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Estée Lauder: Modern Marketing

Christmas is coming and many readers will be considering perfume and beauty products as gifts. One of the biggest players in that market is Estée Lauder – the eponymously named cosmetics business founded by a determined and charismatic entrepreneur: Estée Lauder.

Estee Lauder

Brief Biography

Estée Lauder was born in 1908 and grew up in the Queens suburb of New York, where her father (like mine) ran a hardware store. Her interest in beauty products started when her Hungarian uncle, Dr Schotz, who was a chemist, came to live with her family and created skin creams in the kitchen, and later in a laboratory in a stable out back. He also made paint stripper, embalming fluid, and lice treatment for chickens. We can only hope that there were no serious mix ups in packaging!

Lauder helped Schotz by selling beauty products and so began her career as a consummate salesperson and marketer, selling skin care and makeup in beauty salons, demonstrating her products on women while they were sitting under hair dryers. This cemented her belief that women must try if they are to buy.

The Estée Lauder name borrows from her given name, Josephine Esther Mentzer, which the family shortened to Esty, and her married name, following her marriage to Joseph Lauder in 1930 or, more strictly, I’d guess, following their remarriage in 1942, following separation and reconciliation. In 1946 she and Joseph Lauder  launched the Company, soon winning a concession at their first department store.

Lauder targeted the most prestigious store, Saks, and a year later was able to finally persuade the buyer after giving a talk at the Waldorf Astoria hotel, and then giving away samples at the end. This created a demand that Saks could not ignore, and marked her second key lesson in marketing.

Lauder’s first fragrance was Youth Dew, a bath oil, created in 1953. It was a rapid success, and Lauder continued to demonstrate her olfactory acumen (as a ‘nose’ is how the industry terms it) by overseeing the creation of five more brands of fragrance before she retired in 1995.

Lauder’s Approach to Marketing

Many of Lauder’s marketing strategies and tactics will strike a modern reader as very… modern. They remain very much what is still recommended; because it still works. So, as a primer on marketing, we can do little better than take inventory of seven of her best approaches.

Give away samples

The try before you buy approach is so successful, it is used on a multi-million dollar scale. Just look at how many millions of versions of U2’s latest record were given away by Apple (500 million actually) at the launch of their new iOS8 and iPhone 6. Was this successful? You bet. Most of U2’s earlier albums re-entered the iTunes charts within a week, generating millions of dollars (undisclosed) of sales for both U2 and Apple.

Direct Mailing

Early on, Lauder used Sak’s mailing list to send samples and gifts to their customers, encouraging them to visit the Estée Lauder concession in store. Direct mailing may have fallen out of fashion to a degree, but many marketers still argue that, in the days of so much direct email, a well thought-out direct mail campaign can be successful. Whether you agree or not, the use of direct email is a powerful and omnipresent force in our lives – the same strategy; just new technology.

Clever Naming

When the US Food and Drug Administration came down hard on the scientific claims of Lauder’s rivals’ products, Lauder took an altogether more savvy route. Her advertising refrained from making scientific claims, but her naming implied the attributes she was unable to claim: Re-Nutriv is meaningless as a word, but caries a vast weight of associations.

Clever Pricing

‘You get what you pay for’ my dad used to say. If lots of her customers believed that, then her premium pricing strategy was clever. Without doubt, two things are true: she did insist on top-quality ingredients, but her pricing included a substantial mark-up, creating exclusivity and emphasising the quality through the most important real-estate in the store: the price label.

Gift with a purchase

That idea may well been hers – she certainly exploited it well, long before BOGOF and three-for-two offers made shopping bags twice as heavy.

Hands on Consultative Selling

Going one step beyond her ‘try-before-you-buy’ strategy, Lauder did pioneer in-store beauty consultations as a way of selling. She believed that in order to make a sale, you must touch the customer, and spent a great deal of her time advising customers and teaching Beauty Advisors.

Brand Clarity

Lauder believed that every woman had a right to feel beautiful and therefore ensure that her advertising portrayed beauty that was both aspirational and approachable. From 1962, Estée Lauder selected one model to be the “face” of the brand. These have included supermodels and actresses. Whether they are really ‘approachable’ is debatable, but at any one time, the face of the brand become a distinctive image for the company.

To learn more about marketing and sales…


This blog is for my mother, Jeanne Clayton, whose favourite perfume was Estée by Estée Lauder.

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