Cultural Insight team uncovered enough semiotic richness to fill six emotional worlds such as ‘Romantic’ and ‘Individual’, which were then expressed through visuals and language.

“It’s challenged how we bring alive our brand experiences and it’s providing inspiration on sources of stories and storytelling to inform our innovation,” said the client.

What proved particularly powerful about these inspirational codes was that the innovative brands were not – as can often be the case – small niche brands. Perfume is a category in which even the largest brands that sell by the gallon can still play in powerful and interesting cultural worlds.

Further exploration of the perfume retail environment, and interviews with leading experts from the world of perfume packaging design, supported the semiotic findings, and resulted in clear, specific recommendations on future opportunities for Diageo.

“It has challenged long-held beliefs around the role of design within our category and has helped us to consider new expressions of luxury for a female audience.”

These recommendations are now a living, breathing, interactive tool which allows easy access to the learnings, themes and principles for all members of the client team. This is especially useful for Diageo’s global brand teams when developing ideas in workshops and innovation sessions.

The combination of Cultural Insight analysis and sharp brand application – delivered in an inspiring creative tool – has led to game-changing strategic thought for the client.

“The level of impact and engagement would not have been possible without the inspiring and commercially applicable outputs delivered by the Added Value team and the passion with which they approached the project.”

This was cultural insight at its purest and most powerful.