The Smiley face, a yellow circle with two black lines for eyes and an upturned squiggle of a mouth, turns 50 this year. Yet it doesn’t have one single wrinkle. In fact, if anything, Smiley — a signifier of kindness — has never seemed fresher or more of the moment than it is today for beauty brands, corporations and retailers alike.
All are increasingly keen to embrace and convey kindness in their corporate cultures, branding and marketing statements. And while kindness as a concept isn’t not necessarily easy to quantify on a balance sheet or an income statement, all agree it makes good business sense.
“Aside from making a stronger and more productive workforce, the science behind kindness and acts of kindness — either giving or receiving — [shows it] modulates the neuroendocrine system and reduces inflammation in the body,” said Brent Ridge, a cofounder of Beekman 1802, the microbiome-focused skin care brand centered around goat milk — and kindness.
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“Those things manifest how your skin looks and how every cell in your body ages,” he continued. “It actually does have physiological benefits to your body.”
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Further, in a workforce, where employees sometimes haven’t met each other in person, it’s more important than ever to have a commonality.
“It can’t always just be around a number or a KPI. There has to be a personal connection. Kindness is one of those things that can be a connector for your employees,” according to Ridge.
Kind acts are not new to the beauty industry, but the pace of them has picked up steam since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic two years ago.
The Secret deodorant brand, from its founding in 1956, has had as its mission to empower women to deal with high-stress moments. Starting in the first phase of the recent health crisis, Secret chose to continue standing up for equal pay and representation as women were increasingly having to choose between their professional lives and taking care of their children.
For part of its push, Secret teamed with the YWCA for the “Superhero Mom” campaign. In the video, mothers are interviewed about the hardships they face during the pandemic vis-à-vis childcare, their kids spoke about their super-human moms and the brand granted the women a full year of paid childcare.
“What we loved about it so much is that this impacted real women that were dealing with the struggles of the pandemic on the front lines,” said Christopher Talbott, senior brand director, global Secret and Gillette deodorant at Procter & Gamble. “Our fight toward gender equality didn’t take a backseat or go backward.”
He said Secret has evolved how it measures the impact of acts of kindness and forces for good. The primary way is qualitative, through frequently speaking with women.
“So it’s not always about: ‘Hey, have sales increased?’” Talbott said. “Sixty-two percent of consumers want companies to stand up for issues they’re passionate about.”
Other quantifiable ways to measure success of a campaign are equity studies and brand-health trackers.
“Kindness is something that we prioritize number one, two and three,” he continued. “We know it’s what our consumers and employees want, and so we’ll continue fighting for that cause.”
Simple, the Unilever-owned skin care label, in the U.K. has been running an Acts of Kindness Community Board online as part of a project with Kindness.org, the global nonprofit built on the belief that kindness is an essential ingredient in social change. The campaign has the stated aim of “helping the nation become a better Britain.” People have written: “I am going to buy food for a stranger.” “I am going to praise a work colleague.” “I am going to ask how a friend is doing.” “I am going to take time to listen to a friend.”
“Kindness is at the heart of Simple’s philosophy — and we believe in clean and kind skin care that works,” said Guy Linnegar, marketing manager of Simple U.K. and Ireland. “The pandemic has highlighted the importance of kindness, and how the little things can make a big difference, which is why we decided to partner with Kindness.org and [TV and radio presenter] Mollie King in 2021 to continue to build on this philosophy.”
Nadav Klein, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD, said small acts of kindness can pack a big punch.
“What we find is that being just a little bit nice has the greatest return,” he said. “If you think about it, the more kind I am, the more altruistic, the more it’s costly for me to do that. If I’m doing you a big favor, it’s more costly than if I’m doing a small favor. But we find that people evaluate others who do small favors just as positively as others who do big favors, which would suggest there is a premium on being a little bit nice.
“If you’re a little bit nice to people, it really pays off over time,” continued Klein. “You can easily create a very positive reputation among people.”
On a personal level, carrying out acts of kindness can make people happier and give more meaning to life, he said.
Kindness is an important factor in-store, too. Eric Costa, chief executive officer of Citynove, the real estate arm of Galeries Lafayette Group, realized that retailing strategies needed to shift, after speaking with an elevator mechanic. Whereas in the past, the ground-floor button was the one to break down the most, since everyone needs ultimately to leave a shop, the close-door button was now most out of order.
“The most pressed was the door-closing button to gain 10 seconds,” he mused. “Fifteen years ago, no one used this button. It’s heavy with meaning, but also symptomatic of a stress that’s linked to digital, that everything has accelerated. Suddenly, we can no longer bear to waste time.”
Costa and his team had to consider what would make people leave their homes for a physical store, instead of purchasing online. Their idea: Shopping in brick-and-mortar had to become like a leisure-time activity.
“We have to create for our customers a feeling of positive emotion, of well-being,” he explained. That can come from more open and light-filled spaces and — what’s key — building up relationships with customers, who then feel loved.
“We have an unlimited resource, which is the kindness of our employees, of our teams,” Costa said. “They are not a limited resource like cash or capex.”
His group has worked with semiologists, symbologists and magicians to conjure up positive emotions on the customer journey. That can be through aesthetic choices taken. Citynove is working with Japan’s TeamLab on an in-store, interactive digital project involving a poetic landscape, for example.
“We will create these positive emotions by making small axes of kindness,” Costa said.
Some random acts of kindness include washing peoples’ cars parked in a store’s lot.
“It will contribute to making the magic of the location,” Costa said.
Meanwhile, some beauty workplaces are becoming kinder.
One executive, for instance, said that an ethos of kindness has been cultivated at Coty Inc., since Sue Nabi’s arrival as CEO in September 2020. Caroline Andreotti, executive vice president global travel retail at the company, described this as “kindness with people in the organization, accepting what is different and being very inclusive as a leader, [being] kind to the planet with the philosophy she has around products.”
Phil Lewis, an organizational development consultant and founder of Corporate Punk, speaking of the increasing emphasis on kindness in workplaces, said: “In simple terms, you’ve got an acknowledgement going on post-pandemic that the way a lot of organizations have worked and treated their people isn’t necessarily going to be sustainable for them going forward.”
Gen Z and Millennials have a heightened consciousness around corporate conduct, and digital media creates most organizations’ porous nature.
“So poor treatment of staff now has opportunities to leak out in the way that it didn’t previously,” Lewis said. “Organizations that treat people well tend to hang on to them longer.”
Kindness also gives employees a higher energy level, so their pace of innovation and productivity go up.
He thinks most human beings are wired for good, but maintained: “It is really difficult to build scalable organizations that are actually capable of treating people on the planet kindly — for all sorts of reasons to do with the fact that we need systems and processes that create uniformity in working. [There’s] the fact that we’ve got shareholders and incentives that trend toward profitability and growth at all costs and the fact that almost all organizations are tyrannical to some extent because they have to be, because there has to be a received way of doing things. You can’t have everyone just doing what they want — it’s complete anarchy.”
However, Lewis believes the smartest people in business are starting to work it out despite the tensions and challenges.
“My sense is that a lot of organizations are at a very early stage in their exploration of this,” he continued. “What is happening is everybody’s kind of emerging into the sunlight after COVID-19 and is going: ‘What the hell are we going to do now?’”
Beekman, seemingly, has already nailed it.
The brand was founded by husband-and-husband team Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell from their Sharon Springs, N.Y., farm in 2009. Years ago, after losing their jobs, the couple relocated to upstate New York and said “yes” when a neighboring farmer put a note in their mailbox saying he sought refuge for his 100 goats.
“We always say that we started with a single act of kindness,” Ridge said.
The farmer brought them goat milk, and Ridge and Kilmer-Purcell began making soap out of it and researching into how the milk nourishes skin’s microbiome.
Beekman calls all its microbiome-friendly skin care “clinically kind skin care.” “If you look at the ingredient deck on the back of every bottle, kindness is actually listed as an ingredient,” Ridge said.
(Kindness has entered numerous brands’ product nomenclature, including Ellen DeGeneres’ Kind Science skin care brand and Rare Beauty’s Lip Soufflé Matte Lip Cream had the limited-edition shade Kindness.)
Kindness is at the core of Beekman’s corporate culture. Each new employee learns in orientation that the brand begins with kindness and visits the farm.
“Then every internal communication that we do really is around how we can treat each other more kindly in our sustainability efforts, how we can treat the world more kindly,” Ridge said. “That’s the lingo of our internal corporate culture.”
Beekman also gives employees eight hours yearly to do some sort of volunteer work and an annual company-wide kindness day to be kind to themselves, family or community.
The company’s Kindness Council was established last year and has as a perennial member Jaclyn Lindsey, a cofounder and CEO of Kindness.org. (Lindsey and Oliver S. Curry are conducting research around the development of a kindness quotient to assess the kindness of a corporate culture.)
Beekman has scored highly, and also conducts ongoing surveys of consumers, which it calls “neighbors.” The brand’s community is built up in numerous ways. There’s a live goat cam running 24/7.
“The goats represent those moments of kindness,” Ridge said. “Some people check in every day.”
Other community outreach includes Kindness Grants, micro-loans of up to $500 allowing people to spread a random act of kindness in their own community.
“So that our consumers can see how powerful kindness can be,” Ridge said.
Cards given after a consultation have little notes of kindness written on the back. And people keep making pilgrimages to the farm, which isn’t exactly easy to get to, and where there’s a baby goat tour and a kindness curriculum — a full-day immersion in kindness, with follow-up.
“The people who’ve taken that course become their own little community,” Ridge said.
Beekman’s business strategy has paid off in spades. On the monetary front, sales keep rising and in December 2021, Eurazeo Brands invested $62 million for a controlling stake in the company, alongside co-investors Cohesive Capital Partners and the Cherng Family Trust. In total, $92 million poured in.
Eurazeo was attracted to the brand due to its focus on self care and kindness. At the time of the deal, Adrianne Shapira, managing director at Eurazeo Brands, told WWD: “Self care is only gaining importance in a post-COVID-19 world — being kind to the planet, kind to your community, kind to yourself. Those are table stakes, frankly, and it is such a big part of Beekman’s DNA that it’s frankly a private equity’s dream.
“The goat is the hero, but to us, this is a unicorn brand,” she continued.
Meanwhile, for Beekman, the focus on kindness remains.
“The beauty industry — it’s not always something that you think about necessarily as being kind, but I think that is getting better,” Ridge said. “Certainly, a lot of beauty brands are speaking about mental health and being accepting of one’s self, but a lot of times people can see the beauty industry as being somewhat judgmental.
“This idea of self-kindness and the way that you treat yourself creates a ripple effect,” he said. “That’s how it spreads around the world.”
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