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Anyone who knows Lynne Greene well knows she is an avid reader and wordsmith with little tolerance for clichés, buzzwords and platitudes.
So when Greene, the global brand president of Clinique, talks about “white space”—and she talks about it a lot—she means much more than just the usual business jargon of denoting opportunity.
For Greene, white space has become the base of her strategy for reinventing Clinique, the iconic 43-year-old brand that started to show its age back in 2006, when Greene was appointed to its helm.
Those were gloomy days, for prestige beauty in general and Clinique in particular. Department stores were being rocked by consolidation and closures, mass brands and indie upstarts were stealing market share and celebrities dominated the ad landscape.
At a time when even Clinique’s iconic white lab coats and signature minimalist ads were being called into question, Greene developed her guiding mantra: “Cherish the past, but invent the future.”
“We put a stake in the ground,” says Greene. “The most important thing we did was take the equity of the brand and modernize it.”
Sounds simple (simplicity is another Clinique cornerstone), but easier said than done, says William Lauder, executive chairman of the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., Clinique’s parent company, who himself was president of the brand from 1998 through 2002. “The single biggest challenge for Clinique is understanding which core values of the brand ought not to be messed with and where are the areas that we can push the boundaries and expand the message and relevance of the brand,” he says.
Greene led the charge for change with skin care. Accessibility and desirability became the two guiding principles for growth. While the former was already manifested in Clinique’s tradi- tional three-step skin care regimen and modest price points, the latter was lacking in the lineup.
At the time, the skin care market was dominated by antiaging launches featuring the molecule of the minute. Greene challenged her team to delve deeper into Clinique’s dermatological roots and create what she calls “white space” products. “The products that we were launching when I first came here had this kind of rationale behind them: Antiaging is growing, so let’s find our place in the world of antiaging,” she says. “But one antiaging cream after another only cannibalizes the last one you did, unless you have a new message.”
Instead, Greene focused on dermatological concerns, starting with redness, an issue that she decided reinforced Clinique’s dermatological roots and fragrance-free, hypoallergenic positioning. Redness Solutions launched in 2007, and the sales results were immediately encouraging. “We found that, although you didn’t do as much business on that one thing as you might have done with an antiwrinkle cream, something else very interesting happened,” says Greene. “It didn’t cannibalize anything that was in the brand and we were attracting a new customer or lapsed customer and we were getting accretive value on the top line.”
Bingo! Greene’s vision was validated. “To lead a brand like Clinique, you have to have future vision and a rearview mirror,” says Leonard Lauder, chairman emeritus of the Estée Lauder Cos. “Clinique is a unique brand in a crowded field. It was the first dermatological brand, the first doctor brand. It’s also the entry point position and has international, worldwide resonance, and it’s the most intellectual brand we have.
“Lynne saw the skin care market evolving into a somewhat different realm,” Lauder continues. “We’ve been in an antiaging phenomenon, but it’s not a worldwide position that resonates with everyone. She was able to see where the market was going and put money behind it.”
That foresight has led to a boom in business for Clinique. Although Greene declined to disclose figures, industry sources estimate Clinique has worldwide retail sales of more than $3 billion. Skin care, a category up about 8 percent overall in the U.S. in 2010, according to The NPD Group, has risen 20 percent on a global basis at Clinique, a figure Greene expects to be around 15 percent at the end of Lauder’s fiscal year in June.
Fueling the growth is Even Better Clinical Dark Spot Corrector, a serum targeting hyperpigmentation that launched early last year. Though the product is now Clinique’s top seller, its potential wasn’t obvious to many, who considered hyperpigmentation a niche skin care issue too small to be of interest to a behemoth like Clinique.
Greene was unwavering in her conviction that the product would be major. Dermatologists had told her that finding an ingredient that worked as well on hyperpigmentation as a prescription without the sensitivity (read: hydroquinone) would be huge. “When you have a dermatologist telling you that they don’t even have a solution for this that they’re satisfied with, that gives you a lot of confidence,” she says.
From a statistical point of view, she knew that the number-one skin care concern of young Hispanics was dark spots, and that 26 percent of American women were interested in hyperpigmentation issues. From an observational vantage point, she knew that, even in markets where the concept didn’t test high, it would resonate with consumers. “Sometimes women don’t know they have the problem we’re talking about,” Greene says. “When you ask a woman what her concerns are, she first has to acknowledge some things that she thinks are just there.”
As an example, Greene points to a lunch she had with consumers in Italy, where tests showed only about 10 percent of women are concerned about hyperpigmentation. “One of the ladies had a few dark spots. I pointed to them, and asked her, ‘If we could do something about those, would you be interested?’ She said, ‘If you could do something about this, it would be fabulous.’ It didn’t come up at the top of the scale as a concern, but when we gave her the solution, she grabbed it.”
Says Greene: “White space comes from connecting what you see in the numbers to what people don’t say.”