On their soapbox: designing personal care brands

17 July 2018



Premiumisation is no longer the preserve of products with high price tags. Matthew Rogerson reached out to cosmetics executives from premium brands for their thoughts on how they develop, design and define exclusivity in beauty.


Grace Fodor, founder of innovative cult make-up brand Studio 10, is on a mission to redefine beauty for women as they age. It’s a position that no other brand in premium make-up has taken up in earnest, creating an opportunity that’s paying dividends for the company.

“For me, the company is a voice advocating being truly visible and confident,” she says. “The range is designed specifically for women as they age, at a time when 74% feel that existing products do not reflect their needs.”

Ageless beauty

Reaching these consumers via digital channels has been at the heart of Studio 10’s success. It allows the company to reach an older demographic who feel that retail does not offer them personalised products and who lack the confidence to approach assistants who might be decades younger than them. Fodor’s approach is to build strong, personal and direct relationships. She continues, “People like interacting and buying from other people more than from faceless brands. Being behind the brand, I hope women can identify, relate and have real conversations with me. To do this requires using all channels and media available, on and offline, and tailoring all communication as we go. Digital allows instant feedback – this way, I can build an authentic relationship on a personal level.”

While Studio 10 might be seen as a range that targets over-40s, Fodor has a broader vision: redefining beauty and age. Selling products is only part of this mission, as she explains, “I’ve found that creating a movement to challenge the assumptions or stereotypes of middle-age, which are misrepresentative of the individual, has given us a huge competitive advantage. Coupled with being a brand 100% developed by women for women, we will be taking an even more active role in not only consuming products, but in the creation, production and even distribution.”

The age of discovery

L’Oréal Packaging had a very busy year in 2017, with more than 600 moulds created and 90 patents filed. It was a great year for innovation too, with many eco-designed innovations, which identified the environment as being a major concern in the strategy of the L’Oréal Group. This is all part of the plan, according to Philippe Thuvien, packaging and development director of L’Oréal Group.

“Clearly, packaging innovation is strategic to boosting product performance and protecting the formula,” he explains. “Packaging has a key role in increasing the perceived value of the product and providing an additional service to the user. Some recent examples of premium, innovative packaging include the Lash Paradise mascaras from L’Oréal Paris and Mister Big from Lancôme, with their fibre brushes delivering both volume and separation. Or the Armani To Go Cushion Foundation, with its airtight case to protect the sensitive formula, and Lancôme’s Genefique Sensitive skincare, which allows immediate delivery in a single pressurebooster. Additionally, in haircare, there’s Power Mix, from L’Oréal Professionnel’s expert line, which enables the hairdresser to offer their client a personalised hair treatment that is blended under their eyes.”

As for what to expect in the rest of 2018, Thuvien was very excited by the recent developments and direction of the company – including grouping the design team within the packaging team to better design and develop consumer-centric packaging that delights customers and enhances the occasion, citing that more than 700 projects will be created in product design during 2018.

Delighting in the mundane

Philip Tarrant, Coty’s research and development leader for North America, says, “The trend for premiumisation is tied to innovation, as one of the key aspects is enhancing the experience and functionality of the product to make it more indispensable than an alternative. In beauty, when you speak of innovation there are basically two types: true innovation, creating something entirely new, or implantation innovation, taking an existing technology to a broader audience by making it less expensive and easier to manufacture.” Both can support development of a premium packaging format, but the caveat tends to be cost and resources. If money is no object, it is easy to conceive a bold new product and release it. But this is rarely the case; everything costs time and money. From searching patent and intellectual property records to ensure the new idea is exactly that, to engineering, designing and developing the product. It can take years, depending on the complexity.

Tarrant confirms, “To me, premiumisation can be founded in something as simple as changing the consumer experience. For example, our CoverGirl was designed with the ergonomics of the user in mind. It features a bi-injected, soft-touch cap for precision and control, along with edgeto- edge stamping on the bottle and cap to complete the look. Another example is our Playboy SkinTouch deodorant, which is redesigned from a traditional aerosol valve to a premium-looking, lockable spray-through cap. In this case, not only did the redesign change consumer perception and experience, but it actually included a reduction in plastic, proving that it’s possible to be innovative, increase the exclusivity of a product and still reduce material resources.”

Another major breakthrough improved the experience of the product, and also provided a whole-new market of packaging and products that were designed to be promoted by users on social media, came from the groundbreaking launch of Kao Corporation’s Kanebo brand.

Laura K Price, senior package development engineer, research and development for Kao USA, says, “Kao USA and its parent company, Kao Corporation, put considerable importance on developing innovative packaging daily and strive to be the creators of continuous innovation. We endeavour to develop products and brands to maximise consumer satisfaction by determining the needs of consumers. We always incorporate consumer research when we develop new packaging and work to find their unknown needs.”

Price further explained that the real value comes from paying attention to the unknown, and seeking value in places consumers would not expect – such as using packaging to bring delight to the daily beauty routine. Kao’s Evita Beauty Whip Soap, a Japanese-market launch from Kanebo Cosmetics, is a perfect example. According to Price, “The packaging for the soap delivers the need for a rich, velvety facial cleansing foam and brings extra delight to the consumer through the aerosol packaging and unique dispensing head, which creates a beautiful rose shape with one easy pump. It is more than your normal face wash or foam cleanser. It brings the element of 'wow' through packaging innovation.”

The more honest you are, the more effective your communications will be. Transparency is great if you have been telling the truth but not so good if you’ve been lying.
– Mark Constantine, Lush

The truth will set you free

Sometimes it is surprising who leads the results for most admired brands. Apple, BMW and Nike are a constant when consumers are surveyed. However, Mark Constantine, co-founder and managing director of Lush, believes thinking differently and rewriting the rules is a wonderful way to eschew the big boys and forge a desire line for a new premium brand.

“As a small brand, you are wasting money if you try to advertise or match the bigger players. We’ve tried, and it has been ineffective and expensive. It is wonderful if you have £1 billion to mount your campaign, as you can blanket all markets and communication, but that is a very small circle.”

While Lush now generates over £300 million in revenue, across 50 countries, describing the company as small is still relative and accurate – L’Oréal is over 100 times its size. While advertising might be seen as a playground for the mega companies, Lush has achieved its status in spite of actively not taking part. How is this achieved?

“You have to deliver on the promise of your products and ethos, and keep to your message,” says Constantine. “To most customers, cosmetics are hard to differentiate, and most people think of products as very changeable. You have to be distinct, transparent and restore people’s faith in human nature, and convince people that companies can do the right thing too.”

Strong opinions and beliefs are the key to staying current without a high advertising spend, but it does not end there. The company carries a willingness to engage with journalists and media on any topics they wish – totally at odds with the industry norm. Constantine explains, “We are the only midsized cosmetics company where the formulator is also the boss, which gives the brand its experiential and homemade feel. Each cosmetics brand has its own strengths and weaknesses. L’Occitane is great at packaging, The Body Shop does discount marketing very well – we all have different styles. At Lush, we formulate, work like hell on the quality of the ingredients and focus on making the finished product as effective as possible. We want to serve our customers.”

This creates a product that is fundamentally different. As anyone who has been to one of its shops can attest, Lush relishes unconventional display, vivid colours and textures that make the consumer feel as though they are in a market stall or bazaar, rather than a high-end cosmetics store. However, as the brand ethos is to provide fresh, handmade cosmetics, it is a sign of being attuned to the market that their layout is evocative of artisanal grocers.

Underscoring all of this, as Constantine sees it, is communication with complete honesty. “The more honest you are, the more effective your communications will be. Transparency is great if you have been telling the truth but not so good if you’ve been lying. Companies who use advertising to say they are something they are not were never in control of the brand in the first place.”

It is this school of thought above all that has allowed Lush to move from quirky start-up to premium cosmetics brand and continue to grow in a market shared with giants.

Being a brand 100% developed by women for women, we will be taking an even more active role in not only consuming products, but in the creation, production and even distribution.
– Grace Fodor, Studio 10

Two for one

Another way for a brand to occupy the premium sector is to enhance the experience of the user, by improving products or promising more exclusivity than others in the field. No stranger to innovation or experiential marketing, Estée Lauder has recently capitalised on the single pack make-up plus protool trend with their Double Wear Nude Cushion Stick. Tim Tobin, director of global package development for Estée Lauder, explains the science behind the magic.

“The cushion stick package is designed to apply and blend-in liquid foundation in simple gestures, whether at home or on the go. Due to the unique design, the package allows consumers to apply a full face of make-up or to use where needed. The turning mechanism allows consumers to have better control over the amount of product and coverage as they propel and repel the stick.” To overcome hygiene concerns that many traditional cushion compacts have, Estée Lauder’s product has a removable sponge head that allows the consumer to wash the applicator as needed.

Tobin explains, “One of the initial challenges was developing a system that combines two unique forms – a foundation package and a sponge applicator – into one affordable package. Another challenge was to provide an acceptable label claim while maintaining an ergonomic shape for consumers to apply foundation to the face with only one hand.” The design required a simplified mechanism to allow consumers to hold with one hand but also provide a large enough opening to fill the product on its high-speed production line. Both of these challenges were answered by the final design.

“Lastly, consumers also want to know how much of their foundation has been used and how much is left. Thus, we developed a very unique attribute of this package – the body gets smaller as the product is used. As the product’s height is lowered during usage, it becomes more compact and even more convenient for on the go. Another benefit of the design is that by turning the body of the package into the base, it achieves near full evacuation of the product.”

All companies identify packaging as crucial to brand recognition and loyalty.
In developing a premium-look aerosol for their Playboy range, with a fully lockable cap, Coty also managed to reduce the amount of material required.
Estée Lauder's new make-up brush has a wealth of new design technologies that give it an edge.


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