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‘We have always been a brand built on word of mouth. Now, it’s just bigger,’ says Bobbi Brown, seen here in a 2007 file photo.


Persuasion Notebook offers quick hits on the business of persuasion from The Globe and Mail's marketing and advertising reporter, Susan Krashinsky. Read more on The Globe's marketing page and follow Susan on Twitter @Susinsky .

The cosmetics company she built may have courted fame so quickly that giant Estee Lauder purchased it just a few years after launch, in 1995; and it is proving its longevity after 22 years, and it is closing in on being a $1-billion brand within the next year and a half. But because her name is not synonymous with makeup – the way that Kleenex is tissue or Band-Aid is for bandages – and as long as she isn't a "brandnomer," Ms. Brown insists she is not a brand in the flesh.

Those who have followed her marketing trajectory might disagree. The makeup line has become famous, and celebrities as diverse as Yogi Berra, Mick Jagger, and Kate Middleton have given it the Midas touch of unpaid endorsement over the years. The Duchess of Cambridge, one of the most-watched style icons of the moment, picked Bobbi Brown products when she did her own makeup for the blockbuster broadcast event that was her wedding, and the company's makeup artists worked on her sister and mother for the day.

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"We haven't gone after it [celebrity endoresement]. It's been very organic," she said. "We've been very lucky."

Ahead of her presentation at the C2MTL conference in Montreal on Wednesday, Ms. Brown shared her tips for marketing a brand that lasts:

1) Have a clear vision. Ms. Brown started out as a makeup artist when the vogue was to blanch out the skin tone, streak on blush in a rather severe way, and paint lips in bright colours – a very sculptured look. Instead, she preferred an "outdoorsy, fresh" look. She has been credited with launching the trend of a more natural look (which of course, is not entirely natural, but achieved with makeup techniques.)

"I started doing what I thought was most pretty," Ms. Brown said.

Like fashion, makeup trends change very regularly, but she said she refuses to do the same. "We never have to have those conversations because we're true to who we are."

2) Don't be too stuck on that vision. The company has benefitted from the rise of social media, Ms. Brown said, because it allows consumers to communicate more frequently, and more directly, with the people behind the products they use. Recently after the launch of a new eyeshadow palette, a fan took to Twitter to say that she liked the colours, but pointed out that there was only a very light and a very dark option. They responded by making a medium.

"Being completely open to changing direction when necessary" is crucial, she said. "We have always been a brand built on word of mouth. Now, it's just bigger."

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That flexibility is key in marketing to disparate markets, as well. Ms. Brown has worked with models from around the world, so it did not take a lot of work to understand different skin tones for her products. But there are local differences that companies need to respond to: in her case, it's understanding that in Singapore, customers require better long-wear makeup because of the humidity. Or knowing that the Chinese customer likes to apply a number of products before she gets to the makeup.

3) Sweat the small stuff. Years ago some "corporate people" (unnamed) told Ms. Brown she had to let go of the little details if she wanted to run a company effectively. She believes her brand might not have survived if she had taken that advice. "I still name my products. I still care if the container doesn't open a certain way," she said.

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