St. Ives, Naturally
by Kate Bertrand-Connolly
Alberto-Culver reclaims brand’s “natural” heritage without losing the “Swiss.”
The St. Ives brand is a familiar one for women who shop the skin-care aisle of mass merchants. But in the competitive world of personal care, familiarity is not enough for a brand to succeed.
Recognizing this market truth, brand owner Alberto-Culver recently gave St. Ives a healthy boost with a new marketing strategy, based on in-depth consumer research, which includes a revised positioning statement, new print and TV ads, increased prices for some St. Ives products and, crucially, a packaging redesign.
“Our objective was to elevate St. Ives among women as an approachable, trusted resource for naturally beautiful, visibly healthy skin,” says Colleen O’Hare, St. Ives brand manager, Alberto-Culver. “The packaging upgrade needed to deliver on the two essences of our brand: natural and Swiss.”
O’Hare and her team refined the brand’s positioning to “natural Swiss solutions for visibly healthy skin,” and the tagline for new ads to “visibly healthy, naturally Swiss.” Previously, the brand was positioned as “the Swiss secret.”
More premium perception
Redesigned packaging leverages the new brand positioning to differentiate St. Ives from competitors, convey a more premium character and still maintain the consumer’s perception of value.
Although package structures for the products did not change, the graphic treatment evolved significantly. The redesign leverages St. Ives’ brand equities while making the brand more relevant and contemporary in all of the categories where the brand competes—lotions, body washes and facial skin care.
Alberto-Culver worked with Kaleidoscope (formerly BrandScope) to conduct consumer research prior to formulating the new positioning statement and redesigning the packaging.
A key goal of the early research, according to Dennis Furniss, executive vice president of branding and design at Kaleidoscope, was “to define a relevant emotional category” for St. Ives that would separate it from competitors.
The brand competes against products that sport a wide range of value propositions. Some St. Ives products are in competition with private labels; others fight it out with Suave, Dove and brands that are still more up-market.
Prior to the repositioning, consumers viewed St. Ives as a functional brand rather than an emotional one. “St. Ives had been a brand with a location, a point of origin, but with no emotional driver whatsoever,” Furniss says. “Every brand needs emotion, particularly in this category. We wanted to define something that would be more meaningful to the consumer.”
Research showed that the brand did enjoy a robust heritage as “natural,” but that attribute had taken a back seat to the “Swiss” component. The repositioning brings emotion to St. Ives by making “natural” the primary driver in packaging and advertising; “Swiss” is the complementary piece.
Research also revealed that consumers thought of St. Ives as a brand for teens. Therefore, the new packaging needed to allow the brand to grow up.
Telling the brand story
The package redesign uses five horizontal design fields to tell the brand’s story. This approach is used on tubes as well as bottles.
The first, top-most field contains the brand’s logo, which presents the copy “St. Ives Swiss Formula” with the Alps in the background. Though similar to the old logo, the new one uses a simplified typeface and the mountains are brighter and more ethereal looking. The logo appears on a ground of white, for relevance in the world of beauty and to convey Swiss purity.
The second graphic field presents the product form, such as “Apricot Scrub,” plus a descriptive, such as “Invigorating.” Color is used in this field to convey a specific benefit, such as green for anti-aging or blue for a medicative benefit.
“Across all the St. Ives products, the marketing communications and packaging are more benefits focused now,” says O’Hare. The benefits orientation was a key part of the repositioning, moving the brand from simply functional to deeply beneficial.
The third field, in the middle of each package’s front panel, makes an emotional appeal using photography. The photos replace the botanical illustrations that were on the old packaging and offer “a peep into the world of St. Ives,” Furniss says.
The emotionally charged photos evoke the essence of each product and give each SKU its own personality. For example, the Cucumber Melon Moisturizing Body Wash package incorporates a luscious photo of cucumbers and melons, and the apricot products feature photos of fresh apricots.
The fourth field, an image of rippling water, reinforces the fact that St. Ives products contain genuine Swiss botanicals and that the source of the botanicals is Swiss glacial water. The use of botanicals has always been a key attribute of the brand, but until the redesign, it had not been leveraged as a brand equity.
The fifth, final field on the packaging appears at the bottom of the container. It contains a descriptive benefit of the product, such as “Younger Looking Skin” or “Naturally Soothes,” plus the mortar-and-pestle seal of authority. This seal had been part of the old packaging but has been updated with a more modern look and feel.
“Effectively what we did was take the brand apart and rebuild it using all of its equities to tell a consistent story,” Furniss explains.
An important result of the five-field design strategy is the presentation of the brand as a unified system of products spanning the lotion, facial and body wash categories. The design communicates that this is a regimen of products, not a collection of sub-brands, as in the past.
“Not every brand is playing in all three categories where St. Ives competes, and we wanted to strengthen and leverage the cross-category experience as much as we could,” O’Hare notes.
The new packaging’s simplified, muted palette gives the products a more premium appearance. In addition to toning down the colors on bottles and tubes, Alberto-Culver switched to white caps and pumps in place of colored closures and applicators. The overall effect is packaging that looks not only clean, but pristine—in line with the natural Swiss positioning.
To add a sensory cue, pumps and other applicators now include a soft-touch finish. The St. Ives bottles are decorated with plastic labels, and the tubes are direct printed. Alberto-Culver manufactures the bottles used for St. Ives lotion and body wash products but purchases the tubes.
A hit with consumers, retailers
The results of the package redesign, which was fully in-market by last September, have been gratifying in terms of elevating the brand, ridding it of the teen-market perception and garnering the support of retailers.
“We moved the needle enormously,” says Furniss, adding that many of the consumers in the post-design quantitative research studies were “beyond the normal world of St. Ives or the world of value. Even Olay and Neutrogena consumers who had no intent to purchase recognized the elevation of the brand and had a full acceptance of the new positioning.”
In parallel studies, retailers queried in the United States and Latin America also expressed total acceptance of the repositioned, repackaged line.
Consumers are even willing to pay more for the products now. To better reflect the quality of St. Ives products, Alberto-Culver increased the price of the facial products by 25 percent and raised the price of St. Ives lotions by 16 percent. Body wash prices remained the same.
Even with the pricing increase, “We’re still maintaining our brand as a good value to the consumer,” O’Hare says.
Kate Bertrand-Connolly, is a San Francisco-based writer specializing in packaging, business and technology. Contact her at email@example.com
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