Benefit Cosmetics’ Chief Beauty Ambassadors Maggie and Annie Ford Danielson on global success and providing women with solutions that will really change their lives.
In 2008, Maggie and Annie Ford Danielson, Benefit’s Chief Beauty Ambassadors joined the company that was founded by their mother and aunt; Jean and Jane Ford in the seventies. Born in San Francisco, Benefit was created by the twin sisters to take on a new approach to beauty and that’s how it has continued to function ever since. Today, Maggie and Annie are an integral part of the Benefit team, operates under LVMH.
Benefit Cosmetics is the number one selling brow brand in the world today. The quirky beauty company now has locations in 59 countries across five continents. With more than 3,000 Brow Bars and 85 Boutiques worldwide. Its make-up products have become known as problem-solvers rather than just material products and that’s what enables this brand to have a relationship with customers all over the world. The new generation of sisters in the Ford family, Annie and Maggie joined the company in 2008 and they are now Benefit’s Global Brand Ambassadors and have been working hard to spread the Benefit message to women all around the globe. The two are passionate about beauty, but also about making women’s lives easier and that is ultimately the end goal of the company. As Benefit goes from success to success, we discover more about what makes the brand so unique and the upcoming innovation they have in store.
What does success mean to you?
MAGGIE: To me, success is measured by how you are impacting people’s lives and how much joy and wellbeing you can bring to them. That’s something that the brand tries to do in all the countries that we are present in. We are concerned with how we can better other people’s lives and that makes me feel accomplished. It’s really about being able to pivot and evolve the brand and message no matter what country we’re in. All of the markets and local cultures are different, but I think what makes Benefit so successful after so many years is that we really speak a very basic truth to women. It’s not about trends or the image you might see in a magazine. What it’s really about is making the person who’s wearing the make-up feel good and confident. That surpasses any culture or language, no matter what. So that to me is a mark of success – bringing happiness and joy to women.
Annie: I agree. I think there’s a reason why no matter where we go in the world our top products are the same everywhere. That is one thing that I find to be so unique to Benefit. Mascara, Brows, POREfessional – these key products were always the most popular in every market and everyone was always so confused as to why and I kept thinking – it’s because we are making products that are really solving every woman’s needs. As women, I think we can all agree, we are so multifaceted and at Benefit, we put women first. Of course, we love to make money and have a product that’s a huge success, but if we don’t create something that will truly transform you in five seconds and let you walk out the door looking but more importantly, feeling your best – then we have not done our job. And I think that’s where I consider us a success – when someone takes a product home, feels confident in using it and then goes about her day looking and feeling her absolute best. We are here to fuel her fire and get her going so she can go about her day feeling great.
To what do you tribute the success story of Benefit and how have you faced challenges?
Maggie: I think it’s a simple recipe where no matter what, we put the customer first. It’s not about the brand or the founder or what they want – it’s about what the customer wants and that comes first and foremost and that’s how we have always approached everything. Whether it’s a product, a campaign or even the way we think about innovation, all of our products now have an incredible innovation story. We create products that are innovative and make women’s lives easy. It’s not overly complicated or fancy – it’s easy, it’s quick and it helps you get on with your day. I think that is what’s been so successful about the brand. We are actually quite a humble brand. We’re not out there pushing this huge message about being a certain look or way – our message is for women to be themselves, achieve what they want and we’ll be right there next to them, no matter what their day holds and that I think is why we’ve been so successful no matter where we go.
How challenging is it to defy the norms and make women feel confident with who they are?
Annie: I think about the very beginning phases of Benefit and I look at how our mum and aunt faced those challenges. If you think back to 1976 there were only big traditional brands in the beauty industry and then you had Benefit, which was completely different from all of them. So I always wondered what was that secret ingredient that they had to keep the brand alive? And then I realised that it was the fact that they had each other. They were identical twin sisters who could finish each other’s sentences or thoughts. No matter what challenges they faced, they were always a united front and I think as women that was such a powerful front to have. Especially back in the seventies, when it was a very male-dominated work culture. I think that there’s something really special about the fact that there were these two sisters who were so uniquely entwined and were able to push forward and let all of the doubt and fear pass over them because they knew that they were each other’s partners no matter what. I think that kind of sisterhood and that feeling of community is something that we today have woven into every decision we make and that has helped us in challenging times. When we launched Benefit in Korea for example and they told us “you cannot do brows in a department store in public. The Korean woman will not accept this change.” And we said: “Well then you don’t get Benefit because this is who we are.” And we opened up a Brow Bar and the women lined up! I think we are just unapologetically confident in ourselves because we’ve always had to be. But I think it’s something that is especially in this day and age, so respected. We take for granted that we were born that way at Benefit but I think that’s part of our secret recipe because that’s who we have been since day one.
What is a challenge you face as a brand today?
Maggie: There are many challenges, some are more philosophical and some are technical challenges. First of all, there is so much competition out there which is great because it keeps us going, however, a lot of the new brands are much smaller than us, they can launch new products quicker than us because we are such a big global brand with such wide distribution and it takes us a little bit longer to get products to all of our retailers and customers. So when you have customers that constantly want to see new things, it’s hard to keep up and continue with the same level of innovation and customisation and that is one of our challenges that we are trying to figure out.
The other challenge that we have is to stay true to who we are in terms of our message. Because it is enticing to want to jump on a trend or jump on the bandwagon of what is causing sales to happen right now. At the end of the day, trends come and go and at Benefit, we try to not attach ourselves too strongly to those trends so that we will last. We want to be aware of what’s out there, but not get so caught up in it that we lose who we are.
What has been the impact of COVID-19 on the strategies of the brand?
Maggie: Everyone was impacted and continues to be. We can’t say which ones but we did have to take a step back and delay or pause some of our launches to maximise the impact, given the circumstances. We had to think about what would be best for the business and the communities. But at the same time, the resilience has been great and we are all doing what we need to do to stay relevant and stay alive. Great innovation can come from these challenging times.
Annie: Our whole Benefit community haven’t missed a beat. Everyone has constantly been thinking about how we can strategize things and what the plans are moving forward. Everyone in our teams is so creative, they have so much love and passion for the brand and you can see everyone within our community coming together during these times and the brand has always been like that. People who work at Benefit aren’t “Beauty Junkies” they are “Benefit Junkies” and you can see that drive and passion and because of that, we are seeing so many new ways of thinking and marketing throughout this time. To be honest we thank our lucky stars every day that brows and mascara have been our pillars of expertise for decades because when you’re wearing a mask, that’s all anyone is seeing! So we have been running with that and luckily this has been a blessing for us. When we stay true to who we are and don’t get obsessed with trends, when things like this happen, we have that safety zone to run home with which is good.
Why did you decide to tap into brows?
Maggie: The funny thing is that we were doing brow services, well before we had a very robust set of brow products. Our service business was very large, we’re the largest employer of aestheticians at any company in the world and we realised that we had very few brow products to support this amazing service business. There also wasn’t any other make-up brand that owned the brow category so we saw a business opportunity that made sense for what we were already doing. So we decided to completely change the brow vision. We wanted to bring the brows to the people and make it easy!
Annie: It was such an intimidating category at the time as women were wary of doing their own brows. So when we added the Benefit spin of: ‘if you have a brow problem we are going to solve it’, women started to listen and were intrigued. It was the perfect combination and then as we launched it, brows became such a hot topic, particularly on YouTube and social media.
What is something that you would like to do that you haven’t done yet at Benefit?
Annie: I think one of the things that we’re always striving for, particularly in today’s era is constantly reinventing ourselves to look and feel fresh. The packaging for example – how do we make sure that today’s women still have that exact experience that people had 10 or 15 years ago when they first discovered Benefit? It’s not necessarily always achieving something new but it’s almost harder to continuously offer that same wow factor. So I think to continuously do that is our biggest challenge, but it’s also our road to success.
Where does your inspiration come from for new products and how do you sustain innovation?
Maggie: When we’re thinking about a new product launch, first of all, we look at what we currently have in our offering. As a global make-up brand, we have a very small assortment of products. If you look at some of our competitors, they have 100 eye shadows alone. We have maybe between 250 and 300 individual products. That is actually quite a small offering. So each product has to be very effective and efficient. The first thing we do is look at what isn’t selling or working and we are ruthless! Then we say ‘what else do we need and what holes are there in our assortment?’ Our newest product; the Brow Microfilling pen was something that we, as a number one brow brand, didn’t have in our assortment and we knew that it was something that we could do best in class, we could innovate, make it easy, our shade range would be the largest. So it’s a case of looking at all these different factors that go into what we’re going to launch next. It does take us a fair amount of time to launch a new product because we have such innovation and everything is so customised. We work with labs all over the world and the way we approach it is that we say to our developers; ‘we want what to solve this problem – what can you do to make this a reality?’ And it can take a couple of years.
Annie: Also I think the reason why the Brow Microfilling pen is such a good example of this is that a few years ago we saw a lot of similar pens come out on the market, and we were already working on our pen but we were not going to fast-forward the innovation or functionality just because we wanted to be first to get it to market. We would rather be fourth or fifth and have the absolute best quality so that the pen never fails our women. So even though it may be something that you’ve already seen, it’s one of our most successful launches, because it actually works. And that’s when we can be super proud of what we do. We have an entire brow innovation team and we work with the best of the best labs in the world. When it comes to our involvement what’s cool is that we actually sell the products in The United States on the home-shopping network, so we’re one of the few people in the corporate environment that has that day-to-day interaction with the customers and actually sell the product to her. So it’s great because we get to experience that side too so and that’s where we can see things coming together.
What can you tell us about Benefit in the Middle East?
Maggie: We are the number one brand in the Prestige Category in Sephora in the Middle East right now, which is incredible. Brows and mascara are key for women in the Middle East and with the situation where everyone is now wearing masks we are seeing this demand double. Sometimes it takes a little time for a brand to make its way into the culture and become an everyday brand in a new part of the world. When Benefit first launched I think people thought it was this wacky American brand but now I think women have settled into it and seen all the things that we do, especially on the marketing side as it’s tailored specifically to Arabic women. We’re obviously an American brand but we’re trying to do it in a way that resonates with Arab women. All of our communication is in Arabic and we’re trying to marry the two worlds in an authentic way and I think that’s been part of the success.