Beauty Legacy

Four Strategic Levers for Beauty Legacy Brands to Reignite Relevance in an Indie Brand World

The facts are in: 2017 was not a good year for some of beauty’s mega brands. Industry icons like Cover Girl and Gillette, former and current Procter & Gamble brands, respectively, reported disappointing sales despite their usual big wallet marketing budgets. Noteworthy indie brands, such as Huda Beauty and Glossier, are realizing off-the-chart growth, with by comparison, change purse budgets. While the path forward does point to marketing budgets shifting to social media, as well as engaging with well-known (and often increasingly expensive) influencers, such as Michelle Phan, that approach may only partially help mega brands sustain if not regain their stature and relevance with consumers. Susan Babinsky, head of Kline’s CPG management consulting team, provides her point of view on four key strategic levers that mega brand leaders need to adopt in whole or in part to remain competitive.

1. Innovation: it’s not just for indies: New products have always been the lifeline of the personal care industry yet much of the innovation is coming from the small and mid-sized players, such as industry upstart EOS Products, which upended the lip care market with its novel form and improved consumer experience. While there are technically advanced breakthroughs coming from major players, such as Colgate’s Smart Electric toothbrush, a collaboration with Apple, rethinking the innovation process and partnerships can help legacy players realize their competitive advantage.

2. Organization: it’s not about incubators: Some good advice never grows old and breaking down silos is one of the most challenging yet effective ways to help companies and individuals perform in a more take charge if not entrepreneurial manner. Amazon is a great example of this practice in action, with its pace of growth and new category and industry entry not held back by an overly constrictive structure and processes. In personal care, L’Oréal has a good track record of helping some of its mega brands retain their indie brand spirit and grow (e.g., Kiehl’s), yet they can do so within the confines of the corporate structure. According to Kline’s Sunanda Desai, head of the firm’s work in innovation, companies can create (or undo) processes and acquire talent that help foster a non-silo mentality.

3. Personalization: it’s not about having that brand you just searched for pop up on While providing customized or otherwise curated beauty products has proven a very powerful way to directly connect with consumers, doing so can be more challenging for brands that are inherently meant for millions of consumers. Custom formulae (e.g., BareMinerals Made-2-Fit Foundation) can be achieved for some products, but other brands will need to nurture their relationships with consumers through brand and direct-to-consumer connections.

4. Communication: it’s not about engaging a top influencer and expecting your brand’s sales to soar: Making the shift from traditional to earned media is well underway, yet there is no guarantee of “Insta” overnight success or 10 million views on YouTube. Social media has created a level playing field and provides an opportunity for mega brands to engage and connect with consumers, as well as any indie brand. Legacy and “former” indie brand MAC has cracked the code with 17.8 million followers on Instagram and popular YouTube videos, with the brand’s authenticity tied to its Viva Glam campaign. Other personal care brands can learn a lot from MAC, which is an excellent case study.

For questions and consulting about your beauty brand, contact the author directly at



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