Big companies are no longer afraid to take their brands right to the streets. While it’s still a rare occasion when a major consumer packaged goods company goes direct-to-consumer (D2C), the trend is gaining momentum. Last week Pepsi and Porsche both opened new avenues that sidestepped traditional distribution. Cadillac has been blazing a trail with its direct-to-consumer AR showroom called Cadillac Live. Now it’s Henkel’s turn.
While it’s not a household icon like P&G or Colgate-Palmolive, Henkel is a substantive global conglomerate with familiar U.S. brands. In North America it operates three business units: adhesives, beauty care and laundry. Its portfolio includes Schwarzkopf hair care, Dial soaps, Right Guard antiperspirants, Purex laundry detergents and Snuggle fabric softeners. With sales of around $6 billion U.S. (5 billion euros) in 2019, North America accounts for 26 percent of the company’s global sales.
As of late April the company has a new brand: Better Natured. It is a set of organic hair care products and a D2C and retail venture that comes from the company’s professional line, Zotos Professional. Joining Biotera, All About Curls and other high-end brands, in some ways the birth of Better Natured comes from the connection with existing Zotos customers.
“We talk to consumers about their hair every day,” said Jodi Cioffi, senior manager of communications and influencer marketing at Zotos. “They tell us time and again of their interest in naturally-derived products, but also of their growing frustration with the lack of performance, inconsistent quality and misleading ingredient labeling of many natural products on the market. Better Natured was created by a small incubator group of stylists who saw this dilemma as an opportunity to change the conversation around natural products, creating a standard of professional performance and a new level of transparency around each ingredient used. So we created Better Natured, an exuberant, joyful and awake brand that is the balance of good-for-you ingredients, yet serious professional-level performance. For us, it was equally as important to have high-quality results as it was to have ingredients that are naturally-derived and clean.”
Anyone with at least a cursory knowledge of the D2C beauty business knows that organic products have become a standard. In fact Cioffi says that the crowded marketplace for “clean, green, and natural” has developed without the proper verification for the terms. They have almost become interchangeable, she says. While the company goes a long way toward being transparent on its site and in its ingredient listing it has steered its marketing away from the organic clutter.
“We select and measure our marketing activities based upon a strong emphasis on ‘fun and carefree’ values because natural beauty can get so very serious,” Cioffi said. “We don’t let a day go by without exuberant, healthy moments of creativity, fun and self-expression and we encourage consumers to do more of what makes them feel good every day. That’s why we chose partners like Showfields — ‘the most interesting store in the world’ — which makes shopping unexpected, exhilarating and experiential.”
Better Natured has created a digital consumer campaign called “Anything you can do I can do better” which communicates the what it says is the joy of creating fun, memorable, feel-good moments. It is also working with professional level A-list celebrity influencers like Marcus Francis and Shelley Gregory and with Amanda Lee of Mane Addicts in creating youthful content.
Other marketing efforts focus on the recyclable packages for the products. It is partnering with nonprofit organizations like Keep America Beautiful to keep it honest. From a product standpoint, it will introduce professional-level, salon quality hair color launching in June.
Cioffi says the pandemic crisis changed the marketing campaign for the Better Natured introduction. Henkel pivoted its launch strategy to hold off on any direct product-based marketing communication. Instead it continued to post and reassure followers on Instagram that better days were coming.
“We donated a significant amount of our shampoo and conditioners to our frontline workers at the Stamford Hospital which has been one of the hardest hit areas in Connecticut, our home base,” she said. “We’re also working to donate additional products to hospital staff in other hospitals around the country. We also made a conscious effort to keep in close contact with our media and influencer contacts to ensure that it was the right time to introduce the line and took their feedback into consideration regarding timing and overall verbiage. While March was a bit hectic as we all adjusted to our new normal, we’ve found that the majority of editors and influencers are really looking to get back to business and are more interested than ever in brands that are bringing something new to the table.”
Henkel is betting that the pandemic has shifted the consumer focus to self-care and at home spa experiences, particularly across their hair care and hair color routine.
“They are also experimenting more than ever before; if a consumer wouldn’t have imagined dyeing their hair at home three months ago, they are certainly considering it now,” she says. “And clearly there is an explosion in shopping online as shopping in traditional brick-and-mortar is ‘on pause.’ Consumers are turning to brands that they can trust and that are authentically transparent. Consumers want to use products as an escape while still feeling that the brands they are supporting are joining conscious of the current climate and are doing what they can to help.”