Deciem, Brand Transparency and "Going Rogue"

February 21, 2018 Ophelie Zalcmanis-Lai

Can we talk about Deciem for a second?

For those who aren’t in the know, Deciem is the cult beauty brand behind names like The Ordinary and Niod. It’s known for being super affordable (hello $7 serums) and for its emphasis on heavy scientific jargon (that’s actually really important to understand so you choose skin care that’s more effective for your skin – you’re welcome).

The brand has long been known to forgo “the rules,” from its extra-long social media copy to its positioning of beauty products like health care items.  

Fans have accepted it. They’ve forgiven the product stocking issues and have remained loyal.

Until about last week. When people were actually burning their stuff in garbage cans (seriously). 

Well, the brand’s CEO Brandon Truaxe took over the company’s Instagram and posted some seriously unfiltered content. From being accused of taking jabs at other brands, breaking business partnerships and allegedly racist comments, fans began questioning their loyalty. 

There’s transparency. And then there’s, well, this.

This is what captured our minutes this week. Here’s why:

We’re beginning to wonder if there’s such a thing as too much transparency. Oversharing. TMI?!

Transparency is good. We’re not unsure when it comes to that part of it. In fact, transparency builds trust and trust builds sustained brand success.

Still, a big part of this whole situation comes down to Truaxe not having enough of a filter (btw, he said he was cancelling all company marketing plans).

And this is where it gets messy.

On one hand, transparency is a must. That’s a given. Not only do customers love a “behind-the-scenes” look at their favourite brands, but it’s a major way to develop a connection with a customer beyond just the transaction.

Harvard Business Review explains how trust in the age of transparency works:

The truth is that transparency is something that a company mostly controls and that mostly reassures its customers. By giving people a window into its workings, a company can show it has a sound process that it’s adhering to. It can avoid asking customers to have faith in a black box. The greater the transparency, in other words, the greater the trust.

Yet in this case, it feels a bit like audiences are being inundated with videos announcing this, cutting that, donating this to right some wrongs (IE: Deciem donating $25,000 to Save the Elephants).

Perhaps there’s too much of a good thing.

The problem with too much transparency in this case is that it’s beginning to give off a whiff of insincerity because it’s all super reactive. People comment and something happens in response.

It’s not an option to ignore your customers – ever. But there’s also merit in balancing responsiveness with responsibility. We’re not about to say there’s no way Deciem can come through on all these promises.

But if this is the way the brand wants to continue to operate its social media, we hope it follows its words with actions (and proof of those actions).

See, making all these claims is great. We’re glad the brand is so nimble that it can make these adjustments in order to serve its customers better.

That said, things like this take time. It presents a question of scalability. Often times, startups fall victim to desiring too much growth too fast.

From reports, this is a department where Deciem has made both promising but also negative progress.

Deciem was founded in 2013, but its real growth happened in the last 1-2 years. It went from 100 employees to 500. It also brought on Estée Lauder as a minority investor. It launched a perpetually sold out foundation. It made its products available on Sephora (also frequently sold out, not to mention empty shelves in stores).

The problem with fast growth, which may sound obvious, is that when you don’t have the operations to withstand such growth issues are going to arise. The better option is to slow that expansion by focusing on operations.

Forbes explains how not doing this can lead to losing touch with customers (which may be happening in the case of Deciem):

When you’re growing quickly, it’s really important to make sure your customers are happy. When sales are up, it’s easier to get sloppy with products and services. In fact, it is terrifyingly easy for customer service to fall flat. Even if you’re winning new customers, your old ones may be becoming dissatisfied. This leads to customer retention issues.

So, all of this, coupled with all the promises being made on Instagram, is starting to feel like a bit too much. It’s over transparent in a way that makes us sigh and think “ah, here we go again.” Almost like, great – what else is next?

It begins to lose its sincerity the more it becomes a spectacle. Will those OG customers stay loyal? We don’t know.

Again, we preface all this concern by re-iterating we’re not saying that Deciem won’t come through. Rather, we’re simply explaining the legitimate worry that some fans are having.

At the end of the day, big moves have to be made with plans and purpose.

Brands can’t talk at customers – they actually have to converse with them.

Also, actions taken can’t be reduced to “we’re doing it because we can.” When it comes from the latter, the brand’s identity and beliefs become cloudy because people will start asking for the motive behind it all. Are you cutting to go rogue and be that renegade? Really, the question should be less about how to be a renegade and more about what purpose that renegade serves in the long run.

In the meantime, we’ll be watching.

At the end of the day, people engage with content by lending their minutes. Content is successful when its battery is fully charged with attention.

What will win this week?

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