Thursday, 23 June 2011

An interview about branding, website design and E-commerce in the beauty industry

Nic Aylett, MD at Neue Media
Years in beauty industry: 5

Specialising in the luxury sector, elevating a company's success to the next level through considered branding and website design is what makes Nic Aylett tick. Nic talks to Your Beauty Industry about creating and maintaining brand identity, how luxury brands' online platforms should differ to the mass sector and the future of E-commerce.

Tell me a bit about your career background.
I have been in the design industry for nearly 14 years, having learnt my trade at one of London’s leading creative agencies, Black Sun, working with many prestigious brands including British Airways, O2, Cable & Wireless, HBOS, Sainsbury’s and Mazda.

My career started in print production, managing all aspects of the printing process and artwork creation, which then naturally moved into website development as digital became the latest platform in communication. Although production is an important part of any development process, it didn’t excite me or match my ambition and passion, so my career path naturally became more directed towards the creative process, both in print and digital, on a strategic and execution level.

In 2006, I formed Neue Media, a creative agency with a focus on brands; understanding their unique characteristics that give them personality and presence in the world. We now work with a range of businesses from start-ups to SMEs in translating that character and personality into an online environment, so that it becomes an extension to their brand, and their story can be told consistently over every touch point.

This is particularly interesting in the health and beauty sector, which is a hugely competitive and flooded market. We work with a number of clients in this sector, delivering a range of tailored E-commerce and digital solutions.

What are the key elements to consider when creating and implementing a brand’s identity?

Branding is a never-ending cycle; whether you are setting up a new brand or reviewing your current brand, you need to ensure you engage in an ongoing cycle that will allow you to monitor, strengthen, realign or revitalise your brand.

You can’t start the branding process until you have clearly stated what you are trying to brand. You need to list the descriptors that are pertinent to your business.

Every brand needs to fill a unique, meaningful and available spot in the market place and in the consumer’s mind. Positioning can be about any aspect of your brand; product quality, service, price, design, technical aspects and so on.


The brand promise summarises the positive difference you deliver to all who deal with your organisation. It is a pledge that you build your brand upon and stake your reputation. It’s the expectation that you live up to on every touch point of the business.

The style of your brand defines how it will actually interact with and relate to your customers. The style is the personality and character of your brand. If your brand were a person who walked into a room, how would it be described?

Brands are built on story telling. It is a story that will ultimately set your brand apart from all your competitors, who may even have better products/services than you. Telling stories creates human engagement, connecting with the hearts and minds of the consumer.

If you open a Moleskin notebook you will notice a printed leaflet in the notebook telling you their story, which says that they were the chosen notebook for Vincent Van Gogh and Ernest Hemingway. Now that’s a great story!

How should the online experience for luxury brands differ to mass brands?
Luxury brands are special and therefore they can’t just replicate what’s been done before or what other brands are doing. They have to do something specialised, personalised and inventive, because that is exactly what defines and separates them from mass brands.

"Luxury brands have been slow to embrace the Internet; it was seen as a cheap platform that was unable to communicate the meaningful connection between brand and consumer"

What are the biggest mistakes that luxury brands make with their websites?
Luxury brands have been slowto embrace the Internet. The Internet was seen as a cheap channel and a platform that was unable to communicate the meaningful connection between brand and consumer. Prada didn’t have a website until 2007!

Luxury brands need to embrace the digital channels and ensure that every aspect of their website is a true reflection of what the brand stands for, that show the foundations of the skill, craftsmanship, creativity, innovation, exclusivity, vision and passion that make them unique.

How do you think the online retail experience has changed over the last 5 years?
The biggest change in online retail has been through the number of different channels you can now make a purchase from. E-commerce is a term we are all familiar with, but now we have M-commerce selling through mobile devices and the use of location based technology, and F-commerce, selling through Facebook. But we also have ‘me’ commerce where anyone can now set up a basic online shop and sell their products.

The online shopping experience is certainly changing and will continue to do so. It’s becoming more distributed, more social, more global and more complicated!

"The biggest change in online retail has been through the number of different channels you can now make a purchase from"

What new technologies are emerging that you think are interesting right now?
Near Field Communication, or NFC, is technology that will soon be available on every smart phone. It is a contactless, wireless means of transferring information between two close objects. It is activated when two antennae communicate with each other through a magnetic field (for example, your Oyster card and the reader). Integrating this technology into a mobile device offers endless ways for mobile marketing and M-commerce, and bridges the gap between offline and digital media. Here are a few ways NFC could be used:

•    Pick up information on-the-go from smart posters and billboards
•    Mobile payment
•    Bank account and passport chip details
•    Gain entry into events
•    Eventually it could be used to open your house or car!
Just make sure you don’t lose your phone!!

What inspired you to set up your own design agency?
I have always had the desire and ambition to have my own business, so after 9 years of working for design agencies in London and abroad, I wanted to create an agency that offered a more personal, down to earth service that is fully committed to a client’s needs, sharing their passion and vision and offering my full support during and after a project. Being part of the process in helping a business reach further success is what gets me out of bed in the morning.

What top tips would you give to anyone wanting to start their own agency?

The creative industry is a very competitive industry, from one-man-bands to larger organisations, so you need to be clear where you fit into the market place in the consumer’s mind. Here are a few tips:

•    Don’t follow what everyone else is doing; you have more chance of success by standing out from the crowd.
•    Be an expert in your field, don’t try and be a jack of all trades
•    Practise what you preach
•    Networking is key, but make sure you choose the right network for your business
Who inspires you in your career?
I have been lucky enough to work with some great brands and people over the years. Clients, colleagues, consultants and strategic partners have all been a great source of inspiration.

Also Seth Godin and Simon Middleton, who are both professional speakers and authors in brand and marketing.

What’s the best career’s advice you’ve ever received?
Stay focused no matter what distractions come your way.

Twitter: @Neue_Media @Nic_Aylett

Friday, 17 June 2011

BB (Blemish Balm) Creams – the next big UK beauty trend

BRTC is one of the most popular BB Creams in Asia
Have you heard of BB Creams yet? If not, you will do soon because mark my words, BB Creams are going to be BIG NEWS in the UK and I reckon one of the hottest beauty trends.

So, what is BB Cream? It stands for Blemish Balm Cream, or sometimes Beblesh Balm Cream; they are both the same thing. I first started hearing about BB Creams a few months ago and have kept a keen eye on developments in the UK sector, as I think it will be a genuinely exciting trend to hit the UK beauty market.

In short, BB Cream is a make up/skincare hybrid, offering an all-in-one product that provides skincare, healing, coverage and protection. Although the name Blemish Balm Cream suggests that it is a spot treatment, BB Creams offer much more than that and are not solely for those who suffer from spots.

I have seen many people across the internet wonder how BB Cream is different to a tinted moisturiser, and my answer would be that as well as having moisturising and coverage properties, it also helps to heal the skin – sensitivity, acne scars, redness, that kind of thing – and includes a good dose of sun protection. Different BB Creams have different properties too, so for instance some may offer stronger coverage than a tinted moisturiser, and many focus on much better moisturising qualities than your average skincare product. Basically, a tinted moisturiser on steroids! Think of it as a moisturiser, anti-ageing treatment, primer, foundation, skin refiner and sun protection all in one. If it lives up to its promise, that's one hell of a beauty product.

BB Cream is by no means a completely new beauty innovation - it originated in Germany in the 1950s from a dermatologist who used it to treat the highly sensitive skin of her laser surgery patients. The aim was to soothe, protect and refine the skin while also providing a light coverage for post-surgery scars, acne and blemishes.

BB Cream was eventually picked up by savvy beauty companies who knew this could be big business and bought BB Creams to the general public – they are extremely popular in East and Southeast Asia and according to the Daily Mail, BB Creams account for 13% of South Korea's mass market make up sector. Popular Asian BB Cream brands include Skin 79 Super Beblesh Balm, BRTC BB Balm, Dr Jart and Missha.

Now BB Creams are starting to have a real influence in the UK (although a lot of Asian BB Creams have skin whitening properties and I doubt this will translate into the UK versions). I think BB Creams tap nicely into the current beauty trend for a natural, flawless look – if BB Creams deliver on their promise to protect, prime, refine and conceal then all that is needed is a slick of mascara and a dab of bronzer and you’re good to go.

There are some BB Creams already available in the UK beauty market – you can pick up DiorSnow White Reveal UV Protection BB Cream at Harrods and Estee Lauder CyberWhite Brilliant Cells Extra Intensive BB Creme at Heathrow Airport, with Mac and Clinique hot on their heels with their own versions launching at Heathrow in July.

But what will really bring BB Creams to the UK masses is Garnier’s hotly anticipated addition to the sector; Garnier Miracle Skin Perfector Daily All in One BB Cream (another succinct, catchy name in the world of beauty!), which launches in August 2011. British Beauty Blogger has already managed to get her hands on a sample, so you can read her review here.

From British Beauty Blogger’s review, Garnier’s BB Cream sounds more like a hardcore skin protectant rather than providing particularly effective coverage as well, and quotes in the Daily Mail from Garnier’s scientific advisor, Shakila Bik would back this up: “The heritage of BB creams has always been about soothing and that’s something we concentrated on. We’ve incorporated technology that offers intense moisturisation.”

Hopefully other UK versions of BB Creams with fuller coverage properties will follow soon, as I think this is what really separates BB Creams from being just another skincare product, fusing together cosmetics and skincare as is the intention of BB Creams. It will be fantastic to see what kind of influence these first BB Creams will have on the UK and how the rest of the beauty industry will follow suit.

Friday, 3 June 2011

An interview with… Imogen Matthews, Owner of IM Associates

"I publish the report each year after conducting extensive interviews with manufacturers, retailers & industry experts"

Years in beauty industry: 32

Specialising in market research and trade journalism, Imogen Matthews knows more than a thing or two about the beauty industry; both present and future. Imogen talks to Your Beauty Industry about the need for up-to-date market research, current beauty trends and how to work and succeed as a market researcher.

Tell me a bit about your career background.
My whole career has centred around beauty, starting with an internship in the market research department of Avon. That gave me the springboard into the leading market research company for cosmetics & toiletries.

My lucky break came after just a year when my then boss left to set up a competitive agency specialising in accurate, in-depth market data. There were just three of us at the start at SDC {Syndicated Data Consultants}, and I was thrown in the deep end with responsibility for putting together my own presentations and standing in front of senior executives in high profile companies, such as Boots, P&G and Chanel. It was hugely nerve-wracking but a fantastic learning curve that gave me the confidence to become a respected expert in my field.

After SDC was sold to AC Nielsen, I decided corporate life wasn’t for me. I had two very young sons and saw an opportunity to work for myself as an independent market researcher and beauty trade journalist. That was in 1990 and since then I have written for all the major UK trade journals, including Esprit, SPC and ECM, as well as many international ones, such as Cosmetics International and Cosmetic News Weekly.

I wrote Mintel’s cosmetic, fragrance and toiletries reports for many years, and more recently have begun to build YouGov SixthSense’s portfolio of in-depth consumer insight reports on the UK beauty industry. By having these two arms to my business, I have built a tremendous body of knowledge which has helped in the development of my own Premium Market Report.

Tell me about the annual Premium Market Report that you produce.
I was approached in 1993 by two former clients of mine when I was Client Services Director at SDC, who were missing the expert analysis and accuracy of data and information I used to supply. It gave me the idea of producing my own independent report which tracks the UK premium cosmetics, skincare and fragrance markets.

I publish the report each year in March, after conducting extensive interviews with manufacturers, retailers and industry experts. The report is bang up to date, covering market, retailer and consumer trends plus analysis of what is happening right now and likely to happen in the coming year.

In the past couple of years, I have forged partnerships with leading market researchers to strengthen and deepen the quality of the information. YouGov SixthSense run valuable consumer insight questions so that I can gain a better understanding of men’s and women’s motivations when choosing and buying premium beauty products. provides the latest trend information for advertising and promotions within the premium beauty industry.

What role do you think market reports provide for the beauty industry, and how should companies be using them?
Keeping up to date with trends in a fast-moving industry such as beauty is a real challenge for product developers, marketers and formulators. Many of the reports out there are updated infrequently which means you can be reading about trends that happened two years ago. That’s no good if you want to know about the sudden explosion of growth-enhancing mascaras, for example. The Premium Market Report is updated every year, making it easier to keep abreast of trends as they happen and act on them. Bite-sized information is a feature of the report, enabling the user to dip in, learn and use.

"Make-up services are playing a bigger role in retailing, with growth in brow & lash bars, nail spas and make-up lessons"

Can you give me some topline findings from your most recent report, which you think is shaping the beauty industry?

Some top-line findings from the 2010/11 Premium Market Report include:

  • The premium beauty markets have bounced back following the recent recession: the majority of consumers interviewed are no longer cutting back on their purchases.
  • Make-up services are playing a bigger role in retailing, with growth in brow & lash bars, nail spas and make-up lessons.
  • Anti-ageing is the number one claim consumers look for in skincare, regardless of whether they are in their 20s or 60s.
  • The number of celebrity fragrance launches has slowed significantly in the past two years. 
  • A new crop of celebrity fashion designer fragrances is gaining prominence at a time that the celebrity trend is showing signs of running out of steam. Examples: Orla Kiely launched her first signature fragrance in 2010; celebrity shoe designer Jimmy Choo launched its first fragrance in January 2011. 
  • One in two women interviewed said they would never buy a fragrance without trying it first.

How do you think the beauty industry has changed over the last 5 years?
The biggest change the industry has seen has been the sheer volume of new product launches in virtually every sector. Hardly a week goes by when there aren’t at least several new product introductions. The media loves to have something new to talk about, but I’m not so sure this is such good news for the industry. By continually bringing out new products, companies run the risk of confusing and potentially alienating loyal customers.

What advice would you give to anyone who wants a career in market research?
You don’t need to have a qualification in market research to be a good market researcher! You must have an enquiring mind and an ability to write well and succinctly. You also need to have tremendous discipline and perseverance to be able to complete a lengthy market research report, which can run to 25,000 plus words –not unlike writing a novel! It’s no coincidence that many of the best researchers have a background in journalism.

Who inspires you?
I’m on the Board of CEW UK and am continually in awe of the fantastic achievements of so many women in our industry. I’ve been fortunate to mix with top executives both on the Board and at CEW’s many industry events which is a constant source of inspiration and networking opportunities. I thoroughly recommend joining CEW UK to any woman serious about working in the beauty industry.

"Build a portfolio of clients so if you are unlucky enough to lose one or more, you will always have others to cushion the blow"
What’s the best career advice you have received?
Soon after I began working for myself I attended a conference for freelancers where I learnt the importance of building a portfolio of clients. So if you are unlucky enough to lose one or more, you will always have others to cushion the blow. It also means that I am constantly reviewing my client portfolio making me aware of when gaps occur so I can take action. This approach has worked well for me through two recessions!