Posts

The Background

Back in 1851, a small apothecary was established in the neighborhood of East Village, New York by John Kiehl. Breaking away from typical drug stores that offered common compounds and nostrums prepared onsite, John chose to open a store that focused on essentials oils, homeopathic and herbal remedies to achieve his objective — keeping the local community happy, healthy, and feeling their best.

The apothecary remained in the family for 70 years until it was purchased by Kiehl’s apprentice, Irving Morse, in 1921 before his son, Aaron Morse, took over in 1950 and added grooming products for men and women to the brand’s product line.

Aaron was also the one who introduced free samples to customers and is still practiced at today’s global cosmetics powerhouse Kiehl’s.

More than 12 million Kiehl’s sample packets and tubes are given away each year.

Fast-forward to 2000, Aaron’s daughter Jami Morse Heidegger decided to sell the business she inherited to L’Oreal for approximately $100 million. The brand had become immensely popular among fashion enthusiasts and skin-care connoisseurs worldwide and impossible for her to continue managing.

“It was like a snowball rolling downhill and just getting bigger and bigger. I created something I couldn’t control” – Jami Morse Heidegger

Jami Morse Heidegger, third-generation Kiehl’s heiress and her husband, Klaus Heidegger
Source: Retrouve

After being acquired by one of the largest cosmetics companies in the world, Kiehl’s expanded to 2,000 locations in 61 countries and was well on its way to the top of the beauty industry. What could go wrong?

The Challenge

Jami always feared her business would become a brand fighting for money, attention and space.

The thought of selling her business to L’Oreal didn’t appeal to her at first because L’Oreal had a reputation in building mass brands like Maybelline and had never managed a niche, boutique brand before.

But after it grew to a size she could no longer handle, she had no choice but to hand the brand over to a corporate looking to compete in the burgeoning specialty market.

Kiehl’s was afraid that under the management of L’Oreal, consumers would no longer view the store as independent and cutting-edge but rather as a revenue-generating corporate machine.

“[The challenge is] to grow and export the Kiehl’s way without changing it. We soon realized that we needed to stick as closely as possible to our business model on a global basis, to create a consistent Kiehl’s experience around the world,” said Kiehl’s General Manager Worldwide, Cheryl Vitali.

How were they going to keep a tight leash on L’Oreal?

Inside Kiehl’s apothecary during its early days. Source: Yahoo

The Strategy

The company didn’t want a flashy marketing budget or fancy model to be representing its brand.

“We want to keep the line [Kiehl’s] very exclusive,” said L’Oreal USA’s former chief executive, Guy Peyrelongue.

In order to appease the wishes of the Kiehl’s family, L’Oreal maintained the brand’s identity and its distribution model while ensuring its stores around the world matched the look and feel of the original apothecary in East Village.

Kiehl’s was on a mission to set strict brand boundaries for consistency and product control. And it worked.

Any one that has ever stepped into a Kiehl’s apothecary will recognize the iconic skeleton, Mr Bones, next to the famous Harley Davidson motorcycle.

“The motorcycles entertained the guys while the ladies shopped — and it was also a very clever way to introduce Kiehl’s men’s products to them,” – Chris Salgardo, president of Kiehl’s USA

Kiehl’s shops around the world look almost identical thanks to the brand’s strict guidelines. Source: Marie Claire

The brand also spends heavily on the development of products and ingredients, almost 3 to 5 times more than competitors. Its contribution to multiple charitable efforts also proved to be a successful way to hook customers to not only buy for themselves, but also feel proud to gift Kiehl’s products.

In Thailand, Kiehl’s introduced the country’s first ambassador and offered free samples together with a 5-minute consultation. Source: mThai

The company’s success in the US made global expansion a next natural step. In line with L’Oreal’s focus on digital marketing and ecommerce to capitalise growing consumption, Kiehl’s went online.

“It [online] enables us to get to know our customers better and interact more effectively with them, while remaining true to the brand’s rebellious and offbeat style” – Cheryl Vitali

By 2013, Asia had topped global sales of natural personal care products. The popularity of natural products was driven by major economic changes and rise in disposable incomes, especially among the Chinese, who had become more health-conscious.

The chart shows the sales of natural personal care products by region in 2013; Asia is the leader in sales. Source: Kiline Group

Southeast Asia also displayed the highest-growing demand for beauty and personal care causing Kiehl’s to invest heavily in performance marketing and its website with the help of ecommerce enabler and e-distributor aCommerce.

Beauty and personal care is expected to grow the most in Asia Pacific from 2016-2021. Source: Euromonitor

A fear many brand managers face is consistency across channels. How do I ensure the brand is rightfully represented at all customer touchpoints?

In the case of Kiehl’s, the company successfully projected its edgy and young vibes through bright colors and flashy images on its website in Thailand and Indonesia.

Kiehl’s website was localised for Indonesian customers.

The brand preserves its mission to make each and everyone of its customers feel good by utilizing technology. Kiehl’s recently implemented artificial intelligence and a text messaging model in its stores and online to keep customers engaged and taken care of.

“We’ve learned the first purchase happens in store, and online we’ve created tools to extend services to make a cycle,” Julia Mavrodin, Kiehl’s associate vice president of e-commerce and digital marketing said.

Through historical data collected from online orders, Kiehl’s can accurately estimate when a customer will run out of an eye cream or facial cleanser and send a text message to prompt the customer to order a new one.

A sample text message that Kiehl’s sets to keep their customers replenished with its goods. Source: Digiday

By introducing a direct channel to converse with customers, the brand is able to track where and when customers buy its products, even at partner retailers like Sephora or Nordstrom.

This allows the brand to stay top of mind and shield customers from buying unauthorized products off of e-marketplace like Amazon at the same time.

To this day, Kiehl’s has remained one of L’Oreal’s fastest growing brands and broke the symbolic $1 billion sales mark in 2016.

The Future

Kiehl’s is looking to capitalise on its brand power in new markets like the Middle East and Latin America to ultimately spread the brand’s legacy and become the number one skincare brand in the world.

“To get there we will need to pay even closer attention to our customers. After all, that has been the secret of our success for the last 160 years.”

THE BACKGROUND

Chinese brand Huawei started as a producer of phone switches in 1987 before becoming the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) giant it is today.

The company builds products along the entire wireless communications chain: chipsets, network connectors, and handsets.

As Fortune puts it, “it’s as if General Motors had paved the Interstate Highway System, then started selling cars.”

Huawei recorded more than $42 billion in revenue for the first half of 2017 across its three main business units: Carrier, Enterprise, and Consumer Business.

Under its Consumer Business division, Huawei entered the smartphone market in 2010 and quickly rose to No. 1 in homeland China until Oppo took the title in 2016.

Nonetheless, the brand shipped 139 million smartphones in 2016 and controls 9.8% of global smartphone market share and around the world, the brand trails only behind Samsung and Apple as the No. 3 mobile phone vendor.

huawei premium strategy

Global market share by phone vendor, 2016. Source: IDC

THE CHALLENGE

Huawei’s rise to the top three was achieved in a very short time — less than five years – but the brand is struggling to catch up to its biggest rivals, especially in overseas markets.

Despite being a household name in China, the brand isn’t well known in Europe and the US.

A few issues have plagued the brand’s reputation: a general consensus that Chinese companies produce ‘cheap and copycat products, allegations of national cybersecurity breaching, and a investigation from the US government.

These issues have hampered the brand’s efforts to gain footing in the world’s biggest premium consumer market — the United States.

Huawei’s US sales totaled $1.3 billion last year, only a fraction of its worldwide sales of $32.4 billion.

In addition, the company has also faced difficulties winning emerging markets like India and Indonesia as most consumers favored devices below Huawei’s price tag where its budget phone handsets start from $170.

The company does not have the equivalent of Apple’s die hard fans nor Samsung’s superior phone features – they have “better value for money” as its differentiator.  

Without a customer niche, Huawei will find it difficult to boost sales and stay competitive. Although revenue growth was impressive in the first half of this year, it was the company’s slowest in four years.  

THE INNOVATION

In October 2014, Huawei launched a new brand of mobile phones that they called Honor and was sold direct to consumer through online channels to keep prices in the mid-range and targeted digital natives – young hipsters.

Huawei premium strategy

Huawei’s Honor flagship store in Germany

Launching a sub-brand is also a part the company’s efforts to emphasize the brand’s focus on quality.

The company also spent a large portion of its marketing budget on overseas promotion, including plastering major cities in Europe with advertisements.

Huawei premium strategy

Billboard of Huawei phone in Poland. Credit: Wade Shepard

To further familiarize Europeans with its brand, Huawei drew on the popularity of major sports clubs like Arsenal and AC Milan and reached the masses with several sponsorships.

Huawei premium strategy

The brand became the official sponsor of English football Arsenal to raise its brand awareness.

In 2016, Huawei struck a partnership with German-company Leica to develop a dual-lens camera system that resulted in the Huawei P9 smartphone, touting an innovative camera as one of its selling points. Apple rolled out the same feature shortly after.

Andreas Kaufman, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Leica Camera, saw the potential to become the second leg of digital revolution in the photography space where smartphones were the new amateur camera.

Huawei was also chosen by Google to build its flagship Android device Nexus in 2015. The partnership is strategically important for both companies as they are leveraging one another’s credentials for a leg up in an oligopoly market.

To crack the US market and simultaneously beat Apple for market share, Huawei is collaborating with Amazon and Google in the launch of its updated premium flagship device, the Mate.

The device is the first of Huawei’s smartphone to come with voice-interactive app, Amazon Alexa, and is available for purchase in US through Amazon. The Mate 9 is also the first Google Daydream-ready device for users to explore immersive virtual reality (VR) content and experience.

With so many enticing features jam-packed into one device, the soon-to-be launch Huawei Mate 10 is expected to surpass the performance of Apple’s highly anticipated iPhone 8.

THE STRATEGY

A few years ago, Red Zhengfei, founder of Huawei, laid out the company’s strategy: Huawei must make progress in the mid and high-end range with high quality products and turn a profit.

In order to do this, the Chinese company has continued to sacrifice margins to spend on R&D, investing $11 billion (76.4 billion yuan) to further its business.

Huawei further announced that it will focus on the mid-high segment for higher profits.

“We are giving up the very low-end devices because of the margin in this is extremely low, and it’s not making enough profit for us,” said Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei Consumer Business Group.

Huawei premium strategy

CEO of Huawei’s Consumer Business Group, Richard Yu

“The priority is Europe, China, and Japan, where the economy is healthy and people are able to consume them.”

THE FUTURE

The company continues to works towards becoming the No. 1 smartphone supplier in the world within four or five years and seizing  20%-25% global market share by introducing visionary innovation to its products in order to charge a premium.

“In the past for the smartphone you could see Apple leading innovation,” said Richard Yu. “But in the future, you will see innovation led not by them but by Huawei.”