The Grayson Report

Natural Products Need Real Benefits to Grow

By Suzanne and Bob Grayson, Grayson Associates | November 9, 2009

While the organic “certification wars” will continue ad infinitum, it’s the communication—the advertising of “natural” products and their countless iterations—which will determine consumer perception, acceptance, purchase and realized benefits and hence, their ultimate value and loyalty.

Consider the evolution of natural. It started in the late 1960s with the huge success of Lemon Cleanser, the star product of a mass cosmetic line, Love, which was geared to young women (Smith, Kline & French). The line was born during the hippy/love generation. Aveda came on the professional scene in the late 1980s, with its aromatherapy and environmental principles. Since then, entrepreneurial natural lines by the dozens have sprouted and struggled in the only channel that could/would accommodate them: health food stores. Still, it was just a ripple. The birth of Whole Foods in the 1980s and, to a lesser extent, spas in the 1990s, broadened consumer realization that natural equals health, which was later fortified with the emergence of organic, its highest form. Since then, a proliferation of aromatherapy and botanical products in all distribution channels created acceptance of a new generation of natural/organic products.

Yet, until green beauty products broke into mainstream distribution, they were unable to gain legitimacy as a business category. Hence the perennial problem: mass distribution requires advertising dollars to create consumer awareness, but you need the sales volume of mass distribution to generate advertising funds. You can’t get volume without mass distribution; around and around it goes.

Thus, there is not that much advertising in the natural/organ- ic/green category (of which the latter is now becoming a vibrant partner). It has been a consumer-powered movement and not one created by big marketers, with big budgets. Health and well-being transcend all business categories and lifestyles, because they embody the ultimate consumer benefit: life. Now comes the explosion of established brands into mass distribution, requiring those big budgets to go beyond the early adopters and provide strong mass sell-thru. This is the most powerful global beauty trend of the generation. We can not recall a beauty business category that was powered by consumer interest alone, and not by technology, product innovation, packaging, dramatic positioning or advertising, and/or specific/perceivable benefits. Yes, the No. 1 consumer concern (after jobs and the economy) is health in all of its constituents—thereby creating significant validation (boost) to the natural/organic/ green beauty business.

The entrepreneurial days are giving way to the big marketers entering the fray with their huge communication needs—pari passu. Established marketers also have the considerable challenge of introducing natural/organic/green without denigrating their established brands—you know, the ones that pay the rent.

Origins answers that question to consumers by saying, “Origins Organics offers a choice,” etc. Maybe that’s why its introductory ads last year, didn’t offer any (real) product performance benefits beyond the (imagined) “feel good” of using organics. So far, there are not many advertising-visible players in this market. Even larger marketers find it difficult to support their basic businesses, no less funding/building their natural/organic/green category. It is essential for advertising to solidify the benefits of the products which are natural in consumers’ minds, especially as they are generally accompanied by a higher price tag. For our recent conference, theAdAudit analyzed 10 current ads in the natural/organic/green category. The following points were made:

EverPure focuses on product benefits.
1. The most powerful ad, L’Oréal’s EverPure, doesn’t waste time proclaiming natural. Instead, it focuses on the product benefits consumers will perceive—specific to the needs of hair that has been colored—by the elimination of some harsh ingredients. The packaging fine print states “Natural Botanicals and 100% Vegan,” and that’s it!

2. Burt’s Bees Radiance Day Lotion, which came in second, continues contrasting specific natural ingredients and benefits versus the disadvantages of those used in non-natural products with plenty of emotion and engagement. The word natural appears only as a small descriptor for the sunscreen.

3. Origins Organics came in sixth. Following a near perfect headline, “You are what your skin eats,” (stopper, engaging, both real and psychological benefits), it lost points in copy and consumer appeal for not translating organic into real benefits.

4. Juice Beauty Anti-Oxidant Serum, No. 10, has a lot going on but, as Shakespeare noted, it’s “a tale of sound and fury, signifying nothing,”—notwithstanding the “made with certified organic
Burt’s Bees connects with emotion.
ingredients” seal. It’s all process, no engaging headline, no impact of product name, no end benefits described or what the consumer should expect.

Some Key Weaknesses

Basic product benefits and permission-to-believe are significant weaknesses in many of the ads in this category, thereby they lose ground in competitive advantage—the key means of setting up the No. 1 purpose of an ad: to create dissonance with the consumer’s current product.You get the idea. Benefits equal what’s in it for me?

Here’s a good place to insert our oft-repeated axiom, “consumers do not buy concepts, they buy products and their benefits, real or imagined.” Our prediction: In short order, natural advertising will be back to the benefit story of yore, while natural will become an authority component of permission-to-believe, best-presented as some sort of
Origins Organics—prestige is not enough.
quick-to-perceive, certification seal. The seal will be shorthand for “we’re OK,” so that the ad can be devoted to specific consumer benefits.

The three open items are:
• Which seal? There are now about five competing organizations.
• Enforcement of the seal’s standards.
• Consumers knowledge/accep- tance of any seal.

Years from now we may forget this mayhem, but for now it’s a real marketing challenge.

A Different Look at Consumers

Most research measures where we are at a point in time. For example, store audits, measured over time, supposedly tell us if we are on the right road to achieve our objectives and/or plan.

Juice Beauty loses on benefits.
Consumer research slices and dices all kinds of demographics with myriad psychographics, all mixed with various measures of product satisfaction.

Another way to understand the consumer is to clearly differentiate between satisfaction and loyalty. But a satisfied customer, while essential to building loyalty, does not automatically assure loyalty. Think lipstick. Many sticks are good, some marginally better, and some, like Chanel, provide psychic income.

So, while you may have satisfaction, will the next GWP or BOGO take her away? We vividly recall a consumer, needing a lipstick, walking from counter to counter in Saks asking, “What’s your gift?” Satisfied, sure, but hardly loyal.Of course, loyalty to GWP is another kind of loyalty—at a very high cost—to which Estée Lauder can attest.

Instead, contrast the constituents of satisfaction with those of loyalty.For satisfaction, you may have as expected/does the job, along with an absence of dissatisfaction in performance; i.e., didn’t stay on, the cap sticks, it broke in use and so on. Of course, just plain poor performance is demonstrable cause for defection. The positive side is ennobled by enhancers; i.e., something that delights beyond expectation. This is where use of the senses comes in. She may buy a product for its smooth application, but have the experience enhanced by the fragrance. Here’s the sequence: Enhancers > delight > greater visceral satisfaction > added value = loyalty (See p. 47 of the Grayson Report, Happi July 2009 for more on sensory marketing).

For department store brands, image, innovation and service are the key enhancers, as consumers now perceive high-quality products and satisfaction in alternate channels. Obviously, these prestige advantages must be pushed to the maximum in order for these brands to flourish again. In every marketing discussion, the dual question must be asked, “What are our dissatisfiers and what are our enhancers?”

A Garden of New Ideas

We attended Cosmoprof North America in Las Vegas in July and came away with dozens of pieces of literature, a couple of interesting samples and plenty of naturals. The show itself had 625 exhibitors and about 22,500 attendees—down about 10% from last year.

More importantly, Cosmoprof caters to the salon channel, with most exhibitors showing finished goods, and many, many of them are unique.

So mark down July 18, 2010, Las Vegas. Not a great season for Nevada, but well worth your time.

About the Authors
Suzanne and Bob Grayson are respected, professional marketers, having spent their careers with the leading companies in the beauty industry before starting their successful consulting business in the early 1970s. Their consulting clients have included Avon, Bristol-Myers, Estée Lauder, Procter & Gamble, Revlon and Cover Girl, among others. They reside in San Juan Capistrano, CA and maintain an office in New York City. For more information, they can be reached at or