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To Derm or Not to Derm?

Alisa Marie Beyer

In today’s overly saturated world of ways to get beautiful, it should come as no surprise that companies are more frequently turning to expert associations in order to differentiate their brand on shelves. And one strategy to make a brand a standout in the minds of consumers is to forge a relationship or affiliation with a dermatologist. Research shows that dermatologist-recommended or dermatologist-approved language is a key motivator in skin care purchases for women. In The Benchmarking Company’s (TBC) 2007 Pink Report Survival of the Prettiest, more than 35% of women 18–29 admitted to buying skin care merely because it was recommended to them by a dermatologist, and a full 5% of women actually purchase these skin care products directly from their doctors. And according to Kline & Co, more than 11,000 derms (out of the 46,000+ dermatologists practicing in the U.S.) dispensed skin care products in 2008 alone, with that figure set to increase.

Clearly, establishing a dermatologist relationship is a strategic branding step that offers benefits across the board. Luckily there are many options for a brand seeking to form this type of alliance. Whether a brand owner chooses to simply adopt a “dermatologist-recommended” seal on secondary packaging, decides to go all out and create a brand with a dermatologist as the founder, or strikes the middle ground and crafts a “derm-for-a-day” relationship, consumer research proves that when it comes to claims, nothing resonates more with consumers and sets a brand apart from the competition than some form of dermatologist endorsement.

The Happy Couple

One of the most affordable and effective dermatologist endorsements is as simple as applying a label to packaging that says, “Dermatologist-tested, -recommended or -approved”—three very powerful terms that are already used frequently to endorse everything from acne spot treatments to foot lotion. In considering this option, it is important to note that, within the industry, these terms are very broadly defined and taken to mean anything from the very basic “a dermatologist used the product” to the more clinical “a dermatologist tested the product for irritancy in a controlled setting.” Currently, no one definition seems to trump any other. However, claims made on packaging should be backed by appropriate documentation. Even though these claims are not clearly defined (and broadly applied to a wide-range of products), their value and merit to a brand should not be underestimated. These claims resonate with consumers across all demographics, and believe they indicate the product in question has more value simply because it was tested or approved by a dermatologist. Recently, TBC asked more than 100 women, “What does the term dermatologist-tested mean to you?” More than 50% of the respondents indicated this term meant the product(s) “had been tested by a dermatologist and are safe for use.” Even without explicit information on the endorsing dermatologist or the products themselves, the very presence of the words dermatologist-tested, -recommended or -approved was enough to inspire confidence in the brand.

Engagement Ring

For brands that seek a more committed relationship with a dermatologist but not necessarily a permanent one, a “derm-for-a-day” endorsement is a great strategy. This is a short-term relationship with a dermatologist that is designed to create a specific body of marketing and branding materials—such as press materials, focus group reports or photos that may then be used in the future without needing further interaction with the dermatologist. Ideal for a smaller or indie brand or for a brand that only needs dermatologist endorsement for one or two SKUs, this type of derm relationship is also more affordable, and allows the brand to retain its own unique presence within the market while capitalizing on the cache of a relationship with a dermatologist.

Derm-for-a-day affiliations are carefully calibrated relationships that allow brands to retain full control of all collateral created during that day. For a smaller brand, or where budgets are a concern, the costs associated with this sort of dermatologist endorsement are generally less, as is the time commitment. And at the end of the day, the brand has a complete package of derm-endorsed media and tools that can then be utilized repeatedly for future branding and marketing efforts without incurring additional costs.

Long-term Commitment

The next rung of the ladder, a long-term relationship with a dermatologist, or team of dermatologists, is ideal for brands that desire a derm association as a permanent part of their branding strategy, or that foresee the need for an extended affiliation —such as an acne brand, for example. As with a “derm-for-a-day” option, a long-term association with a dermatologist can and should be used to create branding collateral, generate press releases, for photo shoots, product development and claims. And for specific categories of brands (acne care, sun care, antiaging—categories that are intimately associated with a dermatologist in a consumer’s mind), this sort of brand evangelist is particularly useful because it reassures the consumer that the products they are considering (to treat a skin concern that might otherwise require a trip to the doctor) are efficacious.

A dermatologist panel is another type of long-term dermatologist relationship that is rapidly gaining steam, and brands across all facets of the industry are starting to embrace this trend. A derm panel is a group of experts that can be contracted to help research, develop and endorse a brand. However, as an added dynamic and in addition to dermatologists, these panels often include plastic surgeons, estheticians and other skin care experts. Much like a short-term and long-term relationship, a derm panel can be called upon for quotes, speaking engagements, collateral development, photo shoots, press releases and other corporate outreach. Derm panels are a great way to add a wealth of expert authority to a brand that will truly appeal to a wide consumer base.

’Til Death Do Us Part

The most permanent association a brand can create with a dermatologist is also one that carries a singular position in the market. Dermatologist-founded or -owned brands, such as Murad or Perricone MD, are recognized not only as brands that are endorsed by a derm, but also as brands that are the dermatologists themselves. Often called doctor brands, brands where the dermatologist is the founder, owner and developer of the brand are the darlings of the beauty world, and consumers often hold them in high regard and as scientifically or clinically superior to traditional skin care brands, even those with a derm endorsement. Besides the derm association itself, choosing to create a doctor brand offers other valuable benefits. When the derms are the founders, they become built-in presences or figureheads for the brand, leading all communication and outreach such as press releases, quotes, speaking engagements, photo shoots and any other media exposure. Many derms also bring with them the added benefit of associations with colleges, universities and hospitals that will only provide the brand with another level of credibility and potentially provide access to research and development opportunities for future products.

Happily Ever After

While there are many ways to work with a dermatologist, not all will be right for a brand. In order to get the most out of this dynamic relationship, a brand owner needs to make some determinations. Does the brand need full-on participation by a dermatologist for the long-term or only a minimal amount of participation, such as a day’s worth of press releases and consumer testing? Once the goals of the association have been established, you will be able to then create a strategy to bring the most benefit to your brand. Regardless of the strategy chosen, the benefits of affiliating a brand with a dermatologist are benefits that will reap powerful results for a brand both now and in the future.

Alisa Marie Beyer is the founder and creative director of The Benchmarking Company (TBC), a global beauty consulting firm offering business, strategy, consumer intelligence and branding. As publishers of the “must-read” Pink Report and WomenTrends, TBC keeps its fingers on the pulse of the industry and offers unparalleled consumer insights and intelligence. E-mail:;

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