Our conviction has been tested but it has helped build SUGAR as a brand: Kaushik Mukherjee

The COO & Co-founder of SUGAR Cosmetics shares insights from the seven-year journey of building the brand, the evolving TG, the increasing competition and much more

by Ritika Raj
Published - July 15, 2022
5 minutes To Read
Our conviction has been tested but it has helped build SUGAR as a brand: Kaushik Mukherjee

SUGAR cosmetics - a disruptor brand that stepped foot in the BPC category in 2015 completes seven years today. As part of the 7-year anniversary celebrations, the brand is indulging in various social media initiatives with the aim to make its consumers a part of the shenanigans.

Speaking to exchange4media on the occasion of the 7th anniversary, Kaushik Mukherjee, COO & Co-founder, SUGAR Cosmetics shared that the brand doesn’t want to only do aggressive PR around announcing the milestone but rather include the consumers who have made this possible.

Says Mukherjee, “We feel passion and gratitude, given how competitive the market is, we would have not been here, had our customers not chosen to continue to support us over the years.” The brand has been actively running social media initiatives from the beginning of the month starting with a birthday celebration AR filter on Instagram, gradually moving to other mediums and trying different ways.

For a D2C company like SUGAR, the brand-building journey has been guided by perfecting the product and attractive pricing. “We knew we wanted to create a brand but we didn't have a manual, which had steps in a particular sequence. In the early days, we used to push out our products and wait for feedback and for people to come and repeat purchases.”

According to Mukherjee, over the years there were many instances and opportunities that risked changing the very personality of the brand, including pressure from the market to discount products and launch newer products that didn't fit the brand ethos. “We were stubborn in the initial days and stuck to a certain band of price points as we were very clear on what we did not want to build. Our conviction has been tested in the past but it has helped build SUGAR as a brand for the young Gen Z and millennials. We started as a D2C brand only, but today we are a digital native and an omnichannel brand.”

Marketing SUGAR To The Right Consumer

Initially, SUGAR started off as a brand targeting the young, internet-friendly audience that often got neglected by leading cosmetic brands. Over the time, the target audience for the brand has broadened at a really fast pace. In the last five years, with increasing content consumption, exposure to make up has moved up by almost almost a decade and so has the usage.

Talking about the evolving TG and how the brand caters to it, Mukherjee adds: “When the age of usage becomes 21-22 instead of a traditionally said 30, the same products don't work. You need to experiment with the product and come up with different formulations but none of the existing brands could do that at that time because it would be a bit controversial and antagonizing for the existing customer base.” India is an aspirational market where beyond a point, consumers are ready to pay the price but the value has to be two times. According to Mukherjee, the brand has managed to straddle that niche of catering to the younger audience and offering long-lasting products, which has helped the brand position and build over a period of seven years.

In a vast and diverse market like India, it becomes extremely important for brands to profile their consumers to be able to market to them differently. Shares Mukherjee, “While marketing, we obsess a lot about who we're marketing to. Unless we choose who we want to talk to, we're going to end up spraying and praying and it's not going to work. With a lot of unorganized trade purchases becoming more organized, consumers are looking up to more aspirational brands and moving up the price ladder. When we look at our consumer base, a lot of them are not first-time makeup users but someone who is moving from a mass segment to a value premium segment and that’s what SUGAR is built on.” He also shared that the brand keeps experimenting with various product ranges at different price points to keep track of the audience’s pulse but the core of the brand remains the eight-to-ten dollar lipsticks as that’s where the market is moving towards.

Omnichannel Route & Mapping Competition

Currently, SUGAR’s 60% sales come from its retail stores across the length and breadth of the country as compared to a pre-pandemic 35%. However, the majority of the product and brand discovery happens online. Mukherjee believes that with online sales channels being limited in number, the real potential for expansion lies on the retail front and adds, “Because we have that lever to open up retail stores, there is a good chance that this 60-40 ratio may over the next few years become 65-35. We want our digital to continue to scale and hold on to 35% to 40% because ultimately, a lot of our consumers first interact with us online. With TV coming into the frame last year, there was a stretch in our awareness beyond the digital-first but still 60% of our consumers find us online.” The brand currently has about 109 dedicated retail stores around the country and enjoys presence across 41000 stores and retail chains.

Commenting on dealing with the growing competition in the BPC category, Mukherjee shares, “We have a team that tracks competition very closely to learn from them as well, then take out a product roadmap. We are trying to grow and become big but not lose the agility, which has brought us here. But overall, the first five years of building the company, we kept hearing that this is a niche market, so a part of me is very happy when we see new competition and new brands because at least when you reach out to potential investors, nobody can say that it's a small market because it's not. Especially, in India, eventually it will not be a small market. It's just that adoption takes time.”