Aesop tells tale in unique way

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 February, 2008, 12:00am

While the rest of the beauty world is heading in a somewhat unnatural direction in search of youthful looks and appearances, one company has stuck to its roots in offering a line of skin, hair and body treatments made with botanical-based solutions.

This company also has a different marketing strategy to most. Launched in 1987 in Melbourne, Australia, Aesop mostly sells its products not through mass marketing and advertising, but by attracting customers to its unique and creative stores, and through good old-fashioned word of mouth.

'We have never in our 21 years advertised,' said Suzanne Santos, product advocate for the brand which celebrates its 21st anniversary this year.

Instead, the firm promotes the brand through the support of a range of events such as charity dinners, comedy writing and theatre.

Aesop general manager of the Greater China region Clement Yang Chi-liang said: 'Aesop is full of authentic concepts, and it emphasises product efficacy, integrity and innovation. The focus is on the incredible ingredients inside the bottles which bring amazing and satisfactory experiences for consumers who buy and use our products.

'This results in a lot of word of mouth [referrals through personal experience], and also 'word of mouse' through the internet.'

Mr Yang said more than 50 per cent of Aesop's customers were gained in this way. 'Advertising can bring customers to try the products, but the product itself can bring customers back - and with their friends,' he said.

With 20 stores worldwide including new ones in Australia, the United States, Japan, Malaysia, Taiwan, France and Hong Kong, Aesop distinguishes itself from other brands by having a unique shop in every region.

'Each Aesop store is different and designed to meet the target consumers in the area,' said Mr Yang. 'It brings creative interest to both our loyal customers and to passers-by, so we have 30 per cent of customers [coming] from direct contact with our stores.'

Aesop's main target customers were intelligent, independent, educated, travelled and well-read, said Mr Yang. 'They are more sophisticated in their consumer behaviour. They appreciate products from every detail. From product trial, packaging, store image to every detail in communication inside stores all need to be consistent to meet their criteria.'

Communicating with customers in this way is vital. 'Aesop's communication covers the five senses - taste, touch, sight, smell and sound. Retail is detail. Aesop tries the best in its products and communication to exceed consumers' expectations. It is the best way to capture them,' Mr Yang said.

Customer feedback is also vital to enhance and improve products. 'Customer satisfaction and retention are our key concerns as a skin care brand. Consumers have more loyalty to skin care [products] than they do to makeup and cosmetics. This means if they are disappointed in you it is hard to get them to come back [to your brand].'

Aesop has successfully launched in Hong Kong 'step by step', as Mr Yang put it, from trendy retailing outlet Joyce Beauty to luxurious department store Lane Crawford. 'We have only one image shop in the Central SoHo area. We need to strengthen our communication through the image shop, so we will develop more shops in the area which our existing channels haven't [already] covered.' Unlike many brands where 'quick fixes' seem to be the key selling point, Aesop sticks to the basics: use products to cleanse but, as it states on its website, 'ultimately well-being and external beauty are a result of a healthy diet, moderate exercise and consistent attention to, and protection of, the skin'.

'If a brand claims quick results it is possible to seduce a customer to try it once. But this raises customers' expectations of the efficacy of the product and may result in disappointment after they use it,' Mr Yang said.

'Aesop's claim is always based on scientific and highly ethical standards. Skin has its own metabolic mechanism and is a reflection of the health condition of the body. Aesop focuses on active and most effective botanic ingredients to help skin without unnecessary harm. For example, Aesop launched a new eye-makeup remover last year, and uses only three active ingredients which are blue camomile, grape seed and vitamin E without using harmful ingredients such as surfactants, mineral oils, pigments, alcohol and fragrance.'