Verane de Marffy, Linda Levy, Emily Dougherty, Dianna Ruth and Bob DeBaker at FGI Pioneering Beauty

Consumer shopping patterns are changing at warp speed, altering new beauty product development and adjusting how launches are brought to market.

That was a theme during a discussion moderated by Elle Beauty and fitness director Emily Dougherty at The Fashion Group International Inc.’s luncheon held May 9 in Manhattan. The session, called Pioneering Beauty, featured Robert DeBaker, president and chief executive officer of Becca; Verane de Marffy, vice president of marketing, CRM and social media for YSL Beauté; Linda Levy, Omni Group vice president /DMM Fragrances | Macy’s Inc., and Dianna Ruth, chief operating officer for Milk Makeup. The program was cochaired by FGI members Karen Young and Caroline Fabrigas.

Providing a snapshot of what’s going on in beauty, Dougherty chronicled that path products and ingredients follow to generate a buzz — and how that’s changed in just the past five years. Today, product reviews, magazines and peer-to-peer are all avenues where consumers receive information. The more people dive into searches, the greater noise those products make.

But if a product is merely creating discussion, but not performing as verified in chat rooms or private Facebook groups, consumers will turn away. “This is where buzz doesn’t work. If something isn’t efficacious, no one will take the women recommending products in their peer groups seriously. As these message boards become more and more popular, we will see a return to the celebration of products that really do work,” Dougherty said.

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Dougherty opened up the discussion taking a deep dive into the issues impacting beauty today. Some of the takeaways included:

New vs. Core — Legend vs. Pioneer

Linda Levy: At Macy’s we have a tremendous yin and yang. The combination of what’s new and what’s classic…and promotional are three different categories. We have a combination of all. Consumers still seek new, but you need to have the variety and the right balance.

Bob DeBaker: If you don’t have great product, whether being a pioneer or a legacy brand, it isn’t going to work. Performance is what matters. While innovation and creativity are critical, you have to make sure that your product is a winner based on performance.

Verane de Marffy: Innovation and product launches is something YSL does incredibly well. We are living in a deeply transformative time. When we came up to a challenge in 2014, we looked at ourselves in the mirror and decided we were going to stay “no” to everything we were told a legendary brand should do. We put digital at the core of everything we do.

We’ve made some really hard choices. The days of being good at everything…being good at lip, being good at eye, being good at face and fragrance is over. We decided to identify areas where we feel we can be really great.

One of the biggest things for YSL is we are working to have closer ties to fashion. We will be launching an exclusive line of fragrance with designer Anthony Vaccarello in the fall.

Dianna Ruth: We are trying to create whole new categories, products people have never seen before. We’re trying to keep that momentum going and pushing the boundaries of product development.

Finding and Building Customers

L.L.: We are looking at how we are marketing Macy’s as a brand. There’s a love for the brand and we have great recognition. If you want to see a smile on a person’s face mention The Flower Show, the Thanksgiving Day Parade or the Fourth of July Fireworks. We need to make sure our brand comes through in everything we do. The other big thing we’ve found is a connection with fashion and making sure we have a focus on it.

We have to make sure we are reaching people in different ways. I was a virgin on Instagram until a month ago, now I’m up to 150 [followers]. We all have to step it up and talk to the consumer in different ways.

B.D.: When we launched we had 4,000 followers on Instagram. We grew up at a time when social media was the only place we could go because there was no budget for anything else. We learned we could activate sales by posting images and that evolved into sending products to people before we even knew there was a name for it was. Now, you just can’t send products anymore, you have to collaborate and have a broad story.

How Do You Use Data?

L.L. We have information for more than 35 million people and know where they live and what they buy and we share that data with our partners. In the old days we did marketing from the top down, now we go from the bottom up and listen to the consumer and invest in products they want. Interesting factoid, we sell almost as much men’s fragrance as women’s.

D.R.: At Milk, we don’t use data. We go in with our gut. We watch what goes on in our office and check in with our community to see if they like an idea. We are launching ideas and items that don’t exist. We don’t subscribe to trend resources; I will skim them, but I don’t want that in my brain.

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