How to Build Your Brand During a Time of Crisis, Part 3: Battle of the Beauty Brands

It’s not every day your guilty pleasure collides with your professional life. But this morning, amidst my personal Inbox sat two perfectly contrasting examples of what to do/what not to do when communicating with your community in our new coroneailty (corona + reality).

Under fire today: Sephora and BareMinerals, two formidable forces in the beauty arena. 

Sephora’s Email Response to COVID-19:

Sephora is both a marketplace for beauty companies as well as a brand in its own right. And they have quickly become a great example of how not to communicate during a crisis.

On March 16th, they sent the standard, copy and paste COVID-19 response template that flooded into our emails that week. Their subject line, “An update regarding Sephora stores in the US and Canada”, is both vague and devoid of all humanity. The email that followed is similarly impersonal, here’s a snippet:

Sephora Coronavirus Email Update - Bad Brand Example

There’s no need to read the rest. Other than telling us what a great company they are, they’ve also managed to try to get us to shop even more. Obviously, luxury makeup is exactly what people should be buying as part of their pandemic preparations. *This is not meant as criticism if you’re coping by purchasing cosmetics. If glitter brightens your day, then order away! 

April 3rd came and went, without any update. Do they exist in an alternative reality where stores are actually open? Are they still proudly paying their employees? How are they contributing to the fight? How are they building community?

What they HAVE been clear about is that now continues to be a GREAT time to buy overpriced makeup that may expire before you have a chance to wear it in public. Their only direct response to our coroneality was in mid-March. Since then, it’s been business as usualbombarding my email with daily sales blasts.

Sephora’s major mistakes include:

  1. Failure to connect.
  2. Failure to understand.
  3. Failure to inform.
  4. Failure to think outside of the box.

1. Failure to Connect:

A lot has changed since March 16th. If you can’t remember that far back, many people in the U.S. were still living relatively normal lives at that time. Things were changing, news was scary, and many were divided about whether to stay at home or keep living life. Sephora chose to superficially skim over the subject, and made their response primarily a promotional one.

2. Failure to Understand:

They have demonstrated zero effort to consider their customers' experiences, be that fear for health, safety, or economic security. Instead, they send out tone-deaf emails pushing the latest beauty must-buys, completely oblivious or intentionally ignorant of the current state of our world.

3. Failure to Inform:

Their email on March 16th said they were closing until April 3rd. While it’s clear they haven’t reopened, they’ve stayed silent about the status of their brick-and-mortar stores, their employees, and what (if anything) they’re doing to help. In this case, silence only increases the gap they’re creating between themselves and their customers.

4. Failure to Think Outside of the Box:

So many companies are flexing their creativity in brilliant ways. Sephora prides itself on fostering artistry, yet their response is anything but artful. What about offering Zoom makeup classes from industry pros? Coaching people on personal grooming techniques that they’d normally hire an expert to do? Showing off the beautiful art people are creating with extra time on their hands? 

bareMinerals’ Email Response to COVID-19:

BareMinerals is the beauty brand that brought mineral makeup to the mainstream. While few would consider them green, their marketing tends to emphasize ingredient integrity and effortless, natural beauty.

Just like Sephora, bareMinerals also sent an email on March 16th with the subject line: “Your safety matters to us.” Notice a difference? They’re forging connection with their customers right from the get-go.

Here’s the email that follows:

Ulta Coronavirus Email Update - Good Example of COVID-19 Brand Response

This isn’t a revolutionary email, but it’s real. It doesn’t feel like a copy-paste update because it’s not. It addresses the situation directly, it emphasizes their brand mission, and it reads like an email instead of a legally-required response. They’re also not directly pushing a sale. They’re making themselves available for those who wish to shop their stresses away, but they also understand that this is not the moment to promote their products.

While they haven’t completely forgone their sales emails, their frequency has diminished. In addition, they’re finding creative, on brand ways to connect, including video tutorials, pampering routines, and a new health and wellness newsletter called “The Good Edit.” 

Ways BareMinerals is Doing Things Right:

  1. Keeping Their Commitment:
  2. Forging Connection.
  3. Getting Creative.
  4. Playing the Long Game.

1. Keeping Their Commitment:

BareMinerals is clear about who they are as a brand. They lay out their mission right at the beginning of their COVID-19 email. And because they’re clear about who they are and what they’re committed to, they’ve been able to use that as a guide as they figure out how to navigate this time. Read this post for more info about how to do that. 

2. Forging Connection:

Rather than focusing exclusively on short-term sales, they’ve shifted to creating and curating content that meets people where they are now. They understand peoples’ lives have been disrupted and that we’re all struggling, and they’ve adapted their marketing to reflect this.

3. Getting Creative:

A new newsletter and beauty education are both great ways to keep people engaged without forcing a sale. They’re using their platform to encourage people to practice self care without pushing them to spend money.

4. Playing the Long Game:

BareMinerals seems to understand that staying sensitive to their customers is an investment worth making. This demonstrates a confidence in their brand. By strengthening it now, they’ll emerge from this situation with stronger relationships and even more formidable than they were before.

A Growing Gap:

Pre-pandemic, bareMinerals and Sephora’s strategy was identical. As the coroneality sets in, the difference is significant. Here are this morning’s subject lines:

Coronavirus Sephora and BareMinerals Email Subject Lines April 6, 2020

See the difference?

And the gap just keeps growing upon opening:

Sephora Coronavirus Bad Branding Example Email, April 6, 2020

Versus:

BareMinerals Coronavirus Good Branding Example Email, April 6, 2020

Which one feels like they’re sticking to the plan no matter what? And which one seems to have scrapped their 2020 email strategy in favor of building a stronger future?


Emma Schermer Tamir

Emma started weaving stories as soon as she could write. As co-founder of Marketing by Emma, an international e-commerce copywriting firm founded in 2016, she’s helped more than 700 brands grow their businesses online. And when she’s not working, you can probably find her nose in a book with Pickle, her puppy, curled up next to her.

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