Founded in 1976 by twins Jean and Jane Ford, Benefit Cosmetics was known for its first 15 years as “The Face Place”. Most identifiable by their famous “benetint” — a rose-colored blush, lip, and nipple tint — Benefit Cosmetics started out quite small.
Though it sounds stranger than fiction, the twins’ decision to open their beauty boutique was based on the outcome of a coin toss. It was either cosmetics or a casserole cafe — an outcome I’m sure they appreciated when Benefit became a world-renowned brand by the 90s.
In 2021, Benefit products are available in more than 30 countries around the world and the brand has counters at the likes of big-name stores such as Sephora, Boots, and Douglas. Plus, they sell more than just lip tint now — offering skincare, fragrances, accessories, and more.
So, how did this small, family-run beauty business become one of the most recognizable cosmetics brands in the world? Let’s dive in.
Benefit’s Journey to Success
Source: Professional Beauty
Twins Jean and Jane Ford were born on a farm in Northern Indianapolis in 1947. After attending Indiana University, the sisters moved to San Francisco, where they became successful models and makeup artists.
In 1976, their now-famous coin flip took place — heads for a casserole cafe, tails for a beauty boutique. And with that momentous decision made, they opened “The Face Place” in San Francisco’s Mission District.
From nipple tint to lip plumping gloss, The Face Place slowly but surely grew in success and celebrity over the next 15 years. In 1990, they rebranded to “Benefit Cosmetics” and opened their first Benefit counter at Henri Bendel, a well-known department store in NYC.
By 1997 they’d made it across the pond, opening their first Benefit counter at Harrods in London. Officially an international brand, Benefit didn’t slow down at all. Shortly after the brand went global, they launched the Benefit Cosmetics website — making the products more accessible to consumers all over the world.
In 1999, everything changed for the Ford twins when Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH) noticed and acquired their brand. With both added prestige and a good deal more financial backing, Benefit was able to soar to even greater heights.
In 2003, Benefit opened its first “Brow Bar” — a boutique that specialized in brow shaping — in San Francisco’s Macy’s Union Square. From here on out, Benefit became known for its brow-expertise — and even won a Guinness World Record in 2012 for “the most eyebrow waxes performed in 8 hours by a team”.
2008 saw the addition of Jean’s daughters, Maggie & Annie, to the team — who focused on opening more stores worldwide and growing their Home Shopping Network business. Bringing “vibrancy and passion” to the brand, the newest members of Benefit served as a source of inspiration and got the creative juices flowing.
For decades, Benefit Cosmetics has been dedicated to uplifting the lives of women around the world, seen in their slogan “Laughters is the best cosmetic”. Coined by Jean in 1995, a phrase that signalled a fundamental shift in the industry that could now embrace women — smiling, laughing and empowered by cosmetics
This support of women is encapsulated in the brand’s 2015 philanthropy initiative, the Bold is Beautiful Project, which partners with organizations and charities around the world that empower women and girls.
In 2021, Benefit Cosmetics has over 2000 counters worldwide and can claim honors such as their “Hoola Matte Bronzer” having achieved "cult-favorite fame". But most importantly, Benefit remains a brand that lives to uplift women — a legacy that is carried on to this day.
So, what can you learn from this fun-loving beauty brand? Let’s see.
What Can You Learn from Benefit?
Making it in the beauty industry is a feat unto itself. Overcrowded and cutthroat, most brands don’t survive long enough to tell their tale.
So how was Benefit Cosmetics able to thrive in the beauty industry over the last 45 years? And what can other brands learn from their journey and subsequent success?
1. Nothing Replaces Passion
There are many reasons why the Benefit brand has been such as success, but one of the most notable is the founder’s passion for what they do.
Building the Benefit brand was always about more than just making money and having a successful business. The sisters loved their jobs and they worked hard every day to make other women happy.
Creating new products was never a chore, but an exciting opportunity to provide high-quality products that made their customers smile. The twins always began with a need — asking themselves what problem their products could solve for consumers.
To identify these requirements and desires, the brand used consumer data — which, subsequently, allowed them to create products that spoke directly to their consumers’ needs.
By taking a solution-driven approach and infusing it with their passion for their business, Benefit has been able to create unique, innovative products that consumers absolutely adore.
The takeaway? When it comes to careers, not everyone is lucky enough to find their passion. And for the average person, that’s just fine. But for those that want to found their own business? Launching a brand you’re not passionate about often leads to lackluster results.
So, before you decide to start your own brand, ask yourself whether or not this is something you’re really interested in. If not, it might make sense to go back to the drawing board.
2. Put Aside Ego & Reap the Rewards
For many people, it can be tempting to let ego get the best of you — especially if you've encountered a good bit of success.
But one of the most important lessons to be learned from Benefit Cosmetics is that ego has no place in a truly creative space. By opening up the floor to others’ ideas and giving them the same weight as your own, you’re far more likely to come out the other side with unique, creative ideas.
In an interview with HuffPost, Jean and Jane explained the process behind their Thursday morning product naming sessions, saying:
“There are usually about ten of us gathered around our tin table, munching on Skittles and M&M’s. The process is always done by democracy, everyone needs to buy into the name, whether it’s a product name or shade name.
“Everyone votes, there are no egos and when we get it right everyone just lights up. We start by blurting out name ideas and then we vote thumbs up or thumbs down for our favorites.”
By removing ego from the equation and opening up the floor to other voices, the sisters were able to find a process that brought out the best in everyone. From their “Dr. Feelgood'' face balm to their “BROWVO! Conditioning Eyebrow Primer”, there’s a sense of joy and levity that makes their products stand out from the crowd.
The takeaway? Consider opening up the floor to other voices in your own brand and try to check your ego at the door. For creativity to flow, people need to feel comfortable speaking up and sharing their ideas. That can’t happen without creating a truly safe and open atmosphere.
3. Stay True to Your Brand Message
Something the most successful brands in the world have in common? No matter what happened, they always stayed true to their brand message.
In a recent interview with aeworld, Maggie and Annie provide insight into how the brand is fairing in 2021. When asked about what challenges they face today, Maggie explained:
“We have to stay true to who we are in terms of our message. Because it is enticing to want to jump on a trend or jump on the bandwagon of what is causing sales to happen right now.
“At the end of the day, trends come and go and at Benefit, we try to not attach ourselves too strongly to those trends so that we will last. We want to be aware of what’s out there, but not get so caught up in it that we lose who we are.”
Riding the razor edge of remaining true to your brand message while keeping up with the times and innovating is a real art form. There will always be challenges that come along which force brands to either innovate or get left behind.
But that doesn’t mean that you have to jump on the bandwagon with trends if that’s not a part of your core brand message.
The takeaway? Make sure you have a very clear concept of your brand message — what it is, how it is applied to your daily operations, and the ways in which it makes your brand unique.
When you know what your brand stands for, it’s a lot easier to say no to trends that don’t serve you.
Benefit Cosmetics has always understood that to be truly successful, they had to be more than just a beauty brand. So, they fostered a community, created products that solved consumers’ problems, and let their joy and passion saturate every aspect of their business.
In the words of Peter Born from Women’s Wear Daily, "Benefit is a community forged out of a deep understanding of the human condition." Thus, if you’re looking to create a brand that follows in the footsteps of Benefit Cosmetics, keep our above tips in mind.
To learn how other successful beauty brands have made it big, check out our deep dives on household names like Pantene, Glossier, and Too Faced.
And if you need access to consumer data to steer your own product development, we suggest trying out brand monitoring. It provides you with access to all the reliable data and insights you need to get ahead.