Designer names and price tags are not prerequisites for strong brand equity among cosmetics. In fact, the 2012 Harris Poll EquiTrend study indicates that prestige cosmetics brands, even with all the thrills of beauty counters and makeup artists, are not necessarily earning the highest brand equity scores. On the contrary, data show that lower-priced, mass-market cosmetics are generally performing comparatively well on key equity measures included in this study.
"When we compare all the cosmetics brands irrespective of category, mass market brands perform very well when compared to their prestige counterparts, particularly traditional department store brands like Estée Lauder and Elizabeth Arden," says Joan Sinopoli, a senior vice president and senior consultant with Harris Interactive's Custom Solutions Group. This finding is borne out in the dynamic between Origins, the Harris Interactive’s Prestige Cosmetics Brand of the Year, and Physicians Formula, Harris Interactive’s Mass-Market Cosmetics Brand of the Year, recently acquired by Markwins International. In addition to being the top-ranked brand in its category, Physicians Formula's equity score outpaces that of the more high-end Origins.
Physicians Formula is a brand to watch; not only is it a clear equity leader in the mass-market arena, but it maintains that leadership across most measures of consumer connection and brand momentum.
The dynamic among prestige cosmetics is quite different. Origins emerges as one of three similarly rated brands, but looking across three key metrics—equity, consumer connection and brand momentum—no one brand can claim preemptive leadership. "The variability in the prestige market does add to the impression that it is more niche; each brand has certain strengths regardless of how much or how little traditional marketing it does," continues Sinopoli. "Physicians Formula may be a case for how clear differentiation and social media marketing can help boost a brand to a leadership position in the mass-market."
Within the tightly contested prestige cosmetics category, Origins emerges as the 2012 Prestige Cosmetics Brand of the Year. In its Harris Poll EquiTrend debut, the brand outranks study veterans such as Shiseido and Sephora brand cosmetics, along with fellow newcomers MAC and Bare Escentuals.
Sinopoli shares, "Among classic department store brands, only Shiseido is in the top five in overall equity. Perhaps it's the lingering recession; perhaps it's the continuing outflow of these brands through discount beauty and health channels. Regardless of the reason, the 2012 Harris Poll EquiTrend study indicates that just being present at a department store counter is not enough to maintain allure with the general population, particularly a younger generation raised on specialty retail."
Meanwhile, a generation of premium-plus brands that more tightly control their distribution channels has stolen the spotlight. Using brand positioning that aligns with the prevailing industry trend of "nature-meets-science" and "skin care versus color cosmetics," Origins shines with the top score due to a very good showing across two major elements of brand equity: quality and purchase consideration. However the brand posts a mediocre familiarity score. Origins' powerful performance in two former aspects implies that consumers considering prestige cosmetics are more interested in a high-quality product than a brand they immediately recognize.
Regarding Physicians Formula, Sinopoli comments, "The brand's cosmeceutical or quasi-clinical positioning helps it appeal to a sophisticated cosmetics buyer, and they are in the right segments, with anti-aging and mineral wear. They even have some fun with a mood-boosting product line. Perhaps most importantly, Physicians Formula is building intimate relationships with their consumers, as their tagline—'Your beauty. Our passion. We promise.'—suggests. This tagline could be an example of the fit metric in action."
Three factors appear to be driving Physicians Formula's Brand of the Year ranking. First is the element of trust. "That 'physician' association may very well be helping to drive both trust and high quality ratings," offers Sinopoli. Then, and very noteworthy, is fit; 41% of respondents consider Physicians Formula a "good" or "perfect" fit with their self-image. Finally, Physicians Formula posted a category high score in the social engagement metric. "Harris Poll EquiTrend's methodology shows us that 18% of those consumers rating the brand have interacted with it in the social media sphere. This may well be their secret sauce," says Sinopoli.
Physicians Formula holds a comfortable advantage over the second-ranked brand, Rimmel. Olay, Neutrogena and Maybelline also outpace the remaining mass-market cosmetic brands by earning equity scores above the category average.
In addition to cosmetics brands used to color, soften and cover up skin, the Harris Poll EquiTrend study also measures the brand equity of select sun care products. The top four sun care brands with the strongest equity are an odd mix of traditional, no-frills, and mass class brands.
Neutrogena, this year's Harris Poll EquiTrend Sun Screen Brand of the Year, emerges from the mass class group. Sinopoli notes, "Neutrogena has always been known for gentle skin care, and we already observed in the cosmetics categories how brands with a skin care heritage, including Neutrogena, fare well. So it's no surprise that Neutrogena would become the Sun Screen Brand of the Year."
Neutrogena's Brand of the Year status is attributable to high scores in equity metrics such as quality and trust. Also, consumers display a stronger willingness to recommend Neutrogena than any other brand in the category. However, with sunscreen being increasingly expensive, it is not surprising to see the more affordable No-Ad brand taking second place in the rankings. Other brands rounding out the sunscreen category above the category average are Coppertone and Banana Boat.