By and  on April 27, 2007

The Estée Lauder brand may be 51 years old, but with an estimated retail business close to $4 billion worldwide, it's no fading dowager. And its parent company is aiming to prove it, with a multifaceted strategy designed to renew the brand's relevance for today's shoppers and to turn the sluggish sales trend of the last few years into growth.

The two-tier strategy, drafted by group president John Demsey and backed by Estée Lauder Cos. president and chief executive officer William Lauder, involves separate plans for the brand's department store and its high-end specialty store accounts. The high-end business will be headlined by Aerin Lauder's Private Collection (see sidebar) and a renewed emphasis on premium skin care products globally, like its high-powered Re-Nutriv franchise. The company also is adding firepower to some of its strongest franchises with more luxurious packaging and stockkeeping units.

"The brand has to establish itself with its core aspirational consumer, who [ranges in age from] 25 to 45 or 50," said Lauder. "She's middle-class, she demands quality and shops across all categories. She's comfortable in jeans as well as dressing nicely. She has high principles and values and feels good about herself. She is smart and attracted to the idea of a lifestyle, rather than a more scientific positioning."

In Lauder's department store doors, color cosmetics packaging will include a return this fall to the gold-fluted lipstick tubes — dubbed Signature Lipstick — designed by the firm's founder. All doors across both channels of distribution will see rebranded counters and a much more targeted use of the brand's various spokesmodels.

"I could make the argument that the day that Estée Lauder behaves completely like a consumer-product company is the day that Estée Lauder stops being Estée Lauder," said Demsey. "We are a company that sells products to consumers, yet positions itself as aspirational, accessible luxury, which behaves more like a fashion brand. And being able to reconcile those two things is what we've done. We know there is a top-door department store universe, and a specialty universe."

After a great deal of consumer research, executives decided to play to the brand's historic strengths, in particular, 40-year-old women looking for antiaging products, rather than 19-year-old new fragrance users. The final conclusion: reinforce the aspirational character of the brand.

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