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Case Study | How to Launch and Grow a Hero Product

Despite the fast pace of makeup, skin care and haircare launches, it’s the brands with iconic, best-in-class products that dominate categories season after season. Executives from Nars, Too Faced and Tarte deconstruct how their brands’ best-sellers became heroes that scaled into volume- and revenue-driving franchises.
How to launch and grow a hero product case study cover
BoF breaks down the hero product strategies of Nars, Tarte and Too Faced in our latest case study

Key insights

  • Hero products, or best-sellers, often account for up to 30 percent of a beauty brand’s revenue.
  • First and foremost, the long-lasting success of a hero product hinges on the quality of its formula, timing and a bit of luck.
  • To protect a hero franchise, beauty labels must invest in smart product extensions and always-on marketing.
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When makeup artist François Nars was dreaming up a blush collection for his namesake beauty brand in the late 1990s, the founder was fundamentally hoping to launch shades to put in his own makeup kit that he couldn’t find elsewhere.

“There was no grand plan or a meticulous strategy behind it,” recalled Nars, of the global cosmetics company that he founded with a collection of lipsticks in 1994.

But Nars did have the clever idea of naming his forthcoming blushes after emotions, not only giving customers a sensorial image of what to expect when they applied his products but also making it easy to remember each item’s name. Among the 12 shades rolled out in 1999 was Orgasm, a pinky peach blush with shimmer.

Orgasm provided Nars with what countless other beauty and fashion brands strive for — an iconic, easily identifiable item that withstands the test of time and essentially becomes synonymous with the brand itself. Hero products of this sort are important for not only their marketing power, but also their ability to drive sales. As of 2023, Nars has 62 SKUs, but Orgasm still accounted for 23 percent of sales volume in the US and 7 percent globally.

More Than a One-Hit Wonder

Of course, hero products are not unique to the beauty industry. In fashion, for instance, there’s Chanel’s iconic 2.55 handbag that features a chain link strap and a mademoiselle lock. Over at Nike, it’s Michael Jordan’s Air Jordan sneaker that transformed the company from a running brand to a basketball giant, while Levi’s has its always-in-style 501 jeans.

As this case study shows, developing a hero product in beauty requires a combination of factors, ranging from the quality of the product to the marketing discipline underpinning it, as well as, in some cases, luck.

But there are nuances even within a sector that can impact a hero’s ability to scale. For example, skin care best-sellers are generally the result of effective formulas and rabid consumer loyalty. Hero cosmetics typically fall in a volume-driving category like eye, face or complexion, with customers buying the item repeatedly. Cosmetics have the added hurdle of needing to evolve with cultural trends like “no makeup” makeup, contouring or whatever else happens to be in season.

But for any product to become beloved, it has to deliver on its promises and transform how customers look and feel about themselves at the same time.

Along with Nars, executives from Tarte and Too Faced provide insight about the evolution of their hero product strategies, laying bare how brands can identify heroes within their assortment and take advantage of these potential best-sellers.

At Too Faced, the brand’s volumising Better Than Sex mascara came 15 years after the beauty label was founded in California in 1998. For Tarte, its hero product is the Shape Tape concealer, a buildable face product that could be used as a foundation, contour and, yes, a concealer, which transformed the entire line’s trajectory. As with Orgasm, shoppers have not grown tired of these items, continuing to buy them through multiple trend cycles.

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