Shiseido's 140-year branding story

When Esther Kwong (pictured) first came into Shiseido Hong Kong in 1998, the label’s multi-brand strategy had just taken off with hair styling products and another skincare and makeup line catered to a younger crowd.

Her recruitment saw the arrival of Elie Saab, Jean Paul Gaultier, Ipsa, Narciso Rodriguez, and since last year, American makeup and skincare brands, NARS and Bare Minerals, to name, but a few.

"In 1999, Ipsa came; 2001 was Clé de Peau Beauté (CDBP); 2005 was Shiseido Men, and this year, we brought in Bare Minerals – its foundation is really good, it’s the one I use every day now," says the president of Shiseido Hong Kong, not even giving her interview notes a glance – her finger moving around the brand catalogue like a mother counting her children.

Celebrating Shiseido’s 141st birthday and her 15th year at the company this year, Kwong stands in an age where fierce competition, anti-Japanese tensions from the mainland, rising rent and labour costs as well as threats to expand into digital realms, are charging at her.

But, like her Japanese colleagues, Kwong keeps her poise, taking pride in Shiseido Group’s strong heritage and its value for genuine interaction with its customers. Founded in 1872 based on the mantra of "creating beauty and wellness", the Shiseido Group has strived to boost both women and men’s confidence as well as well-being through products and techniques.

And to do that, human interaction is the key.

"History doesn’t mean anything if it’s just numbers, but we have a heritage and history that my staff and I are proud of," Kwong says.

"We incorporate all of our beliefs into our customer service strategy: the goal is to make our customers pretty, not just make the sale because that will only get immediate cash but not a long-term relationship with the customer."

This human interaction and bequeathal of values not only build the foundation of Shiseido’s marketing strategies, but it also explains the group’s rather lethargic development in the digital world.

Although most of the brands in the family have a social presence, a lot of these efforts promote communication in an all-or-nothing approach: Japanese-based skincare line AquaLabel, for example, launched the "Ms Aqua Chatroom" – a platform for users to liaise with beauty consultants; while CDBP, one of Shiseido’s top-tier lines, doesn’t even have a Facebook account.

"The problem with digital is that you don’t get to see the customer; it worked for AquaLabel because that’s the young clientele we’re targeting; for CDBP, our positioning is more one-to-one, it’s about information, real interaction and really giving our customers an in-depth understanding of what it is," she says.

"Every brand is different even though they all grow together with the same philosophy: they each have different personalities, strategies and audience – and the same should go for their weight in various advertising platforms."

For the full story, pick up a copy of January's Marketing Magazine Hong Kong.