Bringing Tradition into the Zeitgeist

Client

Role

Strategic Positioning

Brand Analysis

Competition Audit

Consumer Research

Team

Date

2021

Background

Founded in 1851 in Manhattan’s East Village, Kiehl’s homeopathic apothecary quickly became a cornerstone of the New York neighborhood community. From its humble beginnings of musk oil and herbal remedies, to a global skincare and cosmetics company, the Kiehl’s brand has been cherished for over 170 years. Kiehl’s rapid growth can be largely attributed to the Morse family - who ran the company for just under 80 years, and played a pivotal role in the brand’s personality and eccentric and quirky character. In 2000, the family owned business was acquired by L'Oreal, growing on to live into the 21st century.

Challenge

In its early years, the Kiehl’s brand reached cult status without overt attempts to woo publicists and journalists; Kiehl’s was featured in trendy magazines, found in posh Manhattan hotels, and even spotted on the arm of New York’s favorite celebrities. Kiehl’s didn’t chase the cool, the cool chased them.

 

Now, in 2021, the cool no longer chases Kiehl’s. New brands in the beauty industry are launching every year and the concept of beauty and health are constantly shifting. With evolving market dynamics, Kiehl’s needs to increase its relevance to enable the brand to resonate with a wider audience and make its way back into the zeitgeist.

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Insight

Scientific formulations: 

Kiehl’s has prided themselves in their scientific foundations and medical research. Health and education has been at the core of the company. Consumers are informed how the products work and how their concerns will be addressed. Today, as more and more brands claim ‘clean’ and ‘green’ the perception of consumers has evolved and they find Kiehl’s to be a “greenwashed” brand. 

 

Strategic Significance:
Kiehl’s roots lie in apothecary. How can Kiehl’s back up their “natural” image so that they can appeal to a wider audience who want cleaner beauty?
 

Community: 

With roots as a neighborhood apothecary, Kiehl’s has a strong commitment to the communities they touch. Aaron Morse, the leader of Kiehl’s at the time, pioneered the Kiehl’s Mission of going beyond profits and improving the community. Their charity organization, Kiehl’s Gives is an ongoing global philanthropic initiative, but it is not widely known or recognized. 

 

Strategic Significance:
Philanthropy is in the DNA of the Kiehl’s brand.
How can their commitment to do good in the world become more expansive and effectively pair with their wide range of aesthetics and unorthodox marketing strategies? 

 

Men and Kiehl’s: 

Kiehl’s store experience and ability to successfully target men are key in differentiating the brand from competitors. Aaron Morse, the first to introduce Kiehl’s to men, revolutionized the brand’s approach through the new target audience; appealing to men through motorcycle and airplane displays. Men now make up 39% of Kiehl’s sales. 

 

Strategic Significance:

Kiehl’s has been a cult hit among men - a demographic often overlooked by the skincare industry. How can Kiehl’s leverage this to expand its offerings and reach a wider audience?

Strategy

Kiehl’s needs to be brought back into alignment with their core values and neighborhood apothecary roots, making them once again relevant in culture and in the industry. 

 

Our strategy is inspired by Kiehl’s early years and derived from one of Aaron Morse’s favorite sayings:

“It’s Better to Make a Friend than a Sale.”

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Creative Solutions

This strategy will be achieved through product development, communication proposal and brand extension.

1. Cleaning up their Act

Kiehl’s needs to be much more transparent about their ingredients and formulation process. We aim to have a cleaner Kiehl’s by 2025 starting with a collaboration with Think Dirty. They are a verification service that reviews brands and puts together subscription boxes with vetted products.

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2. Kiehl's Gives 2.0

Kiehl’s Gives 2.0 is an ecosystem of Art, Engagement and Celebrity for Social Good that highlights Kiehl’s philanthropy. We suggest yearly collabs with industry influencers and celebrities for Kiehl’s current philanthropic partners. Goods By Kiehl’s will be a new line of limited edition products, building on a tradition of art appreciation and the founder’s love for collecting and displaying artifacts. 100% of proceeds will directly benefit the Kiehl’s Gives initiatives. Bringing cohesion to the current disjointed communication strategy, the company will launch a new and dedicated Kiehl’s Gives social media platform to build a community of loyalists and future Kiehl’s consumers.

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3. Morse by Kiehl's:

Kiehl’s has the opportunity to deepen their customer-friendships through multi-sensory brand activation. To underscore the better a friend than a sale strategy, we suggest Kiehl’s create a space for people to gather, socialize, and take care of themselves – outside of the traditional retail space. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance meet the Art of Self-Care at Kiehl’s new bathhouse – ‘Morse by Kiehl’s’. This male-inclusive experience leans into Kiehl’s early efforts of appealing to men. By creating associations to heavy machinery and freedom of the open road, first explored by Aaron Morse in his stores, Kiehl’s can create an experience beyond their products.

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