Case Study: Rebranding a Cosmetics Line

Published in GCI Magazine, August 2009
Photography by Jesse Hill

In the overcrowded sea of sameness in the cosmetics industry, it’s rare to find a company with a unique point of view. When our firm, The Kitchen Collaborative, first began work with Make-Up Designory (MUD)on updating their brand, we knew they already had something special – they just needed help in how to express it.Although there are no rules on how often to update a brand or a perfect moment in a company’s growth for launching a rebrand, there are often signs that it’s time for a change. “Originally we looked for help when we started running into problems with parts of the brand identity and creating a cohesive description of the product line,” says Tate Holland, CEO of Make-Up Designory. “We ultimately decided the best approach would be a cohesive study of the entire brand.”

Since branding is simply the public’s perception of a product or service, it is natural for a brand to change over time as the market or company evolves, or if the overall culture transforms. The leaders of MUD understood this concept before any work began. “A company is like a person – it has a growth, an infancy, a childhood,” says Holland. “As the entity grows and develops there are natural things that are happening. As a leader, one needs to be aware and incorporate the changes to grow at a steady pace.”

An Ownable Niche

MUD already had a solid business as a renowned make-up school and trusted cosmetics line within the professional make-up industry when we first began our work with them. However, their presence in the general cosmetics marketplace had yet to be established.

The cosmetics marketplace was already flooded with other brands such as MAC, Smashbox, Lorac, and Laura Mercier that all took an “expert” positioning with their brands. Since MUD was using similar messaging, it was time to take a different approach to help them stand out in the crowded marketplace.

The Kitchen’s first step to re-branding MUD was to analyze competitive messaging and trends in order to find areas of opportunity within the marketplace. We found that although many competitors took a “professional” approach to their brand positioning, none were owning “education.” With MUD’s reputation as a prestigious make-up school, it was their natural area of opportunity.

Our consumer research found that although make-up buyers were women of all ages, the baby boomer market was the most natural fit for MUD’s primary target market due to shared values – most notably, their willingness to be educated on make-up techniques. Our findings became the foundation for creating a unique, ownable niche for MUD.

“We have come to the notion that we are now going after a particular segment of the market,” says Holland. “This continues to be something we have to remind ourselves of. When you define your market, you are now able to define new product development under those parameters.”

A Unique Identity Problem

In the brand building process, brand identity usually begins with a logo or brand mark but also includes supporting elements such as color palettes and taglines. When done well, brand identity should constantly remind the customer of the meaning of the brand.

Although the company’s name is Make-Up Designory, they had come to be known as “MUD” over the years due to the public’s tendency to use acronyms when referring to educational institutions. However, since MUD was not the legal name of the company, this had to be a consideration in the identity exploration process.

To address this concern, alternate naming solutions were explored along with supporting taglines. Holland says, “Although we ultimately decided not to change our name, the process helped to look deep and to look at the work we had done so far and to be confident of maintaining the use of our name.” However, by pairing the existing name with a new tagline – “An Educated Approach to Make-up” – we were able to communicate the new brand positioning in a short phrase.

The Kitchen’s final solution for the MUD logo utilized the acronym in a modern, iconic word mark with a clever fusion of all the characters in the name. The continuity of the mark, scalloped edges and “accent” element were reminiscent of a brush stroke, creating a subtle reference to the artistry of make-up. The new mark was paired with the existing type treatment for “Make-Up Designory,” clarifying the confusion between the two names and making for a more seamless brand evolution.

“The new iconic treatment mark allowed us to fully embrace our name in moving forward with the new brand,” says Holland.

Consistent Execution

A successful brand campaign is consistent through all brand touch points, whether a customer is using a product, talking to a service representative, or making a purchase on a website. Packaging, copywriting, printed collateral, websites, environments, and photography style must have a consistent voice and tone for a brand campaign to work in harmony.

One of the main challenges in redesigning the MUD packaging was integrating their current primary packaging seamlessly. The Kitchen’s final solution maintained the MUD grey, which when used alone was very similar to competitors, but when used in conjunction with diagrammatic illustrations, and instructive product copy, it presented the new educational positioning in a unique package experience. Clever production concepts such as inserts, sliding boxes, and die cuts were also explored. “We were fortunate that we were able to maintain the grey, which allowed for an easier introduction of new packaging,” says Holland. “It was easier to integrate the new packaging with our distributors.”

In order to further ensure simplicity for the busy MUD consumer, we divided the line into easy-to-follow categories such as “Face” and “Eyes” and color-coded each product grouping for fast recognition on the shelf. The accent element in the logo became a flexible part of the identity that would change when used on different product categories.

The corporate and product brochures utilized the subtle diagrammatic illustrations from the packaging in conjunction with professional tips and tricks, “get this look” instructions, and clever die cuts to teach the consumer about make-up and for an interactive experience. Authentic, emotional close-up photography of models representing “real women” created an approachable lifestyle feel, contrasting the typical airbrushed models shown in competitors’ materials.

For the interior of the stand-alone MUD retail stores in Los Angeles and New York, we focused on making the shopping experience as simple as possible by creating custom displays that enhanced the color-coded categories of product. Soft white hanging panels diffused the light in the space and created privacy in the make-up stations. Instructional graphics conveyed important product information and useful professional tips and tricks for an added educational experience.

Lasting ResultsThe key to successful long term lifestyle branding is creating an emotional connection to the market. Communicating product benefits and quality is not enough – there must be a bigger idea and an artistic expression to create the indescribable emotional connection that makes a person loyal to a brand.

MUD continues to nurture this connection, and has already seen the effects of the new brand positioning with their existing distributors. “They love the education and they see the tie-in across the board,” says Holland. “They are asking for the new materials that incorporate the bits of education to help sell our product within their stores.” MUD has also noticed changes in how they are perceived by potential customers. “You’re taken far more seriously,” says Holland.

Internally, the brand building process, along with structural refinements MUD enacted concurrently, has also helped to keep everyone in the company on the same page. “The Kitchen was able to bring everything to us in organized fashion and to help to maintain the integrity of diverse ideas within the company,” says Holland. “This is something that has empowered us to really go after new customers.”


Click here for a full case study of this project.