The Branding of Beauty – part 2 of 3

In the last post, we started with the foundation of what makes a beauty brand (skincare, more specifically) desirable: functional excellence. It’s the basic vodka in the martini. But vodka alone does not make a martini, so we now move on to explore the other key ingredients.

Sensual pleasure

This second dimension is again, well known to the purveyors of beauty. The texture, fragrance, after effects, packaging – all need to delight the senses. As a case study, the global skincare brand and retail chain called L’Occitane en Provence, paid careful attention to capturing the essence of its original stores in the south of France in a store design and visual merchandising concept that was designed by my friend David Dunn. He accomplished this as part of a global rollout that took the brand from a handful of stores to over 500 in Europe, North America and Asia in a matter of a few years.

His inspirations were the fields of lavender and forests of Provence, where the founder Olivier Baussan would hunt for truffles with his truffle pigs and pick herbs from under the great old trees of that region. Golden yellows from the vast sunflower fields, lapis from the late afternoon sky, tender greens from early summer foliage, and of course the remarkable scents that emanated when you opened a jar or tube of the cream. Vetiver, verbena, rosemary, and the famously lush lavender. They used metal tubes in many cases, giving the product a beautiful hand made feel, reminiscent of 19th century apothecaries.

Brand narrative / origin story

In few categories does the ‘story’ around the origin of the product or brand figure so prominently. The first time I went into a L’Occitane store, I found the store design quite lovely. The products were of course pleasing to the nose and to the touch. But what captivated me most was the story of how the shea butter was harvested by women in Burkina Faso.

At the beginning of every season, the women of a village would symbolically “request” access to the land containing the shea butter trees (yes, it comes from trees, which was fascinating unto itself) from the men who owned the land. The men would of course grant access, and the revenues from the harvest would be in fact kept by the women. A matriarchy parading in the skin of a patriarchy.

The beauty and meaning of this story, transmitted through lovely posters and a brochure available at the cash register, cemented my decision. I filled a large shopping bag full of products, to give as gifts to family members and friends at Christmas.

In the next post, we’ll go the final step, and explore how intensifying interest in health and sustainability is informing branding and communications around contemporary beauty brands.

– W.