Cosmetics marketing reassures consumers about their hopes, fears,
aspirations, and dreams. But as marketers, how do we harness these
powerful forces? How do we identify a customer’s passions,
and reward her with what she longs for?
To answer these questions, we may be tempted to turn to our instincts.
But, while great successes are sometimes launched on heady dreams
and strong intuitions, so are great failures.
Intuition is important—but not enough. Great creative ideas
must be founded on logical, concrete, and rational reasoning—reasoning
that wins the heart and the mind, and can be easily explained to
anyone. Every line, form, shape, symbol, typeface, and color must
have some meaning.
Strive for reason. It’s not as hard as you think. Here are
some simple steps you can take:
Visualize in detail the core consumer for your market niche.
Use that vision to understand what she wants, needs, fears,
Offer her a promise that aligns with her deepest hopes and
Execute! Remember, the package is the product!
Visualize the Core Consumer
Define the customer to a level of detail so rich you can jump into
her skin. Understand her better, and you will begin to think like
her. Seems obvious? My experience is that it doesn’t happen
in the real world of marketing. Most brand managers are too distracted
by other business problems to do the work and be objective.
To demonstrate the power of details, allow me to introduce you to
Valerie. We invented Valerie to better understand heavy users of
flavored syrups for a specialty coffee company on the West Coast.
With the help of research and some other demographic information,
we knew she was a professional woman, aged 35 to 50 years. Observation
and focus groups filled in the rest.
Valerie may be a composite, but once her life is drawn on a canvas,
we can begin to think like her. We can be Valerie, and we can predict
the decisions she is likely to make.
Understanding Her Wants, Needs, Fears, and Loves
Why not “think big” and market to every woman on the
planet? It sounds wonderful, but when you speak to everyone, you
become so wishy-washy you speak to no one.
Of course, many consumers who are not like Valerie will buy your
brand. The power of a niche is in its clarity and focus. Be irresistible
to someone. Instead of Freud’s famous question, “What
do women want?”, you can ask, “What does Valerie want?”—a
far more manageable question. Answer this question, and you’ve
unlocked the key to her heart, and to her dollars.
Imagine her house. What styles do you see? What is in her bathroom?
What books and magazines are on her nightstand? Which art periods
and cultures does she admire? Does she follow the lives of celebrities?
Does she read Soap Opera Digest or Vanity Fair?
Read these clues, and you’ll be prepared to write your “novel
in plastic and glass” directly to her. The plot of the novel
is yours to create.
Let’s review some basic rules of thumb for crafting a novel.
First, you need well-developed characters with dreams and aspirations
that readers can empathize with. Put them in an interesting or exotic
place. Create some dramatic tension. Add a touch of intrigue and
danger. Overcome fears. Pursue a noble quest.
Create a mysterious stranger who offers a chance to escape from
suffocating normality. Rediscover long-suppressed passions. Finally,
imply the denouement (how the plot works out), but keep the story
alive so long as the brand is on the market. Create a story that
never ends. All successful brands are stories that never end.
Promise to Satisfy Her Hopes
Through design, form, symbols, and imagery, communicate your message
in your advertising and point-of-purchase presence. Get creative!
Excite her heart. Capture her dreams. Liberate her from her fears,
and give her hope.
Something is missing in her life, unrealized and longed for. Since
most of us are not monks or ascetics, we all have something we’re
yearning for. Fulfill her deepest needs and your product will be
on her dressing table.
Let’s assume your company is developing a new scent. You need
a concept, a brand name, a brand mark, a package, and an ad program.
And let’s assume that your marketing department has done a
market study that indicates there are a great number of women with
life experiences like Valerie. The study also shows that the current
group of competing options have not kept up with her situation in
life or her emotional needs. How do we create our new fragrance
expressly to win Valerie’s heart, and her business?
Look at the clues. Perhaps Valerie’s love of Pre-Raphaelite
paintings foretells a path to her heart. Pre-Raphaelite is a mid-to-late
19th century rebellion of young English painters who wanted to return
to the romantic and classical themes common before the High Renaissance.
Coincidentally, it has passion, romance, beauty, and heroic women.
Such a concept might be very attractive to Valerie.
Given our Pre-Raphaelite concept, we have many themes to draw from.
A famous poem by John Keats, “La Belle Dame Sans Merci,”
inspired a number of romantic paintings. From this we could invent
a fragrance called “Sans Merci.”
Put yourself in her shoes
She’s 42 years old and has been married 16 years. She
has two kids, a three-bedroom split-level home in the suburbs,
and works as an office administrator. She has a terrier named
Ruff, drives a Honda Accord, and votes mostly Democratic.
She occasionally escapes into a romantic novel, likes to go
to art museums (loves impressionists and Pre-Raphaelite paintings),
and buys Ann Taylor for work and casual clothes at department
stores and at Target. Magazines in her mailbox include O,
InStyle, and Marie Claire. Her favorite pieces in her living
room are a pair of vases in French Empire style and some British
Valerie’s marriage is a bit stale and routine, but it
sustains her and she loves her kids. Her friends are important
to her, and she loves to shop with her girlfriends. She loves
romantic movies and cries at love scenes.
careful and protective about her family. Her most daring moves
are a new hairstyle, fragrances, and makeup, which she changes
periodically. These make her feel good, but are also an expression
of her desire to have more excitement, love, and passion in
I love the name, since it can be taken in so many ways. I imagine
a woman saying to herself, “I am in control. I enchant him
with my beauty, and if I choose, I show no mercy.” Imagine
the power of the name “Sans Merci” if Valerie had ever
been ill-used by a man in her life. Sadly, the knight in the poem
dies, so perhaps the name foretells more of tragedy than of the
wild and passionate love Valerie dreams.
Also commonly painted during this period are the mythological characters
Psyche and Echo, who are the respective lovers of Cupid and Narcissus,
as well as the tragic Ophelia from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Finally,
there is a famous painting called “The Awakening of Adonis,”
a name filled with romantic promise, but too long. So, for the purpose
of our demonstration, let’s call our new scent “Psyche.”
To attract Valerie to our new fragrance, our package might resemble
a classic Greek vessel from antiquity.
Communicate through Form and Symbol
As we develop the packaging design for Psyche, it is useful to notice
the many ways masculinity and femininity are expressed. Ovoid shapes
and curvilinearity evoke the natural role and softness of the feminine,
while squares and rectangles evoke the authority, strength, and
solidity of the masculine. But women don’t always prefer feminine
objects. They also find security and protection in masculine forms.
In general, consumers are attracted to brands with authority and
stature. If a product is from Paris or New York, it’s emblematic
of the world’s recognized fashion centers. The Estée
Lauder brand mark is square, as is the logo of the investment banking
house Goldman Sachs. Both represent stature, stability, prestige,
and power. They say to the consumer, “We are the superpower
of the industry.”
massive solid-glass-like packaging also expresses quality and permanence.
Plastics manufacturers have taken great pains to make them “clink”
like glass when set down on a hard surface.
Use of such strength and power in packaging can be feminine. Think
of Vera Wang’s fragrance, housed in a bottle shaped after
a wedding dress. The bride is the center of attention, at the height
of her beauty, and has new power and prestige. Strong stuff, and
all it took to evoke these thoughts was the symbolic shape of a
In Western cultures, less is more. To express elegance
and sophistication, we simplify.
Designers recognize their debt to Japanese art forms, which emphasize
simple beauty and natural forms. Shi by Alfred Sung, for instance,
is so simplified that no brand name is printed on its packaging.
Eternity by Calvin Klein does the same.
These objets d’art often need the right finishing touches.
Often the element is subtle and ethereal, a hidden surprise. The
best of these touches are well integrated creatively and do their
job without calling attention to themselves. The right finishing
touch takes the package out of the ordinary, imbuing the presentation
with a unique artistic expression. In addition, there must be harmony
between the price and the customer’s impression of the worth
of the package.
our Messages and Associations
We all carry
cognitive maps” in our heads. That’s what
I call the recording of everything experienced throughout
our lifetime, an aggregate cultural heritage that settles
in our brains from the 5000 years of Western civilization
that makes up our common experiences and culture. It includes
images as new as what girls are wearing in the mall today
to images as old as Neolithic fertility idols. All of it has
been recorded as you pass each day of your life.
or unknowingly, designers use this map to communicate with
consumers. For example, you may not be trained in typography,
yet a Trajan font instantly communicates power. The Romans
celebrated their triumphs by inscribing their glory on their
monuments in a Trajan font. See the font and unconsciously
we know the designer’s intended meaning.
The delicate swirls that enrich the Estée Lauder logo
instantly connect you with the Glory of France, and perhaps
with the splendor and elegance of the ancient regime of the
Bourbon dynasty. The sumptuous living and high fashion of
the day were the envy of the world. Anyone who has enjoyed
Flaubert’s Madame Bovary knows the powerful attraction
French high society has to those who are on the outside looking
For Valerie, our package might evoke classic Greece, but adornments
can suggest the romantic beauty, passion, and vivid naturalism of
Advertising completes the story line and the plot. Romantic fantasies
drive many brand images. Consider the descriptive language for Calvin
Klein’s Eternity: “Romantic, timeless, and luxurious—a
romantic floral fragrance inspired by the ideal of lasting love
and intimacy.” Certainly, the prospect of finding eternal
love, as implied in the name, appeals to romantic souls.
To draw in Valerie, our advertising would feature Psyche’s
beauty, faithfulness, and love and marriage with Cupid.
There you have it, at least hypothetically. A product named “Psyche,”
full of mystery and beauty, implying the hidden powers of the mind
that women seem to possess. Psyche’s package might hearken
to Greek antiquity, with a modern touch, or reflect the sensuous
beauty of a Pre-Raphaelite painting. An advertising and merchandising
program may include Pre-Raphaelite artwork, and with it, a healthy
dose of dreamy and idealized romantic passion.
Mr. Robert Wilkes is president of Monaghan & Company, a
national marketing and packaging design firm. He can be reached
Wilkes thanks Gary Blackton of Blackton & Company, who developed
some of the methodologies discussed in this article.