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Lauder: Clinique success depends on embracing tech while staying true to brand

October 7, 2014, 7:05 PM UTC
Stuart Isett/Fortune Most Powerful Women

It’s not an easy trick to keep a 46-year-old beauty brand like Clinique relevant in an era when new, hipper cosmetics and skincare brands are popping up all the time.

The key is to find the balance between staying true to what it made an essential product in the first place, all while embracing innovation and the new way customers shop for beauty, according to Jane Lauder, Global Brand President, and grand-daughter of the founder of Clinique’s parent company, Estée Lauder Cos. (EL)

“Brands are born, not created,” Lauder said at Fortune‘s Most Powerful Women Summit in Laguna Niguel, California in her first public comments since being tapped in April to head one of Estée Lauder’s two biggest brands (the other being the namesake.)

Clinique was introduced in 1968 to fill a gap in the market by providing women with no-fuss, high-quality skin care products that cleanse, exfoliate and moisturize. The company has managed to update the brand with innovations that have stayed true to that spirit- Clinique has been reformulated with new technologies. It seems to be working: last quarter, Clinique again was in the top 10 best selling high-end beauty products in the U.S.

At the same, Clinique has shown the value of embracing e-commerce and making it a big part of the shopping experience, at a time upstarts like Birchbox are blooming and online sales of beauty products are growing four times faster than retail sales. The key to success is to merge online and offline shopping seamlessly, Lauder said, holding Nordstrom (JWN) as an example of a retailer deftly doing both.

“It’s fun to buy make-up online,” said Lauder. “It’s even more fun to go into a store and buy it.” But the best is the ability to go either way as desired.

Though she’s only six months into the job, Lauder says she is fielding a lot of questions as to whether she’d one day want to take the corner office and run the family business, bringing it back under the direct management of a Lauder. (The current CEO of Estée Lauder Cos is Procter & Gamble alum Fabrizio Freda, who in 2009 replaced scion William Lauder, now executive chairman.)

“I don’t know what the future holds,” the self-admittedly shy Lauder said, before citing an Emily Dickinson quote about the future being made up of a series of “nows.”

Still, she acknowledged the influence of her grandmother Estée in how she runs the business. And also that she is being closely watched, given her lineage.

“It’s about setting an example for everyone else in the company,” said Lauder.