Growing brands through seeding spaces

Image: Oribe

Image: Oribe

For premium ‘third spaces’ – the places that exist between the two core social environments of the home and the workplace –  to thrive in the experience economy, they must offer a superior experience at every touchpoint. This includes elevating even the hygiene factors; and for gyms, hotels and even planes, these are quite literally hygiene factors: complimentary toiletries.

When positioned correctly, toiletry products can do more than add to experience, they can actually drive a positive halo effect for the brand (and receive one in return). For example, luxury fitness company Equinox set itself apart from the competition 10 years ago through a $10m-a-year partnership with Kiehl’s; more recently, British Airways made waves with its White Company partnership for its business class amenities.

In these collective spaces, toiletry brands can help cue a host of qualities – luxury, provenance, rarity – and can reinforce and embed the space’s own brand identity, especially since scent is so heavily linked to memory. Take the Mandarin Oriental in Paris, aligning itself with the French heritage of the Diptyque brand, while also ensuring guests have a lavish bathing experience.

For the toiletry brands themselves, the corporate buyer is big business and holds real commercial value from the sheer economy of scale that the partnerships offer. But the value of these partnerships goes beyond the financial; it offers lessons in distribution that brands outside the toiletry industry could learn from.

Third spaces are increasingly areas where brands can tap into a specific lifestyle, a defined sub-culture or a particular identity they want to be associated with. Social spaces offer a direct line to the aspirational target that brands want to be seen with, and when working best, can help build a brand organically through adjacent associations.

For example, attendees of a Barry’s Bootcamp class (paying £22 per session) can experience luxury Oribe hair care once they hit the showers. While luxury shampoo may not spring to mind when thinking of sweat, the brands do share a consumer base with similar values, as CEO of Barry’s Joey Gonzalez explains: “Both Barry's and Oribe appeal to discerning consumers and are seen as some of the most high-performing and luxurious brands within their respective industries.”

When one brand continually pops up in people’s lives, seamlessly integrated into the fabric of their everyday, it somehow feels more relevant, more personable and ultimately reflective of individuals identity – this soft power is a strong motivator to purchase. 

Aesop’s seeding strategy is the epitome of this approach, using third spaces to align with creative individuals in cool up-and-coming areas. Careful distribution and shrewd partnerships means placing stores in niche areas and getting products into target customers’ shared spaces, be that WeWork, new restaurants or trendy hotels.

For Aesop, and other brands like it, understanding your consumers’ cultural touch points and being present within them is fundamental to building equity in people’s mind – or ‘mental availability’, as Byron Sharp would put it. Looking beyond the places where people purchase products and towards culture and the spaces where people actually use them can be a powerful route to seeding a brand identity with leading edge consumers (who then influence those around them). Other brands, particularly within FMCG, could learn from these examples to use leisure spaces as a platform to build associations within culture.

Olivia Galvin, Flamingo