Since we're all more than our blogs, Jenn and I decided to use our collective interests to investigate the hype around Kiehl's and one of their iconic products. Being not too unfamiliar with the odd science journal, Jenn put her research skills to work in analyzing the ingredients from Kiehl's iconic Midnight Recovery Concentrate.
Perhaps you've guessed by now? I love marketing psychology! So I chose to investigate how Kiehl's creates hype around their brand and products. Is the story behind their brand gimmicky? What about their marketing?
Kiehl's Brand Story
Every brand has a story, whether it be based on truth or completely fictional (re: Victoria's Secret was a London-based lingerie line created by an English-French model... not!) Kiehl's story is true, and it's a good one: opening in 1851, the apothecary later became a celebrated pharmacy in New York's East Village. Any viable connection to medicine/dermatology/surgery/science is a gold mine for skincare, so it's expected Kiehl's would sing this story from the rooftops... and remind us of it at every opportunity. Products are described as "scientifically formulated," and staff wear white lab coats in store to suggest scientific authority. (A practice which I dislike -- Clinique does this too.)
Kiehl's takes a slightly different approach towards skincare than other luxury brands. The official party line is that Kiehl's products are from "naturally derived ingredients." OK, this may be true. However, it doesn't mean much as I'm sure carbon monoxide can be derived naturally and it wouldn't help the fact that asphyxiation follows. Meh. As an aside, Kiehl's customer base is surprisingly 30 - 50% male! Props to them for attracting a consumer base that normally scorns fancy skincare. Kiehl's does emphasize that their products are unisex. (Which if you think about it, has to be true of all fancy skincare... but it's unusual for the company itself to state it.)
Finally, the third component of Kiehl's as a brand is their commitment to philanthropy. Here, I must say I am impressed. I expected to see only small percentages of profits go to charities, or simple checks written. Instead, Kiehl's continually offers products of which 100% of profits go to charity. From sponsoring mountain climbs up to Mt. Everest, to week-long charity motorcycle rides across the Pacific Northwest to raise awareness for AIDS, ending in a $150,000 donation... Kiehl's doesn't just talk, they consistently walk the walk and get involved.
Basically, Kiehl's positions themselves as a humble, quirky contender in skincare that does things differently: with a genuine pharmaceutical heritage, they dispense with fancy packaging in order to focus on natural ingredients. They have a strong commitment to philanthropy.
I can't really dispute any point in their story. Conclusion: genuine.
Kiehl's Marketing Strategies
Like my beloved Diptyque, Kiehl's doesn't use print or paid spokesperson advertising. Few sales or promotions as well. I personally really enjoy this kind of "no advertising" policy -- I don't like being "sold to" and prefer that products speak for and sell themselves. I'm glad that Lancome hasn't deviated from this since they bought Kiehl's in 2000.
Let's pause here for a bit. I once read that sales assistants at beauty counters are like the female counterpart of used car salesmen... sounds about right to me. For someone who loves consumer psychology and marketing, I actually have a really low tolerance for all the gimmicks at beauty and skincare counters. I loathe the white lab coats, the revitalizing ingredient discovered by a plastic surgeon, the miracle broth created by the NASA scientist, the ambiguous language like "natural" and "rejuvenating."
So maybe you can understand the trepidation I felt about entering a Kiehl's store. A skincare brand that used to be a pharmacy!? Oh, brother... I'll never hear the end of this one!
First of all, yes: they wore the lab coats. And in every Kiehl's store you'll see a skeleton displayed. Sometimes they wanna really drive the "science" point through, so they'll have the skeleton wearing his own lab coat, lol. And apparently the staff must go through a "4 week residency training program" in the chemistry and application of Kiehl's products, located in NY, SF, or Miami. Note my abundant use of quotation marks.
Okay, the skepticism portion of today's post is over. The second thing I have to tell you about the Kiehl's in store experience is that you won't be "sold to"! Polite and extremely generous, Kiehl's assistants are interested in your skincare concerns... will recommend certain products... and then offer to give you samples to try before you buy. Kiehl's is famous for their generosity in samples :)
Last thing: the motorcycle. In every Kiehl's store there will be a vintage motorcycle displayed. One of the earliest owners (Aaron Morse, who studied pharmacology at Columbia) had a passion for them, and after he passed, Kiehl's put them in their stores. Details like these are a nice personal touch, and as a consumer it makes me like the brand more. Similar to how In-N-Out Burgers discreetly references Bible verses on their wrappers.
Basically, inside a Kiehl's store you will be reminded of their pharmaceutical roots... but that's the end of the gimmicky marketing. The sample program is a nice way to promote interest in their products, and staff are polite and generous about it. Conclusion: genuine.
That's the branding and marketing for you. Be sure to follow on Bloglovin' for more posts like this! And hop over to Jenn's to read about the ingredients and efficacy of Kiehl's iconic Midnight Recovery Concentrate!
Disclaimer: These posts are a product of our own casual interest and opinions; conclusions were drawn from research alone. If you’re interested you may research Kiehl’s on your own / try the product and find differently! We’re not affiliated with Kiehl’s and this collaborative post may not be a comprehensive review on Kiehl’s business strategies or the real efficacy of their product.