Why Clinique isn’t (exactly) resting on its laurels in the age of Indie Beauty and All Things Digital

By Deanna Utroske contact

- Last updated on GMT

photo courtesy of JF Productions
photo courtesy of JF Productions

Related tags: Skin care, Cosmetics

Late last month in New York City, CEW hosted a sold-out newsmaker forum featuring Jane Lauder, global brand president of Clinique—and, yes, granddaughter of Estée Lauder, founder of the skin care brand’s parent company. At the event, she explained how the brand is adapting to the new beauty reality.

The global non-profit organization that is Cosmetic Executive Women boast over 8,000 members, comprising women and men from some 2,250 beauty and personal care companies (as well as from industry supporting companies).

And the “CEW Newsmaker Forums provide a rare opportunity to hear from beauty’s thought-leaders about the state of the industry,” ​explains the organization’s president Carlotta Jacobson in a media release about the March 30th event. “Clinique is one of the most iconic prestige beauty brands and we’re thrilled to have Jane Lauder share her strategies for future-proofing the brand as she reaches the next generation of consumers,” ​adds Jacobson.

Recognizing that change is inevitable

Kim Kelleher, who at the time of this CEW event hadn’t quite yet assumed her new role as chief business officer of Condé Nast’s collection of beauty titles (Glamour, Allure, Brides, Teen Vogue, and Self), acknowledged in opening remarks that “change is something we really have to brave to stay ahead in the beauty industry today.”

The shift to digital continues to be a big challenge for many brands in both media and beauty.

Color cosmetics, admits Lauder, translate readily into visual media. “Color works in video,”​ she says, going on to note with some disappointment that the industry is still searching for how to really sell skin care and fragrance through new digital visual channels.

Facing the competition

When Jill Scalamandre, president of Shiseido Global Makeup Center, who was leading the evening’s conversation in her role as chairwoman of CEW, brought up the fact that in today’s personal care and cosmetics marketplace “bigger brands are struggling”​ while “indie brands are skyrocketing,”​ Lauder’s first response was to turn to the room full of industry insiders and only half-jokingly shrug saying that she’s “open for suggestions.”

Lauder thinks the disruption caused by indie brands is only temporary, pointing out that there’s a low barrier to market entry and that a decade ago everyone was worried doctor’s brands were going to take over and that never happened. She even went so far as to speculate that the rise of indie is just part of a cycle and that “anything that goes up that quickly, usually comes down.”

Despite that assessment, when asked about who Clinique’s competitors are today, Lauder replied, “everybody,” ​adding that consumers don’t leave the brand because they dislike the product but rather because they’ve been distracted by the latest shiny toy.  

Standing the test of time

Clinique is a teaching brand, says Lauder. It’s a brand built around consumer education and skin care advice. In the digital age that simply means figuring out how the brand and its consultants can best “cater to the consumer in each channel,”​ Lauder explains.

On social platforms, Clinique is developing service stories that draw traffic. How-to’s and snackable content work well, says Lauder. But developing an influencer strategy “for a brand that’s about product-as-hero rather than celebrity [endorsers]” ​requires more of an evolution for the brand.

“Consultants are our best advocates”​ she says. So the company is now working to turn those consultants into digital and social brand advocates or Cloggers (which is the current term of art for ‘Clinique beauty bloggers’).

What makes sense for the skin care brand and is expected to resonate with consumers too, are “reverse makeup tutorial,” ​says Lauder. These video tutorials show consumers how to take off their makeup and move on to a skin care routine.

In the end, it’s clear that while Clinique is making changes to remain competitive, the brand has no plans to reinvent itself and is instead resting on its laurels. As Lauder put it, the market goes in cycles and even though new brands are cropping up every day, “the barrier to quality and expertise is still high.”

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