Qualities of the term “niche”

Qualities of the term “niche”

The renewed success of niche perfume brands in recent years suggests an understanding and differentiation of what the terms ‘niche’ and ‘mass’ imply. Those differentiations and the adequacy to think in these terms are often discussed in the fragrance industry. Some players and institutions conceptualize working definitions in order to separate categories as ‘niche’ or ‘mass’ or even ‘more mass’ and ‘more niche.’ Hereafter, I speak about some facets and characteristics that distinguish mass from niche brands. However, this description is not analytical in the sense that a clear differentiation (according to number and quality of retailers, financial restraints and opportunities, geographical reach, profit, and employees, for instance) is possible – I am rather presenting tendencies of how niche players work and what they do differently. In addition, the list is not comprehensive.

First, branding – centralized in the marketing departments at the multiple brand-licensees – is typically less intensive and works with significantly smaller budgets. It moves increasingly from the niche brand owner to the consumer, in particular the fragrance aficionado. Branding implies the understanding of and trust in a brand concept, the relevance of individual and collective discussions of perfumes,  and the relation to other brands and their perfumes. The value of and as a niche brand develops out of the support of its fragrance fans. Brand knowledge is held by a group of consumers that function as a collective of evaluators. Thus, niche-brands particularly of the new niche are well-advised and interested to let the brand marketing go to the consumer through interaction in online communities, for example. Blogs are unique spatial solutions within a distributed knowledge network that enable the interaction of multiple ‘consumer evaluators.’ Thus, in a sort of open crowd-sourcing based on the free will and keen interest to participate, the consumer has at least the potential to play a more integral, though not instrumental or instrumentalized, part during the creation of a perfume. These characterizations have geographical implications: branding spreads out instead of being located within the offices of the marketers and related personnel. Co-creation is enabled in the branding process, it is about ‘letting go’.

Second, consumers become crucial denominators of what is niche and what is not. In an ‘economy of excess,’ the characterization as niche locates a brand away from the orthodoxy of the mass market. The discussion of what is ‘too mass’ and ‘on the edge’ is left up to the consumer in terms of bespeaking and trading particular perfumes.

Third, with the development of key niche consumers, the manufacturers of niche perfumes actually find personnel that can actively co-decide in the process of composing a new fragrance. Thus, over time, consumers receive the potential of certain degrees of credibility in terms of their suggestions and feedback during a creative process.

Fourth, the smells of perfumes that consider themselves as niche and are considered as such by the consumer community, indeed, smell differently: the targeted audience of enthusiasts is more critical and knowledgeable about what is on the market and the valuation of a brand can document the longevity of it for the future. Often, the higher prices for niche brand perfumes are intricate calculations of ingredients, costs, and revenues. However, niche does not automatically has to mean ‘good’ or ‘better’ in terms of scent: even though the price might signify quality and difference, the adequacy of smell is, once again, appreciated (or not) by the knowledgeable customer.

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