Making the Old New Again

EVIAN, France — Reinventing a mature brand may be an art, but there are marketers who have elevated it to a science. <br><br>Four of these marketers made up the third panel of the WWD Beauty CEO Summit, titled "Brands — The Art of...

EVIAN, France — Reinventing a mature brand may be an art, but there are marketers who have elevated it to a science.

This story first appeared in the July 19, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Four of these marketers made up the third panel of the WWD Beauty CEO Summit, titled “Brands — The Art of Reinvention.” Chantal Roos, chairman and chief executive officer of YSL Beauté, led the group, which consisted of Camille McDonald, president and chief executive officer of Parfums Givenchy Inc., American Designer Fragrances and Guerlain Inc.; Luc Nadeau, president of the Luxury Products Division of L’Oréal USA, and Vera Strubi, chairwoman and managing director of Thierry Mugler.

Roos kicked off the proceedings by declaring that “the notion that a brand can survive without evolution has been abandoned.” McDonald picked up the thread, delineating the three basics that any brand needs to reinvent itself: a strong identity (or “DNA”), strong products and strong execution. “In attacking reinvention, it’s easy to pick the wrong symptom, the wrong source of the problem,” she said. “You can succeed with two out of the three working, but not forever.”

Roos then guided the conversation to the challenges inherent in reinventing a brand. The first, said Nadeau, is innovation and creativity. “We have to make sure that within our own brands, we set up a situation where ideas can come forth, where we encourage people to have ideas,” he said. “It’s also about the right to make a mistake. If you don’t have the right to make a mistake in your own company, we’re not going to go forward, because there’s always a certain element of fear in the unknown.”

Strubi then noted that manufacturers often underutilize a prime source of innovation: namely, fragrance and packaging suppliers. “If we had more time to exchange ideas with them, find out what is new, what could be done to make that differentiation, that would be very helpful,” she said. “I think we don’t give ourselves enough time really to anticipate the future and to think how we can intrigue and really surprise that customer.

“No customer in the world will give you innovation,” Strubi continued, “and therefore, we need that kind of exchange, this open-mindedness, this thinking out of the box, all of these kinds of things which we don’t have enough time to do.”

Roos brought up the next challenge: the retail conundrum. “Retailing is one of the major challenges,” she said. “You have the brand; you have the product; you’re ready to execute your brilliant ideas, but then, you go to the retailer.”

“It’s very complex, because we have to adapt to different cultures,” Strubi agreed. “It’s up to us to find the right way to make our products and brands attractive in so many different distribution channels, from department stores to perfumeries to travel retail.”

McDonald pointed out that point-of-sale service and presentation have also become critical issues in a brand’s success. One solution, noted Roos, is cutting through the clutter in sales-associate education. “For years, training someone in fragrances was all about little flower fields and the pyramid,” she said. “And then, to [have them] remember all of those fragrances! I can’t even remember what’s in all of our scents.”

When Strubi launched Angel 10 years ago, she created an alternate approach: “First we have to create emotions so that they remember the brand and can say something positive about it, because nobody can remember all of those ideas,” she said. “And it’s the same thing when we talk to the press and to retailers. We have to sell our ideas.”

The panel ended with a question and answer session, including a heated exchange — in French — between Nadeau and Marcel Frydman, president of Parfumeries Marionnaud. Roos quickly took control, shushing Frydman so that she could translate snippets of the contretemps for the audience. Back on track, an audience member asked if acquiring a dormant brand with an eye to reversing its fortunes is a feasible proposition these days. “There are many names out there and many opportunities,” said Strubi. “A brand needs several ingredients to succeed, and you have to explore what is behind the brand, on what kind of universe you can build. The richer the universe, the easier it is in the future.”