How Estee Lauder built its beauty products company

K@W  has a nice interview of William Lauder, executive chairman of Estee Lauder – beauty and cosmetics company.

He discusses the benefits and challenges of working in a family-owned business, the company’s global growth aspirations and why, in the words of his grandmother, they key to success for Estée Lauder is “getting women to put their hands together.

Some international marketing lessons – Know the local language and context properly:

Knowledge@Wharton: How does the company adapt its marketing to attract a global audience? Is it one size fits all, or do you have to really specialize to fit the customer in different areas?

Lauder: The concept of global imagery for brands is very important. It’s a consistency of imagery, but not a slavish consistency of image to the point where all of a sudden, perhaps it looks the same around the world but isn’t as relevant in many places. How we customize the relevance is extremely important for the success of any of our marketing programs.

I’ll give you a great example. This was a number of years ago, but to me it’s a great example. We had a product where the key prop, for want of a better word, in the advertising shot was a birthday candle…. The notion was that you’re going to stop seeing the signs of aging, so you’re going to stop seeing the signs of what more and more birthday candles may mean. We liked the photograph. It was a beautiful photograph by a well-known photographer and it really looked great. We were showing the picture to our Asian brand managers for this one brand, and I noticed that when we showed it to them, they were very silent. Their silence was very loud. In many Asian cultures there’s a belief that one shouldn’t be confrontational. So instead of like their European counterparts saying, “I hate it, I don’t like it. And this is what you’re wrong about,” they were just quiet. They weren’t nodding saying, “Yes, I love it.” They weren’t clapping. They were just quiet.

To me it was a very loud silence. I said, “Guys, what’s up?” And finally one of the bolder ones said … it was a white birthday candle. They said, “Well, you know, in Asia, we only burn candles like this when somebody dies.” It was a revelation to us. [We said,] “What kind of candles do you have on a birthday cake or to celebrate somebody’s birthday?” They said, “It’s a red and white or a pink and white candle. Same style. But all white is when somebody dies; with a stripe in it is for a birthday.” Easy to fix, but that’s a cultural relevance piece. In other words, so there’s a consistency of the image, you just change the one thing that all of sudden says the wrong thing to the consumer. The most classic case is the Chevy Nova marketed in Latin America. In Spanish “nova” means “no go.”

One did read similar case studies in international marketing textbooks. How advertising campaigns failed collossaly in different countries because of these issues.

A nice interview on a different kind of industry. For history of beauty products industry see this fascinating interview as well.

One Response to “How Estee Lauder built its beauty products company”

  1. How Estee Lauder built its beauty products company « Indian Industry Tracker Says:

    […] Agrawal posts an insightful article from Knowledge@Wharton. Categories: Uncategorized LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

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