Pharmaceutical giant Walgreens Boots Alliance recently launched its first own-brand skincare range in over two-decades to rave reviews after three years working with a group of women - originally found to simply participate in market research - to design the entire marketing strategy.
Your Good Skin is the first collection of its kind from the chemist since organic brand Botanics hit shelves in 1995 and was created by a group of 2500 everyday women who are now acting as brand ambassadors.
Since its UK launch in September, the range's hero product – Balancing Skin Concentrate has managed to whip up a similar hype to that Boots No7’s famous Protect and Perfect serum, with early feedback showing that the retailer’s gamble has paid off.
As the brand arrived at Walgreen's stores in the US this week (16 October), Kristy McCready, global director of consumer brand PR, has admitted that the path taken wasn’t intentional, but that the learnings from the process have been invaluable.
The journey started three years ago when the business went on a mission to create a line of products focused on healthy skin rather than combating the signs of aging.
It began, as many projects of this ilk do, with market research. While the term may conjure up images of Mad Men-esque planners observing focus groups through a one-way mirror for glossy ‘insights’ brochures, Boots quickly realised that the group it had assembled were capable of much more.
“As we started putting more questions to them a number of women quickly stood out as being interested in learning more and wanting to support us in that mission,” McCready explained to The Drum.
“It actually happened quite organically because the panel was excited and engaged, so the community grew that way.”
This way of working stands in stark contrast to the usual marketer/focus-group relationship. A recent global GRIT Consumer Participation in Research study found that only one out of four customers are satisfied with how companies engage them in the market research process.
Against this backdrop, McCready said the learnings her team has absorbed from watching women build the range have been invaluable.
“You often find that brands say they are driven by consumers, but we genuinely are,” she said.
And that means that there were decisions taken about Your Good Skin that Wallgreen Boots Alliance weren't actually aligned to.
“The community has chosen everything – they worked on the brand name, the packaging as well as on the [product] scents and the textures.”
In fact, she said, the transparent, white and gold colour scheme was not one put forward by the brand but picked out by the panel of women, who came to have a very strong sense of brand ownership.
All of their insights were passed on to Studio of Art and Commerce, the London-based agency tasked with bringing their ideas into reality. It has developed the brand identity for the UK and US market throughout the process as well as the global digital ad campaign, which centred on five mini documentary films.
But beyond product and packaging, these women are now the core members of an online community where they have taken on the role of ‘coaches’; offering skincare advice and support to customers who sign up after buying a Your Good Skin product.
And this is also informing the people Boots will market to in the future. Originally, the retailer was targeting women aged 25 to 35 but now the community's oldest contributor is 55.
Conceding it’s difficult as a marketer to take a step back, McCready enthused that the personal reaction of the women when they were shown the packaging, including Monica in the video above, made the whole process worthwhile.
“You get such truthful, genuine learnings, which as a brand give you have a better chance of being right for more women. As women, we respond to people who are like us more than we do necessarily to brand speak."
And it hasn’t been a challenge to get the c-suite to buy into the idea, said McCready, claiming that the slow and steady approach mean "everyone was genuinely intrigued and interested," she said.
Time will tell whether Walgreens or Boots reap the fruits of the experiment, but for now McCready said it is something the group is open to exploring across other brands in the portfolio.
Given the recent furore around a "tone-deaf" ad from skincare brand Dove, having real women on board might not be such a bad idea. While Dove's proposition is built around 'Real Beauty' it has now said that it will be reviewing the way it creates and produces content after one a US Facebook ad was slammed for being "racist", and calls followed for Unilever to include more diverse people in discussions around its advertising.
As for Your Good Skin, McCready said that she's aware consumers respond to authenticity, and that it will continue to build out its community on the back of this trend.
"There’s nothing more real than being able to talk to the women who created the brand and I think you will see more of it because people are increasingly looking for these real, authentic experiences. They want validation [that the product they are buying] is something that real women are using and getting real results from."