Face, Place, Space: How to Deal with the Challenges Facing Beauty Brands in Today's Fast Paced Environment


The annual Beauty Symposium often springs a few surprises. With this year’s eclectic line-up of entrepreneurs, trend forecasters and even an ethnographer/photographer, attendees were bound to have some preconceptions about the marketing of beauty blown out of the water.

This year’s theme was Face, Place, Space - a template for dealing with the challenges facing beauty brands in a fast-paced environment.

“If you don’t keep up with your target market, the next second they’ll move on,” warned Beauty Symposium founder, Stirling Murray in his introduction.

“If everything is changing around you, Face, Place and Space should be the building blocks to reach your target market,” he said.

FACE: is the way we recognise and learn to react with others -and it’s no different for brands.

“Consumers respond to truth, respect and understanding,” said Stirling. “It’s about making contact with you, the brand, at every touchpoint.

PLACE: is knowing where your target market goes for information and to make purchases.

It’s about ensuring your brand is in the right place at the right time.

SPACE: Every product category in beauty is saturated and the only way to get differentiation is to build space around you that’s untouched by other brands.

It’s about building a unique space around your brand that no competitor can encroach upon.

Kelly Kovack, founder, Brand Growth Management, BeautyMatter and Odin New York

Kelly began with two striking observations:

  • Attention is the new commodity

  • Visual storytelling is the new currency

When she and her three co-founders of Odin New York fragrances launched their ungendered fragrance line eight years ago, the niche brand landscape was considerably different to today.

Then, it was dominated by big personalities behind the brand: Frederic Malle, Byredo, Le Labo.

“Niche used to be interesting and seen as more progressive,” observed Kelly. “Now, it’s an opportunistic mash-up and everyone is trying to grab a bit of it.

”Finding space for the brand, required building the Odin story around its heritage as a men’s fashion brand, but positioning it as genderless.

It’s a long process for a luxury proposition that needs time to grow. Instead of traveling the well-worn path of traditional department store distribution dominated by Estee Lauder brands, Kelly focused on building relationships with independent retailers.

“It’s easier in independent retailers as all niche brands are sold as ungendered.”

Michael van Clarke, hairdresser, entrepreneur and founder of 3”’ more inches.

Michael started in the 1970s when there were few hairdressing products on sale to the public. He worked with John Frieda, a top A-list celebrity hairdresser, who at the time was married to Lulu.

It was some years before John Frieda launched his ground-breaking Frizz-Ease hair product. The only thing that existed was setting lotion that came in a small screw-top bottle and was used in salons for ladies’ shampoo and sets.

“We reimagined different versions and the first was ‘the green lotion’ which was so successful that Boots placed an order for half a million pounds after seeing us on Breakfast TV.

”After years of working with silicone-based products (which Michael says destabalises the hair and makes it shrink), he came up with 3”’ More Inches. The secret ingredient is a cashmere protein that is almost identical to human hair. “Used over time, it keeps moisture in the hair.”

Michael demonstrated his product on one side of a model’s hair, using just a small amount rubbed through his hands. The transformation was remarkable from unkempt, slightly flyaway hair to a smoother, shinier, well-groomed look.

“I call it ‘healthcare for hair’,” he said about his product, which is backed by professional stylists.

Lara Morgan, owner, Scentered and founder, Pacific AmenitiesLara’s lightbulb moment for Scentered, her aromatherapy on-the-go business, came after spending long periods away from her family. At the time, she had a successful business, Pacific Direct, placing luxury beauty toiletries in hotel rooms and cruise line cabins.

Creating Scentered was all about restoring a work/life balance and there was nothing else like it on the market. “So many products that promise a moment’s calm actually don’t travel,” explained Lara, revealing how she found that Elemis’ Instant Refreshing Gel leaked under pressure.

And despite loving Aromatherapy Associates products, she considered them better suited to the bathroom than travel. So Lara set about developing a line of scented balms that allow you to Stop, Inhale and Reset.

“It’s about taking yourself back to that happy place during low times,” she said, recounting terrible hotel rooms in far flung places when all she wanted was to be home with her family.

Crispin Reed, founder, Skyscraper Consulting, co-author of “7 Myths of Middle Age”

At first the audience didn’t take much notice of the slightly stooped elderly gentleman in a straw hat and shapeless jacket who was making his way towards the lectern. I was confused as he didn’t bear much relation to the picture of the next speaker in the programme. Perhaps I’d been mistaken.

He began talking about stereotypes and how 40,000 years ago humans learnt to stereotype as a defence mechanism to assimilate information. When faced with a looming woolly mammoth, who wouldn’t have fled?

“Stereotype scenarios are formed in a split second,” he dead-panned.

It dawned on me that we’d been had. This imposter before us was the speaker we were expecting, but with a drastic makeover to suggest he was someone he was not.

It was a clever ploy to show how we all have preconceptions about older people.

Crispin described how we fall into the same old trap, using terms such as “over 50s”, even the “Mature Marketing Awards”.

“The degree to which we stereotype older people is more ingrained and more difficult to shift than to deal with someone of a different gender,” he said. “We all slip into moments without knowing it - it’s the ‘woolly mammoth’ syndrome."

Crispin conceded that there are some changes in the media, with good examples, such as Twiggy for Marks & Spencer.

But Boots fails in its Tah Dah! Ad for skincare for ages 45-60.

“What if I’m 44 or 61? Unless there’s a legal reason I shouldn’t use the product, I shouldn’t be excluded,” he rightfully pointed out.

The examples of unwitting ageism were numerous. Some were downright wrong. “Do we all become grumpy old men and women?” he asked. “Studies show that the older we get, the more satisfied with life we are.”

Crispin went on to show how the average age in top tech companies, such as Facebook, is 29. “I’m sure they’re brilliant salesmen, but I wonder if in their training they might benefit from socio-emotional selectivity theory to understand what makes the over 60s tick.”

He finished by peeling off his prosthetic face make-up which had taken two hours to apply and had us fooled. It was a salutary lesson in how to overcome one’s stereotypical preconceptions.

Paula Zuccotti, ethnographer, photographer and trends forecaster

'Everything We Touch' is a research project Paula undertook to understand how we see things through the objects we touch throughout a 24-hour period.

“Things are not so linear any more and there has been a huge shift in perceptions,” she said. For example, a young person might see a typewriter as a “cool laptop you can type on and don’t have to plug in.”

What would the physical footprint of a day in the life of people across the world look like?

In order to make sense of life today, Paula travelled the world and asked people across the age, professional and cultural spectrum to document every object they touched within 24 hours.

The beauty stories she uncovered showed fascinating insights into products used and rituals. For example, bath-time for an Indian women showed four soaps in a dish, each for a different family member and differentiated by colour. A cowboy’s work tools and leather accouterments accounted for most of what he touched, but there was Head & Shoulders shampoo, Gillette shaving foam and Colgate toothpaste, the essentials elements of his daily grooming routine.

“All of us don’t see beauty in isolation but think about the products that make up our routine,” observed Paula.

Perhaps retailers can learn a lesson from this alternative view and think about how they merchandise products more effectively.Further insight into Paula’s project can be found here.