NEW YORK — The human element is back.
It’s one thing that the executives presenting at the WWD Beauty Summit at the Conrad Hotel here agreed on Tuesday. The group also outlined the need for speed; customization and creativity unbound by P&L pressure and corporate agendas as a primary differentiator among beauty companies.

At Coty’s Cover Girl, standing behind self-expression is a means to put consumers first. In a reaction to a New York subway advertisement that suggested not applying makeup on the train, Cover Girl launched a campaign called “project PDA” — public display of application — which was meant to champion self-expression.

On a broader basis, Coty is working as a reorganized business and integrating dozens of acquisitions. “We like to [have our people] think like you own the company and if it were your own money, would you make the decision?” chief executive officer Camillo Pane said. “We have the chance to be the disruptors rather than be disrupted.”

“They want to create with you,” said Jo Malone — founder and creator of Jo Loves — of Millennial consumers. She started the company after selling her first fragrance brand, Jo Malone London, to Estée Lauder Cos. “I wanted to see if I could change the way the world wears fragrance,” she said. “I picked up a paintbrush  and thought could this be what could change the paradigm? Your body is a canvas…you are an artist. So in September, we will be launching fragrance paintbrushes…you can paint your body.”
Ulta Beauty ceo Mary Dillon identified services as an area that could drive growth because of the human element. “There is a need for human experiences that are physical in nature,” Dillon said. “It’s really a sweet spot that I think can help [expedite] growth.”
“Beauty is a human-to-human exchange,” said Vasiliki Petrou, executive vice president of Unilever Prestige. “[That] needs support of key partners to curate more sensorial and personal engagements.”

Katherine von Drachenberg — also know as Kat Von D — launched her line in 2008 exclusively with Sephora, a result of the retailer being inundated with requests from consumers for the makeup Drachenberg wore on TV.

She stressed that, since inception, the products in her Kat Von D Beauty collection are not based on trends and that she gets trend predictions and “throws them out the window.”

To this point, she added that some of her crazy ideas — like a neon-colored palette, for instance — have been known to get strange reactions from “some suits.” The aforementioned palette, however, went on to sell out, as did a remixed version that was released shortly after.

“We have to be more effective influencers in a world where institutional trust has eroded, we have to become credible storytellers,” said Mike George, president and ceo of QVC Inc.

Marc Rey, ceo of Shiseido Americas, maintained that the company has seen more change in the past three years than it had in the previous three decades. “We’re reaching a level of consumer intimacy that is absolutely insane,” Rey said. “The level of data is crazy…How do you make sense of this data?”
He called out service in Asia as one thing U.S. retailers could learn from, citing an obsession with service in retail stores there that “are really an experience like we don’t have in the U.S.,” where he said stores could sometimes “be a little boring and very basic.”  

Parham Aarabi, founder and ceo of ModiFace, discussed the impact augmented reality has on the interaction between brands and consumers, stressing that brands and retailers need to customize the experience for consumers and provide real and believable results.

ModiFace has provided augmented reality makeup tutorials and livecasting, which give users tips that fit their features and instant feedback. Moving forward, Aarabi sees the technology being used to provide even more customization for consumers with real-time mirrors, sound activation and following the users eye-browsing pattern to provide them with options they want most.

The cofounding siblings of Seed Beauty agreed with von Drachenberg’s assessment on trend reports. “Nobody knows trends two to three years out. Ideas rot like eggs,” noted John Nelson, ceo of Seed Beauty. “At Seed, we see more white spaces to incubate.”

To push its of-the-moment products, Seed uses modern-day marketing techniques, said president Laura Nelson. “Nine seconds can make or break a brand. [Nine seconds in a post] can drive hundreds of thousands to a web site,” she said. “And that’s zero marketing dollars spent. Spending zero dollars can make more impact than spending one dollar.”

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