Grow Your Niche Business by Keeping It SIMPLE

How Clean Perfume is cleaning up in a category that isn’t.

Clean Perfume

Things have not been exactly rosy for the perfume industry in the last two years. Many big brands suffered huge declines in sales as
consumers turned up their noses. Meanwhile Clean Perfume, an indie
fragrance from NYC-based Fusion Brands, enjoyed double-digit growth,
building up a remarkable fan-base on a miniscule budget. How the Clean
team, including CMO Roslyn Griner, pulled this off is a potent reminder
of the beauty of SIMPLE, especially when it comes to the marketing of
consumer goods.


S is for Story

A number of successful niche brands like Tom’s of Maine and Nantucket
Nectars have a compelling story about their creation. Clean is no
different. Founder Randi Shinder, not a fan of perfumes, took notice
when people commented on how good she smelled, a smell that was simply
her soap. Unable to find a fragrance to match “that universal fresh out
of the shower scent,” she developed her own in 2003.

That simple start launched a line of products with wonderfully
evocative names, such as Fresh Laundry, Warm Cotton and Summer Linen. Explained Griner, “Everyone can identify with the idea that you just used a bar of soap
and smell really good or the smell of towels coming fresh out of the
dryer.” Having a clear story also helped drive sales, “We were one of the first perfume brands to be successful on HSN because we had a wonderful story where people could
imagine what it smelled like,” advised Griner.

I is for Involve

A lot of brands pay lip service to their fans, offering token
opportunities for involvement. Clean, on the other hand, works hard at
nurturing all of its fans from the lone customer to the highly
influential blogger. “Be good to the people who really make your brand
and reward them every once in awhile,” counseled Griner, who supports a
vibrant Facebook community with contests, special offers and quick
responses to inquiries.

Clean also created a product testing “advisory board” from among its
Facebook fans. “We recruited people who were Warm Cotton fans to test a
new type of Cotton fragrance as a disaster check, because if your real
avid fans don’t like the fragrance, you’re in trouble,” advised Griner.
Amazingly, over 1,000 people applied to be on the advisory board,
demonstrating both the strength of their fan base and their fans
unbridled enthusiasm.


M is for Minimize

With retail strategy, for smaller brands sometimes less is indeed
more. Rather than striving for broad scale distribution, Clean
minimized its approach, concentrating its efforts on a single outlet,
Sephora, a decision that has paid off many times over. One of nearly 200
perfume brands on Sephora shelves, Clean is now in the Top 10, making
them a priority product for this retailer. “Sephora gives us prime real
estate, allows us in all of their promotions and provides huge
merchandising opportunities,” explained Griner.

With such a strong retailer relationship, Clean is also able to test
new products and push through large seasonal promotions. Griner noted
that Clean is currently testing Bath and Body products in 25 Sephora
stores, though perfumes remain their top priority. “We had amazing
point-of-sale opportunities including end-caps for our summer perfume
and the launch of our Outdoor Shower Fresh which gives you an indication
how strong the brand is performing.”

P is for Promote

At the risk of being obvious, niche brands simply can not gain
traction without some well-planned and well-executed promotions. Clean
gained over 13,000 fans in two-weeks by offering a free sample to anyone
who became a fan on Facebook. Clean spread the word initially via email
and then encouraged referrals with a sweepstakes. With an acquisition
cost of under $2.00 per fan, this program provided a cost-effective
foundation for their on-going social media program.

In-store promotions at Sephora also played a crucial role in Clean’s success. Noted Griner, “Our primary drive to acquisition is through sampling
so we created 30,000 gift sets, half of which sold through in two
weeks!” Part of Sephora’s “Steals and Deals,” the gift set bundle was
an incredible value offering three scents of Clean perfume for $10.00,
enticing existing Clean fans as well as targeting new customers to try
the product or share it with their friends.


L is for Leverage

Like David before them, niche brands need to make the most of their
opportunities, finding leverage wherever they can. One place Clean
gains leverage is through a partnership with HSN (Home Shopping
Network). “We’re on HSN at least 9 times a year selling gift sets that
are very different than what we sell at retail,” explained Griner. “We
were a ‘Today’s Special’ two weeks ago and sold out of 17,000 gift sets,
providing us a million dollar day,” she added.

In addition to the immediate sales generated, HSN also provides an
extraordinary halo for Clean. A delighted Griner offered, “Being on TV
as much as we are with HSN, it’s basically our form of advertising.”
That said, working with HSN can be challenging, explained Griner, “There
is a lot of complexity but we plan this months in advance.” Griner’s
team also created a scented towel to make the HSN gift set truly unique,
helping to leverage the relationship.

E is for Emotion

Niche brands seem to have an inherent understanding of the emotional
relationship consumers want to have with their products and respond
accordingly. Offered Griner, “You have to be genuine as a brand,
because people can spot fakery.” Griner believes that marketers should
be careful not to delegate social media communications to outsiders who
might misrepresent the brand. “The marketer has to be the one responding
to the consumer,” added an emphatic Griner, “because the consumer can
smell phoniness.”

In addition to honesty, Griner is a big fan of using humor. To this
end, Griner created the Clean etiquette guide which offered
tongue-in-cheek advice on texting, tipping and hand washing among other
topics. Consumers responded with content of their own which in turn
inspired bloggers and Real Simple magazine to join in on the fun.
Concluded a delighted Griner, “I just think it’s about creating


Final note: As anyone who has ever designed a marketing program will
tell you, keeping it SIMPLE is anything but. Fortunately for Clean, the
idea of simplicity speaks to the very essence of the brand itself.

About the author

Drew is the founder of Renegade, the NYC-based social media and marketing agency that helps inspired B2B and B2C clients cut through all the nonsense to deliver genuine business growth. A frequent speaker at ad industry events, Drew’s been a featured expert on ABC’s Nightline and CNBC