(or how I bought a perfume without smelling it first)


Sometimes, as small businesses, we assume our product or course descriptions do all the heavy lifting. You know, if we can give customers enough factual information, they’ll buy… we just have to explain every element, in precise detail, to show them it’s exactly what they need.

I recently bought a perfume online, in advance, without much idea of what it would smell like. Scent is a pretty important element to a perfume – it’s literally the purpose of the product. And yet, it didn’t feature hugely in my decision making.

And having an interest in all things marketing, I thought huh. What made me decide to go all in for this purchase, and what can I learn from it? There are a couple of strands I want to pull out for you.



One, the brand aligned with my values. I could say my values aligned with theirs, but remember: as customers, we are totally egocentric. We’re the hero in the story. We think “this brand is like ME!” Not “I’m like them”.

As business owners, this is what we want our customers to feel as they read our copy and see our images, to connect with our values and notice how we’re addressing the issues and questions that matter to them. That’s why brand designers will be repeating forever and ever that branding is SO MUCH MORE than a logo. Yep, the logo is part of your brand identity, but on its own it can only achieve a fraction of these happy customer fireworks for you.

So when those perfume people talk about sustainability, natural ingredients, harmony with nature, the changing of the seasons, they’re speaking my language. I’m already thinking: OK, anything they make is bound to smell good, right?


Two, access to each perfume batch is limited.

Some of the driving forces behind how and why we buy things can include scarcity and exclusivity.

Scarcity is a driver I prefer not to use in my copywriting, as it tends to have uncomfortable, painful undertones – ‘this product is almost gone, it’s never coming back, and if you don’t buy it now your life will be ruined and no one will ever love you.’ That sort of thing.

It aims to provoke an emotional response, and plays on our fear of loss.

Exclusivity can be a bit tricky too. Joining an exclusive club is delicious when you’re in the inner circle, but by definition it means leaving some people out. Again, this can be used in unpleasant ways – ‘if you buy now, you’ll get a lovely ego boost and be special, popular, superior to non-members. If you don’t buy now, everyone else you admire will be in the club, but you’ll be left behind and no one will ever love you.’ That sort of thing.



Back to my perfume purchase. There is a strong exclusivity focus, as you can only get access to the product if you are on their customer ledger. But they also explain how this is directly in line with their values – sustainability, only making what’s needed without surplus and waste, restricting production so they can focus on quality ingredients and processes. Double win: I do feel special by being on the list, but crucially I don’t feel personally manipulated by it.

Limiting availability can work authentically if it’s based on something that matters, not as a short-cut tactic for selling. On the service-based business side, I sometimes see course offers which have exclusivity/scarcity messaging and wonder why. If, say, they’re offering a pre-recorded course that you work through at your own pace, why are numbers capped? Presumably unlimited people could buy the course, so is it just jabbing at my human need to feel included?

On the other hand, if being part of the club includes direct access to that person’s expertise (through small group coaching, 1:1 sessions, Voxer days) and they are therefore keeping numbers small in order to offer an awesome service and really care for their clients, then the limitation is completely in keeping with their values.


Branding matters. If you can get it right throughout your business – words, images, strategies and processes – then your people will be able to connect with you, value what you make or do, and trust the way you offer it to them.

Maybe even buy a perfume without knowing what it smells like.