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To Derm or Not to Derm?

By: Alisa Marie Beyer
Posted: May 4, 2010, from the May 2010 issue of GCI Magazine.

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