In a sea of beauty brands that blend into minimal, san serif sameness, all looking for that lightning-in-a-bottle moment of a billion-dollar exit, three brands launched at the end of 2019 broke the monotony with substantive concepts launched with precision and intent. The barrier to entry for launching a beauty brand DTC has never been lower; however, stock formulas, packaged in-stock bottles, sold on a website template do not make a brand.
There is a significant distinction between selling products and building a brand. It is possible to build very successful businesses without building a traditional brand. Amazon is full of them, but it’s important to know the difference—success depends on it.
Coming from a “traditional” branding background, I have an appreciation of and love for the process of building a brand, a process that of late feels like a dying art form. Speed to market, “influence,” and short-term success have replaced the discipline of methodically built brands with long-term strategies.
There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for building a successful beauty business, but I’m of the mindset that long-term success requires a clear articulation of the business model, quality product that delivers on a promise, and developing a connection with the consumer. These three brands captured our attention—while they address different categories and demographics with different design aesthetics, they have five things in common.
1. Clearly articulated value proposition. These brands are confident in the knowledge of who they are and why they exist. Their reason for being is clearly articulated and consistently reinforced across touchpoints, creating differentiation and connection.
2. Attention to the product. While the product plays various roles in these brands, from patented technology that was decades in the making, to launching with one hero SKU with no significant differentiation in form or function, to a focus on quality and performance, it is clear that the product was an integral part of the brand. There may be different approaches but there were no shortcuts taken. The product and how it is packaged feels intentional.
3. Great, not-good-enough, design. All branding starts with inspiration and mood boards, but these brands feel nuanced and unique. The design goes far beyond a font choice for a logo—design plays a key role in the articulation and differentiation of the brand. These brands are visually memorable and will certainly serve as design inspiration for others, but the success of these brands goes far beyond the design alone.
4. Considered communication and content. Each of these brands has built a visual and verbal language that is the underpinning of their content strategy. The unique style of both creates the foundation for engagement, sharing, and community building while reinforcing the overarching brand proposition.
5. Confidence comes from experience. While much of the disruption in the industry has come from outsiders, it is worth noting that each of these brands was built by founders with beauty experience. The depth of understanding and respect for the beauty space is palpable. The confidence these brands imbue is not arrogant—it’s earned.
Meet the three brands that are creating trends, not chasing them, as they reframe categories and selling models. While these brands all launched direct-to-consumer, that is not what defines them. MyBeautyBrand may have unlocked peer-to-peer selling with a digital-first model that is sure to shake up the beauty industry status quo. Nobel Panacea unabashedly launched a luxury skin brand in a time when luxury has become a dirty word and most beauty brands reside in the Sephora/millennial sweet spot of accessibility. And Starface is the first Gen Z brand that at its core understands what makes this cohort tick—they’re not simply marketing at them.
MyBeautyBrand is a new platform that launched with the promise of being the antidote to influencers and was described as the “Avon for Gen Z.” The brand’s proposition is simple—everyone is an influencer. They’ve created a platform that leaves self-expression up to its customers. Anyone can set up a store and post pictures of themselves in looks using the products they love, and anybody visiting your page can view products used; if they buy, a commission is earned.
The branding and packaging provide a clean slate to highlight and activate the creativity and self-expression of the community. The consumer is very literally at the center of this brand. The tools of the community are formulas with intense color payoff and fantastic quality made in Italy by the best manufacturers. The By Me range of 60 products consists of classic eye paints, lipsticks, and nail varnishes that are the tools for self-expression. The platform will also be a place where the brand will collaborate with creative, interesting people and brands to launch their own beauty products. The first artist’s collection is a range of polish by nail artist Marian Newman.
Leveraging the curatorial lens of founders Robin Derrick and Max Leykind, the business launched with a MyBeautyBrand x Dazed Beauty store where the alternative media property will sell products curated by the Dazed Beauty community. This collaboration reinforces the commitment to collaboration and self-expression while also reaffirming MBB is anything but a traditional beauty brand. The brand is open to everyone and anyone who loves beauty.
MBB is founded by two people who know beauty and branding inside out. Max Leykind was the founder of Eyeko and co-founder of Hard Candy. Photographer Robin Derrick launched The Face, was the Creative Director at British Vogue, and the Global Executive Creative Director at Spring Studio. These founders have a bold new vision for how beauty brands are created and sold, and they are not afraid of poking the “big beauty” bear in the process—provocation with a purpose seems to ground their marketing strategy.
Noble Panacea was founded on the ambitious research of Sir Fraser Stoddart, who was awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. His lifework researching molecular motion led to his discovery of now-patented Organic Molecular Vessel (OMV) Technology, a new delivery system that ensures pharmaceutical-grade purity that, when coupled with a precise selection and encapsulation process, delivers highly efficacious results without any unnecessary additives or irritants. Noble Panacea applies the 12 Principles of Green Chemistry at each stage in the manufacturing process and is committed to sustainability, participating in TerraCycle’s recycling program.
Luxury skincare launches have been few and far between. It’s refreshing to see real science and a commitment to sustainability served up with the attention to detail and experience that embodies a luxury beauty brand. The products are packaged in a sleek, minimal white octagonal box made of biodegradable starch with an aluminum insert that holds a 30-day supply of individual doses of each product in recyclable sachets.
Starface wins the prize, in our opinion, for a simple, clever idea well executed. This brand has taken a refreshing take on a serious category that could use a little shaking up. The acne category has always been focused on treating and camouflaging blemishes. As teenagers, we are taught to hide our skin when it’s not clear and smooth. No one wants blemishes, but we’re in a new time where there is a backlash against photoshopped perfection, and imperfection is accepted.
There is nothing terribly innovative or cutting edge in the formulation or delivery format of Starface’s single SKU. The Hydro-star product works in much the same way as any other pimple patch on the market, but what does differentiate this product is the reframing of the conversation about acne. They’ve removed the shame and replaced it with positivity and fun.
The brainchild of Julie Schott, the former beauty director of Elle.com, and serial entrepreneur Brian Bordainick, Starface launched selling DTC with one product called Hydro-star packaged in a yellow box containing 32 star-shaped acne patches. The branding fully embraces the analog-digital design trend, with deft handling of nostalgic references and grounded in well-written copy. The result is a brand that breaks through the noise with intention, experience, and personality. This brand just makes you smile.
The beauty industry needs more brands like these and founders that march to their own drummer with a keen sense of the category and a vision for what’s possible. We need leaders, not followers. These brands and founders should be on everyone’s radar. Their creativity, vision, and business chops should inspire everyone to up their game.
Photo:NOBLE PANACEA via Facebook