Jean and Jane Ford, founders of Benefit Cosmetics, at the lobby of the
cozy headquarters in San Francisco, California.
Perhaps, it's the cheeky pink packaging or the motto "Laughter is the best cosmetic" that makes Benefit Cosmetics such a unique, interesting brand that I have followed since my introduction to its lip and cheek tint Benetint some years ago. Against the monochrome seriousness of luxury French brands, Benefit's shade of pink packaging, sassy product names and what they call their Benefesto are a tease to the beauty industry, tickling consumers to a smile when they are at its 2,000+ beauty counters around the world.
Last June 2016, I dropped by Benefit Cosmetics and had a chat with the daughter of the founder, Annie Ford Danielson. We talked about the beauty business from their three-story headquarters in the financial district, not too far where her mother and aunt first started the brand via a small mom-and-pop beauty shop. Since 2008, Annie has run the global operations with her sister, almost a decade after the brand was acquired by the luxury powerhouse LVMH that manages the likes of Guerlain, Makeup Forever, Loewe, Christian Dior, to name a few.
With the thinnest trace of makeup on and seven months pregnant, Annie was wonderfully candid, funny and sincere as we spoke about the family business, her inspirations and trends in the beauty industry.
Read on! And keep posted for my next post on Annie's beauty philosophy and advice.
Benefit Cosmetics 'Global Beauty Authority' Annie Ford Danielson
Jenny Rockett: How has the brand evolved since 1976 when it was established in San Francisco?
Annie Ford Danielson: It definitely evolved in the sense that it’s a massive company today: we’re in 45 countries around the world, we have a global reach, we do huge amounts of sales. It’s a machine. The really amazing thing is that we have tried to the best of our abilities we’ve done a pretty good job of staying pretty true to who we are. It’s easy when you’ve become really big to fall into a rut of being a corporation, which seems a bit impersonal or seems that their only goal is to make billions and billions of dollars.
It’s really important for us a brand that we really value our roots and brand DNA. We stick really true to keeping our customer top-of-mind and making sure everything we do results in her having put a smile on her face, what her experience is like with us, and making sure she feels good about herself at the end of the day. Because it’s beauty, it’s not rocket science.
JR: Who is the quintessential Benefit woman?
AFD:It’s interesting. We try to figure that every day. Statistically, it’s anyone from the age of 18-35. But really, we really focus on the every day woman who has beauty dilemmas just like we do and who just wants look her best and solve them.
That’s really our unique point of difference: we take real women’s beauty issues and we create what we call “fake it instant” beauty solutions to solve those problems. We’re not a makeup artistry brand or a fashion house brand. We’re really a problem-solving brand.
Women in their teens, 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s… we’ve all got beauty dilemmas – they get bigger the older we get. We try to focus on the dilemma and solve it effortlessly, so that every woman can use it. And, of course, she has to not take herself too seriously. Because we love pink and we love to have fun! We have this saying, “we’re not young, we’re for the young at heart”.
And so, there’s different dilemmas based on different climates, ethnicities, ages. We do a lot of traveling and talk to real women. We figure out what those dilemmas are and we come back and try to make a product that is so easy to use to solve it.
It’s really the customer.
JR: How is it like working with your sister Maggie?
AFD: It’s good. It’s working with family, so there’s always challenges. But I think at the end of the day, the great thing about working for a family business is that you have the same goal, no matter what. When push comes to shove, you always have someone who has your back. It’s really great too because we travel a lot. The fact that we have each other is really, really helpful.
I will say we are a lot more efficient because we don’t have to be so polite with each other, unlike with other colleagues where you kind of have to be like “I respect your opinion, however….” That’s dumb. She does the same thing to me, where she say “No, no, no, that’s a horrible idea”… and I’m like, “Okay.” And then we move on.
Annie with her sister Maggie. (Photo: Benefit)
JR: You have the most wonderful product names! How do you decide what to name your products?
AFD: We have always been super creative with our names, packaging and experience. That all started with Jean and Jane (co-founders), they incredibly creative, talented copywriters and artists. It was really in their blood to do that. But really they saw instantly that, when you name something Dr. Feelgood or BadGal it really does put a smile on a customers face.
It’s really about not calling it (the product) “Eye countour shade #1”. I mean, how boring is that? It’s really about the experience. Everything that we try to do in-store -- having fun with you and making sure you are feeling good about yourself and have a good time -- we continue that when you take the products home. That’s why our packaging is so colorful.
We really want you to have that moment of femininity and play when you’re getting ready. Because there are not very many moments, especially when you’re an adult, that you get to have that during the day.
JR: What do you think is the next big thing in beauty?
AFD: I think that brows are something that has been big for awhile. But I think that’s going to continue to be big for a long time. We’re launching our new brow collection. It’s really true to our DNA in trying to demystify things.
So many women have never got their eyebrows done; never got them waxed, never got product in them. And we’ve been waxing eyebrows for 40 years. We’ve been trying to get women to know the power and importance of your brows for so long. And now, brows are really having a moment. So this is kind of our time to shine.
We’ve looked at the numbers and looked at how the brow category has grown over the past 5 years. If you look at the numbers and how sustained those numbers have been, by like 2020 it could very well be bigger than the mascara industry. It’s huge. And the projection of growth is massive.
JR: Does this growth in the brow category include Asia?
AFD: Yes. I think Asia is going to be like the finale. It’s difficult in Asia because there’s such a different focus, brows are usually not a huge focus in Asia. We see a lot of complexion, a lot of skincare. For example, Porefessional is massive in our Asian markets. Where in the U.S., the Real Mascara is huge. It’s a bit different.
It’s cyclical. Either Asia is leading or follows a trend. When it comes to brows, it’s been led really by Europe and the U.S. I think that it will just continue for a really long time.
But whether you’re in Asia or in the UK, it doesn’t matter. We’re all women, we all have the same beauty dilemmas.
Benefit products available at their stores nationwide or at Sephora.
This is not a sponsored post. Special thanks to Benefit Philippines (Kriska and Tanya!) for arranging this interview.