Today, I had the privilege of speaking on “The Business of Beauty” at the first Fashion 360 conference organized in DC. On a panel with other DC beauty experts, I was asked to discuss “building a niche beauty brand.”
Building a brand, creating a connection with consumers, establishing a unique selling proposition in what is an overcrowded marketplace is indeed the most challenging part of my job. To be truthful, if I had the answer to “how to successfully build a niche beauty brand,” I probably would be spending time on my own private island instead of working on a Sunday. I am still learning.
As I continue to learn, I am lucky enough to surround myself with advisors and mentors. One such mentor successfully developed another Swiss beauty brand, La Prairie. And to him, I owe perhaps the most insightful discussion of how to build a nice brand, beauty or fashion. Today, as I prepared for the “Business of Beauty” panel, I turned back to my notes from that meeting.
In my pre-Evernote world of paper notebooks, I knew exactly where to look. That meeting happened early February 2010, and since I date my notebooks, it was no problem to identify the right one. Why do I remember the specific date, you might ask. Well, on Sunday, February 7, 2010, the Saints were playing in the Superbowl. And I could have gone, with my husband no less, a die-hard Saints fan. Instead, I boarded a plane to Geneva in order to attend a Board of Advisors meeting that had been scheduled for months for Monday, February 8. That meeting, I decided, was more important than the most important football game of the year.
During that meeting, I learned about building a cult brand. And while this was over three years ago, the lessons from that day continue to influence the marketing choices and strategies that I define for Alchimie Forever. The lessons of that day centered on the premise that the Catholic Church is one of the most successful brand builders. My advisor was very specific in his comparison, listing what a cult brand (whether fashion or beauty) needs to have, and what we can learn from the Catholic Church (I was raised and baptized Catholic, and mean no disrespect to this or any religion by drawing this comparison).
- A cult brand needs a cathedral, a physical place that believers can come visit. Aka a flagship store or showroom.
- Ideally, this cathedral is located in a sacred area, which in retail speak means Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles, Madison Avenue in Manhattan, or Avenue Montaigne in Paris.
- Just like the Catholic Church has altars, physical manifestations of the sacred, brands need merchandised physical displays.
- Every brand needs its own “bible,” a brochure perhaps, a way to tell its story and weave its tale.
- The Pope is essential to the personal connection believers have to the Catholic Church. Just like the person behind a fashion or beauty brand (entrepreneur, brand founder, brand owner) is key to personalizing the brand’s story.
- Every brand needs Apostles. The founder cannot spread the gospel by his or herself, brand ambassadors are essential to creating buzz and reaching more consumers.
- Every brand needs a Holy Grail, namely, a hero product. Think of the Nuxe Huile Prodigieuse (one of my favorite products of all time), or the Kiehl’s Crème de Corps.
- People crave rituals. With rituals come mystery, myth, and magic. In the skin care world, rituals represent the method of applying the product. Think of the Eve Lom cleanser and muslin cloth.
- The idea of Pilgrimages can be translated into a distribution strategy. The places consumers go to see or purchase a product are special, unique, and rare. Think exclusivity of place and quantity.
- And finally, we have religious holidays. Brand translation meaning products or collections created for a specific and special event.
Now, to take this theory and make it reality…