The Sweet Smell of Success – How Brands Are Exploring Strategies Beyond Their Sectors

As companies seek to reinforce their status among core audiences while accumulating new ones, the ability to appeal to a wider array of market triggers has become vital.

One such approach has been taken by Lush Cosmetics, a brand that has increasingly swept through the shopping baskets, bathrooms, and Instagram feeds of people all over the world. The company’s vibrantly coloured bath bombs and treats may seem like a natural hit – but the marketing strategy that forms the foundations of this success is one that all brands can learn from, and is at the heart of what we do at Butterfly London.

A winning formula

Lush’s visual appeal is an obvious one. Their products are brightly coloured, and their tongue-in-cheek, fun approach to branding (such as text on shower gel bottles telling users to ‘invite someone they really like into the shower with them to show them’ how to use it) paired with a fervent commitment to ethical sourcing and causes (such as their regular protests against animal testing in cosmetics) has proven a winning formula to grow the company into a global cosmetics giant. The business has boomed, and is aiming to generate $1 billion in global brand sales at the end of 2016 (compared to the $720 million made in 2014).

Part of this brand strength is reinforced by the use of market triggers usually associated with food. This strategy has given Lush a unique and decisive brand position that has clearly paid off in a big way.

Market triggers

First, consider the layout of those alluring bath bombs. Whereas some companies package their products on the shelves, Lush leave their bath bombs, bubble bars, and bath oils out on display. Not only does this maximise the attractive colours of the items, but the way wicker baskets are placed give the suggestion of a green-grocer’s shelves holding fresh fruit. The method of placing the active (and sumptuous) main ingredient of their fresh face masks in the ice-box alongside the product (such as asparagus, chocolate, or blueberries) also gives this impression, making a perhaps unappealing sludge face mask instantly tempting. This also underlines the fresh nature of the products, echoing a core value of Lush’s brand strategy.

Seamless consistency

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This approach is echoed in a website that has seen widespread praise for its innovative and immersive design, as well as a massive reward in sales. E-commerce sales for the brand are reaching $80 million a year, and are still growing at a massive rate. Instead of ‘related products’, pages are filled with sourcing explanations and featured articles, taking users on a far more sensory journey through the brand’s catalogue than they would be used to – and one that is far more reflective of Lush’s in-store approach (which places demos and samples at the centre of its strategy).

The company offers an exclusive range of experimental or limited-edition products on sale each week. The range is called ‘Lush Kitchen’ and the slate of upcoming products is announced as ‘this week’s menu’ – another callback to the food industry. Finally, all the signage in-store is designed to echo menu or green-grocer blackboards with white chalks – once again conjuring images of ‘Catch of the Day’ or fresh fruit and veg. Meanwhile, the large wheels of soap are cut by hand in-store in a style familiar to those who crave cheese throughout the day.

How does this work?

Why do Lush use this approach, and why is it so successful? The answer is surprisingly straightforward, and is based in emotional branding. Put simply, shoppers rarely walk through the streets craving a good wash. But everyone is familiar with the old adage: ‘Never go food shopping when you’re hungry.’ By appealing to the instinctive desire to buy more food when one is hungry, Lush has grown its market appeal and its sales. Shoppers see the products as appetising, and are more likely to buy them based on the emotional desire more commonly reserved for food shopping.

This technique is not limited to Lush or to the cosmetics sector. Chocolate companies, such as Galaxy, use images and cues better known as pervasive in perfume or underwear adverts to appeal to the sensual and intimate nature of the ‘treat moment’. By appealing to a market trigger that is expected to come from a different source, brands are tapping into audience reactions on an innovative level with increasing depth.

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It all comes back to the brand positioning. With every variation of a traditional branding strategy being tried and tested within sectors, companies are increasingly seeking contagiously creative methods to forge emotional connections with their consumers.

Jack Lennard, Strategy Intern, 08.08.2016

jack@butterflylondon.com