The Case for Taking Your Damn TIME When Manufacturing
By now, you've surely heard about the PR disaster that is Kylie Cosmetics' new brush set.
$360 for a set of 16 electroplated brushes with white goat hair that look exactly like Wet n Wild's $70 brush line (see below). People were not happy.
Granted, Wet n Wild's brush set is only ten brushes, but at an average of $7 a brush instead of $22.50, we're talking about more than 3x the price for the exact aesthetic quality and brush quality - or so bloggers say. We have yet to try Kylie's brush set for ourselves, but here's what we can offer as take home lessons, outside of what the main beauty bloggers have already said:
1. Try Your Designs IRL First
What is so jarring to me about Kylie's brush set is just how loose the hairs all look. Now, some brushes, like a foundation brush, will need a looser set of bristles. An eyeliner brush has a medium length set of moderately taut bristles.
But a stipling brush? The cut of hairs doesn't even look correct.
The face brush? Small fluff brush? Medium tapered brush? They don't even look close to effective for their intended use...
which is... ? It's hard to tell.
This set is comprehensive - in a bad way. It overdoes it in all the wrong ways. How would you use these brushes altogether? Which ones would be used or ignored in a full set? Which ones could've been eliminated from the set?
Were the brushes tested with customers or real people? Were they even used before they were mass produced?
Too many details were simply overlooked for what seems like no reason at all.
Takeaway: Test your brushes IRL (irl = in real life) FIRST before purchasing a huge batch. You need to know how they'll be used, if they fulfill their purpose, what can and cannot be eliminated, the general feel and user experience and.. so much more. Hold your brushes, try them out. Don't just order en masse. Take your time!
2. Celebrity Can Only Take a Brand So Far
What many have accused Kylie of is:
We will not make any judgments; you can do that by yourself. All that I can say is Kylie's product may match the quality that her customers need, but not at the price point she's charging. If she wanted higher quality, she needed to spend more time with her set before production. She both alienated her general customer base and the higher-spending makeup enthusiasts, who may have purchased if it wasn't obvious that she was building her brand on celebrity alone and not quality.
It's possible that the brand has always had a "pass" on celebrity alone (Otherwise, why would people pay $17 for the same formulation as Colourpop's $6 lippies?), and this is the first point where anyone except Stephanie Nicole has stepped in to say anything.
Takeaway: You cannot depend on fame or name to take you too far. It can get your foot in the door, can generate sales, can give you some initial authority, but you need to do the legwork and actually produce good products carefully to keep the customers you acquire. Let this be a warning to Rihanna - never sleep on your customers!
3. Don't Alienate Your Base
By charging $360 to - I'm guessing mostly teenagers - Kylie completely alienated her base.
They have to be wondering at this point: Who is she making products for? Surely it's not me.
By making such an unaffordable product, Kylie really was indirectly telling her customers that she wasn't making products for them.
It's really difficult to find your niche. Then it's really difficult to reach them, convince them to buy, and convince them to stick around. Alienating your base is the worst business move one could possibly make. Don't let them feel taken advantage of, abandoned, disparaged or forgotten altogether or... you won't have a base!
Takeaway: Personally, I believe that Kylie's ascent rode on the back of her celebrity, so building her base was almost effortless: they were already there waiting. She'll feel the backlash of losing a base she never had to consciously build. Those of us not born into fame will feel this 10x harder.
4. Don't Rely on Influencers to Sell Your Products for you
Kylie has relied heavily on influencer sales since her brand's inception in summer 2016. Influencers have always put in a very good word for Kylie (with a few exceptions), most likely because they were so honored to be on her early PR list. They gave all her products the stamp of approval, without any products being truly standout in any regard.
HOWEVER, the tables have now turned.
Now every beauty blogger is trashing her products. Whether they were on her PR list or purchased for themselves remains to be seen (and depends on who it is), but even if you send free products to bloggers, there's no guarantee they'll say positive things about your products or brand. You send to them to test; you never know what will happen.
Without strong branding otherwise, what would Kylie's brand do?
Luckily, she has slots on E!, plenty of red carpets to walk, and her massive Snapchat base to talk to directly. Without those direct avenues to speak to customers - which are honestly only afforded by her celebrity - it would be difficult for a brand to rebound after something like this.
Because let's be honest - her answer "I try to make my brushes as affordable as possible for my customers" is grade A BS.
These brushes do not cost more than $4 each when made in the SMALLEST batches. And she's not manufacturing in small batches now. Marking them up to $22+ each, then STICKING BY IT when criticized, is nuts.
Look at Anastasia Beverly Hills - they've had a hard time bouncing back to their former levels of fame after they had issues with the SubCulture palette and - like Kylie - didn't want to admit that they messed up. They essentially (allegedly) re-pressed pans and sent the palettes back out. They said it was "a new formula". Similarly, BECCA has had a difficult time rebounding to their former level of fame after their disastrous Champagne Pop recall situation.
Takeaway: It's a tough world out there. Do your best to stay as close as possible to your customers and start your crisis PR campaign as fast as possible if there are any manufacturing issues. Be honest. Be clear. Also, don't depend on influencers to sell all of your products for you. It's a crowded market, and influencers are more and more interested in maintaining integrity over anything else.
5. Never Stop Hustling
I may be beating a dead horse here, but let me say this again, coming from personal experiencing running a beauty brand:
The hustle never stops.
You can't sit back and lazily launch a product. Launch and "lazy" should never even be in the same sentence.
Although you will steadily build a base, not everyone in your base will be interested in your new products. You will need to continue to drive interest and sales within your base, as well as outside of it.
For example, if you have 1 product, you may never be able to convince 100% of your email list to order. Perhaps 20% of your mailing list is customers and the other 80% are interested, but have yet to purchase. It may always be that way. Then, you add a new product. Only a percent of your existing customers and a much smaller percent of non-customers on your mailing list will purchase. You're never going to convert all of your subscribers to customers, and you're never going to convert all of your customers of product 1 to customers of product 2. Nor will you retain all customers who purchase product 1; you'll lose them over time. So you need to continuously grow your base, and market products in tandem, so that you grow sales across the board.
Takeaway: You can never ever stop hustling. Keep growing your customer base all the time, while adding products that are as closely adjacent or complementary to your existing products as possible.
I hope you enjoyed our guide to handling crises in the beauty world. Mainly, TAKE YOUR TIME! There's no reason to speed through manufacturing or try to launch RIGHT NOW. The world won't stop. Everyone will still be buying lipsticks tomorrow. In fact, makeup is one of the only goods that's truly recession-proof; People always want to look good.
The market is more open than ever, with lower barriers to entry than ever before. So get your act together (slowly, patiently) and then call us.