Listen and Learn to better understand yourself, your people, and your business
As marketers and beauty product devotees, we often find ourselves obsessing over how much the industry has changed, and will continue to change to meet the demands of today’s hyper-connected consumer. Team BNO recently attended the Cosmetic Executive Women’s (CEW) Beauty Insider Series, Kiehl’s In High Gear, where Kiehl’s CEO, Chris Salgardo, spoke about the state of the industry and how the consumer’s influence is fiercer than ever. He was passionate and charismatic, and went on to share his perspective on the future of beauty and how Kiehl’s has managed to maintain the love and respect of their customers since being founded in 1851. Being honest and transparent about what your business represents and fostering a creative environment that encourages the practice of listening to learn, is a big part of where Salgardo believes success begins. Inspired by his words, here is our perspective on some key observations worth sharing:
Inside the Mind of a Respected Industry Leader
How does Salgardo keep Kiehl’s desired and competitive? He explained that when surveying the brand’s product line, he asks himself: does it work, is it better than products already on the market, is it breakthrough and innovative, is it inspirational and relevant to our consumer, and can we make this affordable?
Inspirational products are exciting, but not always more dynamic or efficacious. In many cases, these products may represent a breakthrough in a specific category or consumer need and represent an indication of what’s to come. That said, we find that at the fundamental level quality still matters a lot. Quality will trump anything else in the long run, which is why leading brands continue to strive for perfection. If brands can’t maintain efficacy as they progress, they don’t really have a brand at all.
Ultimately, when it comes to beauty care and cosmetics, the consumer experience is where the brand comes to life, where the sale is won or lost, and where loyalty starts and ends. This concept relates particularly to millennials, who are most often led by what their hearts are attracted to. Making their interactions valuable often supersedes performance.
The Niche Immersion
With millennials taking a strong grasp on the buying market, the beauty industry is responding with an outburst in the variety of niche brands and voices, which has empowered more product choice and access to information for consumers than ever before. As a result, products such as charcoal mud masks have created their own category, while vloggers have captured immense power and influence which is sought after by even the largest beauty houses. It was reported by Elle Beauty Director Emily Dougherty that there are now more than 10,000 people on LinkedIn listing themselves as beauty editors, enabled by a rapid diversification in communication channels.
And while Kiehl’s embraces the technology and the direct access to consumers that tech enables, it will never replace the curated one-on-one experience, which sits at the core of the brand’s marketing strategy. The practice of listening to learn has been a part of their history as they still believe it’s the most intimate and effective way to understand what the customer wants and to offer solutions that are specific to their needs. The theory has proved effective; to date, the brand has never invested in impressive marketing campaigns, advertising, or endorsements, as customized experiences and word of mouth continue to attract a large consumer base, including a loyal celebrity following.
A Change in Influence
Brands seeking to speak to millennials’ minds, hearts, and wallets are shifting the focus towards digital platforms. As television viewership continues to decline for Americans age 18-24, companies are seeking out a new wave of marketing agencies to connect their brand with social influencers who have significant traction on digital platforms such as YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat (84% according to Schlesinger Associates). Consumers are beginning to embrace these more relatable-type influencers because engagement and authenticity diminishes with the larger audiences.
And while Kiehl’s appreciates the impact of social media, one of the ways Kiehl’s appeals to this savvy group is by being transparent and purposeful, which Salgardo believes is different than cause marketing.Kiehl’s long-standing commitment to philanthropy is embedded in their culture and is genuinely a part of the brand’s DNA.The program, #StartItRightwithKiehls has a local community focus that allows the brand to get involved with causes that align with their brand values: Passion, Diversity, Authenticity, etc.
Tapping into the causes that really impact the lives of their consumers is one of the most meaningful ways to connect and make a difference, especially given the world we’re living in today.
Our night of beauty and bubbly can be summed up as insightful and refreshing. While many argue that the beauty industry is filled with fluff and superficiality, consumers find the most merit in pure, real experiences that cannot be fabricated because they’re just too smart for that. According to Salgardo, success requires creativity, honesty, listening, and learning; aspects that cannot be bought, but acquired through experiences. “The example starts with me and sets the expectations of my team, which crafts the image of how I want Kiehl’s to be received and perceived,” he noted. And if these experiences could lead to success, and if success could lead to freedom, wouldn’t that just be beautiful?
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