John Demsey has spent over 13 years working at Estée Lauder, and throughout that time, he has seen the beauty industry go through massive changes. He’s come to realize there’s one thing about beauty that will never change: It will always be a good business opportunity, because people will always want to look good.
“The world has gone through an evolution, [hitting] a lot of different touch points — beauty being one of them. But beauty is a universal aspiration; everyone in the world wants to look their best, feel their best and project their best selves forward,” said Demsey. “No one thinks they look too good. No one thinks they couldn’t take a little advice or do a bit better. This constant striving for fulfillment, or this aspiration for perfection or putting one’s best self forward, regardless of your orientation, goes back to the beginning of humanity.”
For Demsey, the focus of the company has always been luxury products and authentic relationships with consumers. As consumer behavior has shifted in favor of digital, the company has had to find new ways to translate the personal connection and keep customers coming back.
On this week’s episode of The Glossy Beauty Podcast, beauty editor Priya Rao spoke to Demsey to discuss how Estée Lauder strikes the perfect balance of product and brand identity, blurs the lines between cosmetics and skin care, and remains a pure-play in luxury beauty. Edited highlights below.
Balancing great products and a strong brand
“[You need] a combination of great product with authentic storytelling and brand uniqueness — these things define the value system and unique DNA of what a brand is about. People buy products, but they join brands. There’s a careful balance in joining and welcoming a brand into your home, while at the same time having a product that you’re obsessed with and want to continue to buy over and over again — that’s the key to any long-term, successful business. In our mind, the combination of our brand-building capabilities, unique product development expertise, and research and development expertise — but with a focus on and dedication to high-touch, authentic relationships and communities — is what defines the company.”
The focus on luxury beauty
“We want to be the best portfolio of prestige brands in the world, and we are the only pure-play in luxury beauty. The difference between Estée Lauder and some of our amazing competitors is that we’re only focused on the high end of the marketplace. So we have a lens, in terms of the customer we want, the aspirational price point and the quality positioning that we want to entertain to be a high-touch luxury company. Having said that, when the company bought Crème de la Mer back in the day, I think it was sold in 20 doors around the world, on a cube, on Saturdays from a freelancer — and now look what has happened with that. Leonard [Lauder, the company’s retired chairman] likes to say, ‘If you can’t see the future, you’ll never get there.’ Sometimes the patterns already exist in the market, and it’s just understanding when it’s there.”