Brand language – the magic ingredient in cosmetics?

How smaller cosmetics brands are using language to beat big beauty companies.

A linguistic analysis of the boutique cosmetics brand language

It’s 7am on Tuesday morning.

You’ve just showered. You reach for your moisturizer. It’s an intimate moment between you, the mirror, and the $1billion that L’Oréal spent last year on R&D.

But what happens if a brand doesn’t have $1billion? How does it win that moment in the bathroom?

Boutique cosmetics companies are increasingly turning to brand language to convince the consumer.

For any brand that faces a bigger spending rival, it’s a lesson in how to out-think the competition.

We’ve identified 3 key tactics that brands in every sector can benefit from, with one surprising implication for the growth potential of modern brands.

“Trust me. I’m a person. Not a corporation.”

Cosmetics are an intimate product, and intimacy requires trust. People are less likely to trust brands they haven’t heard much of before. But some brands use their smaller size to their advantage, to create a closer relationship between the founder and the customer.

Typically, the brand is named after the founder, it speaks in the first person singular (“I”, “we”) and it uses an informal tone of voice with uneven sentence lengths and a sprinkling of colloquialisms to echo everyday conversation. This encourages people to perceive the brand and the founder as one and the same: the story of the brand is the story of the founder.


“Our exquisite taste defines everything we do”

Other boutique brands use a language indirectly to build trust. Interestingly, this is often the strategy used by brands that are founded by men. To establish an emotional connection with the customer, they emit a refined aesthetic, and that determines the products they make. So, if you trust their taste, you trust the brand.

These brands have tremendous potential for growth. Often, ‘aesthetic brands’ start with fragrances and candles, then expand into skincare. They could turn their hand to making leather goods or fountain pens without degrading the brand’s promise. In this respect, they’re more like fashion houses than cosmetics brands.


“We’re scientists, but we can still talk like human beings.”

Even in the luxury market, there is room to engage customers on the rational merits of your product. And although brands can be experts, they can’t hide behind jargon. As Einstein said: ‘If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.’

Brand language can speak in the 3rd person (“Brand X does this”) to suggest the collective expertise of the group of people behind the brand. But they’re careful to make the science seem less intimidating, and the brand more personal, so that their relationship with the customer goes deeper than just technology. Some brands use personal stories to illustrate the benefits of their ingredients, some emphasize their family origins, and others list the synthetic ingredients they have left out.

If interested read about linguistic analysis of the fragrance market here.

A blended strategy: VOTARY

There are other smart brands that are blending some of the elements we’ve mentioned to introduce a distinctive identity.

VOTARY was founded by Charlotte Semler, a successful entrepreneur, and Arabella Preston, a successful make-up artist. (Full disclosure: we created the verbal identity of the brand.) The brand takes inspiration from Arabella but, rather than focusing on her, it focuses on how her expertise benefits the customer. The brand language eels like a consultation with her, rather than a gift from her.

Votary launched in Autumn 2015 through Liberty, London. US distribution starts in February 2016. It’s a brand to watch. Here is a link to their website.


About Verbal Identity

We are writers, strategists and linguistics experts: super-specialists in the magic and mechanics of language. We know how language creates thinking. And how – if you shape the language of your company, your comms and your customers – you shape what people think and do, read more…

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