10 things healthcare leaders can learn from Kiehl’s

10 things healthcare leaders can learn from Kiehl’s

Working across the related categories of healthcare, personal care, wellness and lifestyle — we bring an informed and wider lens view of the world that helps our clients to see things they don’t currently see, believe in what’s possible and act in new ways.

As hospitals and health care systems continue to make the pivot from b2b to b2c, they’re faced with challenging their own status quo and having to create new forms of value for a forever changed breed of health care consumer.

So what can healthcare leaders and healthcare marketers learn from Kiehl’s? They’re a wonderful example of a company that has carved out its own path to greatness. And in today’s healthcare environment, where the traditional business model is increasingly challenged and consumers wield increasing power, this is a very important idea.

Kiehl’s is just about 165 years old, and the brand is still going strong. Here are ten reasons why (which healthcare leaders and marketers should take note of):

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1. Story. The brand has a great back story – starting with its name Kiehl’s Since 1851 – as an apothecary business in NYC’s lower East Side owned and managed over four generations as a family business (and now owned by L’Oreal). But their story continues to genuinely evolve and capture the imagination of new generations of audiences. Many other skin care brands have a celebrated past. But I’m not sure any are as compelling or as unconventional as Kiehl’s.

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2. Belief. There aren’t too many people who boast about ingredients and physical product benefits. But they do talk about Kiehl’s greater sense of purpose – brought to life through its approach to products, distinguishing community-based retail experience and socially-driven activities.

3. Behavior. Everything Kiehl’s does, every experience they create across the end-to-end customer journey, supports and enhances their story and is executed with brilliance.

4. Products and Packaging. True to its heritage, Kiehl’s uses the very best naturally-derived ingredients – based on herbal and pharmaceutical formulas. Packaging also reflects the brand’s apothecary roots – a homemade look that feels like they are individually made in the back of the store, with detailed descriptions about ingredients, benefits and directions for use.

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5. Retail Experience. Even though the brand now has 500-plus stores around the world, the Kiehl’s brand team recreates the look and feel of the original New York boutique wherever you find the brand.

Why would Kiehl’s have a vintage motorcycle in their store? Because it’s core to the story and the brand’s visual expression. The trademark vintage Ducati motorcycle is there because the founder liked the brand. Just another detail that differentiates Kiehl’s from all other skin care businesses.

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The brand also maintains its close ties with the medical community from which it was born. As such, Mr. Bones (the skeleton you see in every store) serves to pay homage to the industry.

6. Word-of-Mouth. L’Oreal has faithfully adhered to the founding family approach of not advertising the Kiehl’s brand. For Kiehl’s, it’s all about the ‘pull’ of word-of-mouth. Creating beautiful interesting stores, wonderful products and living its philosophy of purpose beyond profit compels customers to do their advertising for them as one by one they share Kiehl’s with their friends.

7. Sampling. Kiehl’s diehards know one of the most fun things about going to Kiehl’s is snapping up all the samples. Each year they distribute over 40 million samples from their range of 300+ products. When you leave with your purchase, you’ll also be going home with at least three trial size samples to introduce you to another element of their range (knowing you’ll also spread the word to your friends).

8. Benevolence. Kiehl’s just doesn’t give to multiple causes, it participates. And there’s a difference (for today’s more discerning customers) between just writing the check and demonstrating your commitment.

Community service is in the DNA of the brand. It dates back to WWI when John Kiehl’s donated cream to soldiers for their dry, chapped hands. Kiehl’s Gives is the name of their global CSI initiatives worldwide, and their focus is threefold: HIV AIDS, children’s causes
and environmental issues.

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9. Bonding. Beyond customers interacting with Keihl’s, the brand is a platform for its advocates to share with one another – through Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.

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10. Bold. The brand continues to surprise and delight, by adding new collections, addressing new concerns, and delivering on its mission “to improve in some way the quality of the community…making for better citizens, better firms, and better communities.”

No matter how the healthcare landscape evolves, it will greatly be shaped by the rise of consumerism. And in this environment, brand has a value and resonance that is quite meaningful. Which means healthcare leaders and their teams must be able to see the world through a new lens of possibility. The ability to see the world like Kiehl’s.





Eric Brody

Eric Brody is President of Trajectory, the specialist health & wellness branding and marketing agency using every moment as an opportunity to move customers, brands and businesses upward to a new destination.