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Alisa Marie Beyer

Launching a beauty business, let alone a successful one, is a delicate dance of elements: market research, product development and, let’s not forget, good old-fashioned ingenuity. In fact, launching a beauty business requires keeping so many plates up in the air, it’s easy for new brands entering this ring to become overwhelmed with the details before they’ve even hit the product development stage. But it doesn’t need to be this way.

The Benchmarking Company (TBC) has worked with large and small brands, established brands and newbies, and has clearly established that, regardless of the stage of development of your company or product, for the best chance of success in the market, a game plan and a blueprint needs to be in place before too many plates are up in the air. These established plans will guide all the developmental aspects of a new business and new brand. Although the following five steps are not all the steps that must be taken, they are key building blocks that will help you kick-off your new venture with a solid foundation so you can hit the ground running.

Step #1: Have an Idea, But Not Just Any Idea

In order for your beauty business to succeed, you have to have a truly unique and different idea on which to lay the foundation of your entire operation. Have a new beauty business idea, but not just any idea. Are you fascinated with runway looks and want to bring them to women everywhere? Well, you’d better have a bigger idea than that because too many established brands already own that space. Let your ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit help guide this step: What’s new, unique or passionate about your plan? Why will women, and maybe even men, everywhere love and have to have it? Why should a consumer pay attention to your idea in-market? Why might she not pay attention? Take time and flesh out this idea, and perhaps even consider vetting it out with a consumer test or study before you start writing checks to the development houses and PR firms, and you will be way ahead of the pack.

Step #2: Know Your Audience/Know Your Market

Before you can even think about launching a new beauty business, you have to first know the marketplace inside and out. Who are the leaders? Who’s entering the arena and who’s leaving? What products do consumer publication beauty editors love—and, more importantly, what products are consumers buying and what keeps them clamoring for more?

Nearly as important as having a great idea, have a thorough understanding of the competitive market where your new beauty business will ultimately be living and breathing. What are the leaders in your category saying and doing? What’s the latest innovation or hot new ingredient? How are brands interacting with their consumers online? What claims and results is your competition promising and can you match or exceed them?

Getting a handle on this vast pool of information may seem daunting or even impossible, but by starting with a clear and focused idea, you will be able to target exactly what intelligence will be most beneficial to your new beauty business and tailor all research efforts in support of this goal.

Step #3: Point Out the Difference

Having a point of difference is important from a product standpoint, but what about from a business standpoint? How will your beauty business be different from the Estées, Almays and Cover Girls of the world? When it comes to points of difference, how and where you decide to stake your claim will have a direct impact on every aspect of your business: profits, innovation, development, growth, creativity and even success. Think both creatively and strategically about how you will both craft this difference and how you will share it with your consumer—for which you have more options than ever: packaging copy, editorials and most notably, your online presence. Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are great vehicles to help carve out this difference and maintain it with an incredibly diverse and ever-expanding audience. Without a clearly defined point of difference, your new beauty business will never make the splash it needs to capture market share and to keep it.

Step #4: De-code Your DNA

To know your business’s point of difference is to capture the very essence and DNA of your company. If you stand for technologically advanced beauty, then own that category and own it like no other brand taking up shelf space at Sephora or Ulta. Tailor all messaging, product development and packaging to reflect this aesthetic so that when consumers see anything connected to your brand, they instantly know it is you. Importantly, once you establish your point of difference and enter the market, you must maintain it.

Establish and leverage your point of difference to foster a positive association with this difference and your brand. A great example is Bare Escentuals’ “Swirl, Tap, Buff” point of difference. It could not be co-opted because it is so well established that consumers will think of Bare Escentuals regardless of another company using a similar point of difference.

Also, there exists the very real potential that you will lose consumers if you are not true and continually change what you stand for in-market. The target consumers for your technologically advanced beauty brand, for example, will likely not find or connect to your brand if you don’t fully establish or veer from a technology point of difference and, instead, tout 100% green, sustainable, vegan beauty. If you stray into messaging that doesn’t support why you are different in the marketplace, and why they should both believe in and be loyal to your brand, they won’t be.

Step #5: Innovate and Innovate Some More

The truth is, product and brand development don’t always happen concurrently, yet it’s the most successful brands that tackle these two steps in tandem. When developing your products, be choosy. Choose the most interesting, advanced ingredients you can afford; choose a lab that shares your vision and dedication; choose an SKU lineup that gives consumers both what they know and don’t know they need; and make them want it all. Choose products that stand high above the competition, and bring your A-game. These days, new brands are flooding the market and consumers have more choices than ever before, which means you’ve got to enter the fray with the best you’ve got in order to even be granted the chance to introduce your next great idea to the market.

At the same time, while you are busy with all of this innovative development, begin creating the fun, strategic brand identity materials you will need to fit the emerging personality of your products.

While creating these branding documents, remember the other steps of the process: your audience and your market; your point of difference, and your DNA are key elements in the creation of brand name, tagline, positioning statements and brand stories. Ask yourself, “What does my brand stand for? What does the name and tagline say both about my brand and to the consumer? How will my final product fit into the marketplace and will it have the personality and pizzazz it must in order to capture both interest and loyalty?” Are product and brand development efforts synergistic or are they at odds? Keep the innovation flowing and your brand will always be relevant, viable and, more importantly, fresh in consumers’ minds.

So, What Else Should a Start-up Beauty Entrepreneur Do?

Exhaustive due diligence. Before one dollar is spent on packaging, marketing or social media campaigns, thoroughly vet out your idea—both internally and with consumers. But not just any consumer—the loyal beauty brand consumer you want, and need, to dazzle. Test your business and product concepts, run consumer focus and trial groups, and really listen to what they have to say before you even think about gondola space or shelf talkers.

Consumer approval is the key to success in the beauty industry. But, for instance, with more than 158 million women living in the United States, how do you know if your new beauty business will capture the attention and dollars of so many? Don’t miss your mark­—or give your market share to anyone else—established brand or not. Instead, set your business up for immediate success by following these simple steps for proven launch success.

For additional information on consumer testing, read Alisa Marie Beyer’s Testing, Testing ... 1, 2, 3 contribution in the March 2011 issue.

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