Having been a journalist for over 20 years, first as a fashion editor, and then as beauty director of British Vogue, I had never considered creating my own beauty company.
It was only thanks to years of loyalty to one small brand, and the fact that, despite having every beauty product in the world at my desk, I still spent my own money on it.
My addiction led to a passion for the power of plants, for the natural efficacy of aromatherapy and for the pleasure that came from it.
One day, almost on a whim, I decided to create similar products of my own. My collection of essential oil-infused bath, body and skin care is called This Works and I couldn’t have done it alone, of course. My partners provide the expertise in formulation and prescription. But to get the line into stores and selling was a huge hurdle for me.
I still work for Condé Nast in a directorial role as international beauty director for Asia. This has allowed me to experience the compelling world of brand-building and target-marketing from the Atlantic to the Pacific and test products from China to Japan and from the U.S. to the U.K. It is no mean feat to get a brand onto retail shelves, competing with multimillion dollar brands. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there! It is equally impressive to get your products written about in glossy magazines.
Looking at it from both sides, I am now aware of some invaluable lessons I’ve picked up along the way. Following are a few tips from the trenches that future marketers who know as little as I once did might find useful:
01 Your brand has to sit on a shelf next to names like Chanel, Estée Lauder, Lancôme and so on. Your packaging must compete on that level. If you are going into the mass market, there are even more brands to compete against. Your brand needs to stand out in a crowd. Inventing a look from a little graphic design package on your computer at home just won’t cut it. Get professional help and advice.
02 Magazines will never photograph your boxes. So while outer packaging is vital on the shop floor, it’s the componentry that will get photographed, or not. Art directors are purists. They look for good design. They will only photograph items that they feel have style and design value. The ones that “pop.” If your product is fabulous, the beauty editor may write about it, but it won’t get photographed unless it meets the art director’s aesthetic requirements.
03 It helps to have a good name. This works better graphically and in the memory of the consumer.
04 There is very little existing componetry to choose from if you can’t afford custom bottles and jars. Tooling will increase your start-up costs enormously, but stock packaging is everywhere. Either you have to think of a clever graphic way out of this or you have to find the money, at least for an exclusive cap, to distinguish your range from others.
05 Make sure you have a USP, or Unique Selling Point. Beauty editors will know if your concept is just a copy of someone else’s. Remember: They have seen it all!
06 Make sure you have money in the budget for promotion. Department stores will expect you to compete with the big brands in terms of staff, posters, light boxes and in-store displays. They will not help you because you are a “niche” brand and they will not give you window displays unless you pay for them.
07 The chief executives of the big brands were very kind to me—and encouraging. I realize now that they knew how much power they had on the shop floor. Take all the help you can get.
08 Celebrity endorsement. I wish it didn’t apply, but it does. If you can draft a star to endorse your products, it’s the best possible marketing strategy, as long as they echo your brand positioning. Thank you to Madonna, Hilary Duff, Kimberley Stewart, Elle Macpherson and Laura Bailey for talking about us.
09 Publicity will only get you one sale. In the end, the important thing is that customers like your product so much that they make a second purchase.
10 Time your publicity carefully. There’s no point in placing a fabulous editorial if the product is not yet on the shelves for customers to buy. Leave enough time to factor in hazards (e.g., a safety trial that takes longer than anticipated or packaging not turning up in time). It happens.