Building a cult brand…

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).

  1. A cult brand needs a cathedral, a physical place that believers can come visit. Aka a flagship store or showroom.
  2. 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.
  3. Just like the Catholic Church has altars, physical manifestations of the sacred, brands need merchandised physical displays.
  4. Every brand needs its own “bible,” a brochure perhaps, a way to tell its story and weave its tale.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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…

BeautyView: Christina Han, Associate Beauty Editor, W Magazine

In building a consumer brand, in particular a beauty brand, press is absolutely key. Indeed, I think our time is about the power of press. Not the power of money. Not the power of fame, but the power of writers, journalists, bloggers, editors. Given this context, it has been a true pleasure getting to know Christina Han, associate beauty editor for W Magazine. From a first deskside meeting, we have had the opportunity to meet a couple more times. I am in awe of her: she is smart, gorgeous, stylish, powerful, and somehow manages to stay super thin despite her Chipotle addiction…

AP: What city were you born in? CH: Baltimore, MD.

AP: What city do you live in? CH: New York, NY.

AP: What is your middle name? CH: Eun-Kyung, which is my Korean name. Directly translated it means, silver mirror. Perhaps foreshadowing my career in the beauty industry…or extreme vanity.

AP: What is your astrological sign? CH: Capricorn.

AP: What is your favorite thing about the beauty industry? CH: The effect beauty has on people. Whether it’s advice on a new product or a salon recommendation, beauty makes people happy.

AP: Least favorite thing? CH: From spilt nail polish and glitter shadows to exploding bottles of shampoo, my dry clean-only clothes have seen it all.

AP: What is your most prized possession? CH: All of the vintage (and even some newer) bags I have slyly borrowed from my mom’s closet, but have yet to return.

AP: What is something about you most people don’t know? CH: I eat Chipotle on a weekly basis.

AP: Do you wear a watch? CH: Yes, always. AP: If yes, what model? CH: Cartier Roadster.

AP: Diamonds or pearls? CH: Diamonds.

AP: If you could have dinner with the person of your choice, who would it be? CH: Ryan Reynolds.

AP: What is your secret to work/life balance? CH: SoulCycle and a good bottle of wine. However, not at the same time.

AP: What are your three top tips for travel? CH: 1 Cashmere socks to slip into on the plane. 2 SK-II Treatment Masks to rehydrate skin post-flight. 3 Never accessing the free WiFi on the plane to check email.

AP: What is your favorite book? CH: Life of Pi by Yann Martel

AP: What is your cocktail of choice? CH: Ketel and soda with a lemon wedge, only. Absolutely no limes allowed.

AP: What is your #1 beauty secret? CH: Joanna Vargas, my facialist. She keeps my complexion glowing with her treatments and products. I live for her Daily Serum and never skip a day.

AP: What fragrance do you wear? CH: I have two favorites, Versace Versense and a more recent discovery, Tom Ford’s Jasmine Rouge.

AP: Botox or not? CH: Whichever makes you happy.

AP: Hair color: natural or not? CH: Natural.

AP: 3 songs on your ipod right now. CH: It’s broken!

AP: Quote to live by. CH: “Be sharp.” – my mom

AP: Who is your mentor? CH: The amazing Sarah Brown.

AP: Words of advice for young women starting their careers today. CH: Never turn down an assignment. Show up early and leave late. Learn how to replace toner in a copy machine.

Beauty by the numbers: Skin

I spend a lot of time applying creams, masks, serums, eye contour products, and many other lotions and potions. I also spend a lot of time merely about skin. I think about how it is the one accessory that I am stuck with forever. About how it reveals my age. About how it reacts to various situations and emotions (do your cheeks redden when you are embarrassed?). About how it reflects my lifestyle and diet. I collect what I call “funny factoids” about skin, the largest organ of our body… This morning, I ran into an old (May 2006!) Allure Magazine “Beauty by the Numbers” column, and was reminded of some of my favorite funny factoids about the largest organ in the human body.

  • 200 A.D.: Year in which the Roman physician Galen combined wax, olive oil, rose petals, and water to create the first cold cream.
  • $1,000: Amount paid to Gloria Laura Mercedes Morgan0Vandebilt in 1924 for her endorsements of Pond’s Cold Cream.
  • 21: Total square footage of skin on the average human body.
  • 7: Total weight in pounds of skin on the average human body.
  • 40,000: Number of dead skin cells the body sheds every minute.
  • 650: Average number of sweat glands in one square inch of skin.
  • 20,000: Number of pores on the face.
  • 53: Percentage of American women over the age of 33 who have acne.
  • 16: Percentage of American who have at least one tattoo.
  • 60: Percentage of American women who say they would give up chocolate or their morning coffee for better skin.