One of the best books on marketing by Seth Godin is his book The Purple Cow. It’s an easy read and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in launching their own cosmetic line. It’s also great for cosmetic chemists who just want to get a better understanding on how you might help improve the marketing of your own formulas.
The basic thesis of The Purple Cow is that to succeed in business, you have to stand out. And figuring out how to make your brand, your product or even yourself stand out from the crowd is the way to success.
In the cosmetic business, standing out can be difficult. There are thousands of brands and tens of thousands of products. Just getting your product in a store to compete with others is going to be tough. Worse, consumers are not very good at picking up actual product performance differences. So, even if your formulas work better than someone else’s, you’ll have a hard time getting consumers to understand it.
How big brands stand out
The big mass market companies are always looking for ways to differentiate themselves from their competition. Their biggest weapon is money spent on advertising. This allows them to “tell their story” to hundreds of millions of people. The simple exposure of their story to this many people is going to result in sales. It’s no coincidence that the biggest selling cosmetic brands also spend the most on advertising.
Some big brands that don’t compete with advertising try a different tact. They compete on price. White Rain, VO5 and Suave all shoot for the least expensive products they can create while still getting a decent profit. The profit margin isn’t great but when you are selling 100 million bottles a year, you can still make a lot of money.
How small brands can stand out
For the most part, small brands and independent cosmetic makers can not copy the tactics of big brands. They will not be able to out spend big companies in advertising and also can’t win a price competition.
However, there are still a number of ways that a small cosmetic product / brand can stand out.
1. Unique story. The best way to create a stand out brand is to come up with a unique story. Burts Bees did an excellent job of this and built their brand so large that it got bought for a huge amount by a large company. It should be noted that Burts Bees didn’t simply go for an “all natural, organic, chemical free” marketing position. They had a compelling origin story, a likeable character, some savvy marketing, and fortuitous timing. Beeswax lip balm wasn’t unique at the time but Burts Bees made it unique.
Here’s a company that is trying to stand out. They’ve created a line of nail polish inspired by things like menstrual blood, bruises and famous painters. The kicker is that they sell the polish for $80 a bottle and they are sold out (at least they claim to be). That is impressive marketing.
Action - Find your unique story.
2. Niche consumer group. While it’s critical to have a unique story, it may be easier to stand out by starting with a niche consumer group and creating products specifically for them. The age of the Internet makes it much easier to identify niche groups. These groups are still going to be too small for the big corporations to go after but for small brands, you can make a great living catering to a smaller group.
So, what would be an example of a niche consumer group? Groups like
a. People allergic to Gluten containing products
b. People with psoriasis
c. People who are religious
d. People with a political ideology
e. People who ride motorcycles
Action - Find your nich consumer group.
3. Noticeable differences. The most satisfying way to stand out is to create a cosmetic formula that is noticeably different from all other ones out there. This is exceedingly difficult to do as the cosmetic field is “mature” science and there aren’t a lot of breakthru technologies. But don’t stop looking because you may find something. To create a product that performs better than all others you need to first identify the market leaders. Do some research to find out who actually has the best performing technology. And test it yourself. Then start creating formulas that work better.
Action - Figure out what the current best technology is and work to best it.
4. Novel marketing. The final way to stand out is to come up with some novel marketing methods. Big brands do things like create viral commercials, do public stunts, or wine and dine magazine editors & bloggers. You can do some of those things but don’t stop there. Brainstorm some ideas how you can get people talking about your brand. Then try them out. An excellent book on this subejct is Guerrilla Marketing.
Action - Determine a novel marketing strategy for your product.
Remember, you don’t have to be the biggest brand in the cosmetic business to be successful and make a good living. You just need to be unique. Figure out how you can stand out from the crowd of competitors and you will be able to earn a living from your cosmetic brand for life.