Japanese medical cosmetics brand Dr. Ci:Labo has identified travel retail as a priority channel for brand building and consumer engagement. In this interview, International Commercial Director Philippe Gueulet talks about investing behind the brand, about the opportunity travel retail represents and about how Dr. Ci:Labo aims to differentiate itself in a crowded market.

Philippe Gueulet: “We are committed to succeeding in Korea, China, Hong Kong and Singapore as these locations are major travel hubs and hot spots for sophisticated beauty shoppers.”

The Moodie Davitt Report: What is the role of travel retail as you look to grow Dr. Ci:Labo globally? 

Philippe Gueulet: With travel retail we have the opportunity to introduce the Dr. Ci:Labo portfolio to an international audience, building on the brand’s strength in the Japanese, Chinese and Taiwanese domestic markets. Travel retail is an incredibly powerful channel, which offers unmatched potential for consumer engagement and brand building – particularly with Chinese beauty shoppers who are a key target audience for us.

We are keen to utilise travel retail to express the brand’s values and build a brand experience in a different way to the domestic market. For example, in China, brand awareness and sales are largely online driven whereas travel retail requires a more experiential approach in bricks and mortar stores. Building a presence in travel retail enables us to further connect with potential consumers and introduce our brand credentials to a highly sophisticated and captive audience.

The latest concept store from Dr. Ci:Labo; travel retail represents a critical platform for the brand.

Can travel retail both build brand awareness and drive sales?

Striking the right balance between building brand awareness and driving sales is a challenge for every brand, big or small, in travel retail. We will of course continue to build brand awareness in Asia Pacific markets to reinforce our core consumer base, and we will do this via influencer strategies, new TVC and print campaigns, including Labo Labo’s #NoPoreProblems and Dr. Ci:Labo’s ‘Beauty Prescribed’.

One of our priorities in building brand awareness is to focus on retail excellence. The team is working hard to execute top standard permanent merchandising units, train beauty consultants and provide exciting travel retail exclusive packs. Travel retail is an incredible recruitment platform so we will drive sales by offering gifts-with-purchase and sampling opportunities.

The company aims to reinforce the positioning of Dr. Ci:Labo as a skin health brand.

In what ways can Dr. Ci:Labo differentiate itself from other brands?

Dr. Ci:Labo’s key differentiators are its positioning as a skin health brand – as opposed to skincare like so many other brands in travel retail – and the significant science-based innovation behind the brand’s products. The Dr. Ci:Labo portfolio comprises medical-grade skincare products for everyday use and it is rare to find brands that are backed by such strong medical credentials.

Now Dr. Ci:Labo is part of the Johnson & Johnson portfolio, the brand has unrivalled access to the world’s largest healthcare company’s science, technology and health focus. This clearly puts us at an advantage and allows us to build on Dr.Ci:Labo consumers’ long-term trust for our products’ safety and quality.

Our Founder, Dr. Shirono, is still a practising doctor and is very famous in Japan and beyond. Dr. Shirono uses the most progressive technology and ingredients in the dermatology field, and with his broad network, he always brings the best, most advanced solutions and creative ideas to our new product development efforts.

Besides serving as a dermatologist-backed source of skincare information and best-practise, the Dr. Ci:Labo brand goes beyond this to offer health and lifestyle advice too. We are obsessed with our consumers and this deep care for them is backed up by rigorous, data-driven research. We constantly adjust products and create new ones based on feedback.

Labo Labo: An opportunity to develop travel retail exclusives.

What markets are you looking at first in travel retail and what are your early priorities?

The Asia Pacific region is a priority for us. We are committed to succeeding in Korea, China, Hong Kong and Singapore as these locations are major travel hubs and hot spots for sophisticated beauty shoppers.

What plans do you have for product innovation, especially travel retail exclusives?

For Labo Labo, we currently have pouch sets in Korean travel retail and we are working on developing exclusive products, including sets containing the Labo Labo Keana Lotion in 200ml.

From Dr. Ci:Labo’s anti-ageing line, special formats and multipacks will be available for Dr. Ci:Labo Aqua Collagen Gel Super Moisture, Enrich Lift EX and Super100 Series Epidermal Growth Factor (EGF), a very sought-after product among Chinese consumers.

We’re considering developing specific innovations that are dedicated to the travel retail channel, but we will only focus on these after we have consolidated our presence and have the basics covered.

What does the backing of Johnson & Johnson mean for your ability to grow distribution and innovate?

Now Dr. Ci:Labo is part of the Johnson & Johnson Family of Consumer Companies, the brand is able to leverage the company’s beauty expertise, healthcare focus and strong portfolio of brands to come up with innovations that could potentially disrupt the beauty market. Having access to all of this also allows us to reinforce a competitive edge while providing us with solid knowledge on health and beauty consumers around the world.

Aqua-Collagen-Gel Super Moisture EX: The first skincare product developed by Dr. Shirono.

 How has the brand built awareness recently and what have been the most successful initiatives?

Leveraging social and digital media is a key component of our strategy to grow awareness among consumers, considering its huge influence on our strategic target audience – particularly with millennial Labo Labo consumers. To engage with this customer, we recently named Japanese model and actress Tina Tamashiro as the face of Labo Labo’s new campaign. The 21-year-old has nearly 950,000 followers on Instagram and has great appeal with Labo Labo customers.

This year, Labo Labo and Dr. Ci:Labo are going to leverage social media in numerous ways, working with star influencers with regional impact as well as category experts and micro influencers. We are using digital tools in a more holistic way, not only for building awareness but also for convincing on the efficacy of products and encouraging purchase.

Dr. Yoshinori Shirono: The man behind the skin health brand.

One of our most successful initiatives was holding a Tmall Super Brand Day in 2018. It was so effective that we won the first Super Brand Day in Tmall’s International Beauty Category, the first in Johnson & Johnson’s history.

Three celebrities, over 80 KOLs and more than 45 different media engaged with the initiative. We live-streamed three sessions from a Tokyo studio so that customers could chat directly with Dr. Shirono while a beauty advisor gave a live skincare demo. Customers also had the chance to purchase a personalised celebrity-inspired gift. The three live-streaming sessions generated 650 million impressions.

Dr. Ci:Labo has won a number of awards in China, including Trendy Brand of the Year at the Tmall Beauty Awards 2018 and Fastest Growing Brand of the Year at the China Beauty Foresight Summit 2018. Dr. Ci:Labo also featured in Marie Claire China’s Beauty’s Top 100 2017 ‘Whitening Serum of the Year’ and ‘Anti-Ageing Gel of the Year’ categories.

What are the key differences between the Dr. Ci:Labo and Labo Labo ranges and how do they complement each other?

The key difference is target market. Following the success of Dr. Ci:Labo, the Labo Labo brand was inspired by Dr. Shirono’s younger clients and their particular skincare challenges. A recurring skin concern emerged with this audience: Pores. The Labo Labo product range represents a family of specialised, dermatology-based pore care remedies.

There is a really nice synergy between the two lines and we expect consumers to graduate from Labo Labo to Dr. Ci:Labo as their skincare requirements change over time.

Will they be merchandised alongside each other in travel retail?

Yes, absolutely. For retailers we think this combined proposition is extremely advantageous in targeting a very broad mix of consumers.

You’ve recently started to build Dr. Ci: Labo’s presence outside of Japan; how is the brand performing in other markets?

Overall extremely well. We’re very much in development mode, so still getting to know our consumers in these regions and building an understanding of how best to target them. In China’s domestic market we’re exceeding expectations, which is also true in Taiwan. It’s early days in Hong Kong, but we’re seeing very positive signs around consumer awareness and adoption. Singapore is another important market, and we’re investing heavily in growing awareness and overall consumer engagement.

Dr. Ci:Labo: “Proudly Japanese in its heritage and roots, but with an international outlook.”

Are there any challenges associated with taking a very Japanese brand to the wider world? 

We believe our Japanese heritage and identity is one of our defining strengths. In many markets around the world, Japanese culture, brands and products are much admired. Therefore, we don’t feel we need to adapt our brand or in any way water-down our heritage, but what we have to do is make sure that we tell our story and build awareness in ways which are meaningful for an international audience.

The brand will remain proudly Japanese in its heritage and roots, but with an international outlook. Whether that’s in packaging, marketing or communications there will have to be an element of localisation and tailoring for different markets.

Japanese beauty has built huge momentum globally. What do you think has been the key to its success?

Japan has always been seen as an innovator – in particular with technology brands like Casio, Sony, Panasonic and Nintendo. They all became household names during a period in which Japan really rose on the international stage. The country became synonymous with cutting-edge, pioneering products, but equally is known for its respect of heritage and tradition. If you look at the rise of J-Beauty, that notion of technological innovation, combined with Japanese standards of quality, attention to detail and aesthetics, have all resonated powerfully with consumers around the world.

How do you view the economics of travel retail from an emerging brand’s point of view?

It’s no secret that this channel is not easy to break into: airports, retailers and consumers are all extremely demanding. However, the rewards clearly justify the effort. We are ready to invest strongly in premium visibility, brand activations, product innovations and such like, and we always have to weigh up the return on investment. However, we take a more holistic view of ROI, focusing not only on sales but also the potential for building brand equity and the halo effect this channel can have in other markets.

What is the vision for Dr. Ci:Labo in travel retail? What do you want to be known for?

We want to be known as the number one medical skincare derma brand, combining cutting-edge technology with the know-how of a visionary practising dermatologist, Dr. Shirono. He believes that beauty lies under everyone’s skin and his products help to reveal that beauty; our job is to turn that message into a mantra for skincare consumers around the world.