Rea Ann Silva, the celebrity makeup artist behind the Beautyblender sponge, found herself at a crossroads in 2018. Beautyblender had taken off as a makeup tool, selling 17 units a minute according to the brand. However, the founder and CEO wanted to expand into cosmetics. “I thought to myself, if I could just get everybody that loves Beautyblender to try my foundation just once, it could be successful,” she recalls.
Silva faced a common challenge. In order to stand out in a saturated marketplace, she’d launched with a singular product she’d perfected. Allowing for laser-focused marketing, targeting and brand development, a single-SKU approach affords brands greater authority, as they only need to prove expertise in one category. However, when founders — or investors — want to see faster growth and bigger returns, expansion becomes necessary. Brands must then convince customers of the appeal of new launches, without cannibalising the original offering.
“It’s really difficult for brands to launch and stand out, so we often see beauty brands choosing to build authority in a single category so they can own it,” says Marko Horvat, a director at Financo Raymond James’s consumer and retail investment banking division. From there, it’s not impossible to gain a similar presence in other categories, but it has to be done carefully, says Lisa Payne, head of beauty at trends agency Stylus. “Once consumers start to understand you, your place and your value within any particular category, there’s a possibility for extension.”
It’s a formula that’s worked for brands such as Olaplex, La Mer and Augustinus Bader. What unites these brands is that they all have a proprietary ingredient, which can be applied into new formats. When Estée Lauder purchased La Mer in 1995, the brand had just one product, the original Crème de La Mer, which contains the brand’s signature ingredient, called Miracle Broth, a hydrating and repairing extract made from seaweed. Now, the brand has over 48 products in the UK market alone, including lip balm, serums and cleansers, all containing the Miracle Broth.