Case Studies - Brand & Marketing - Personal care

Why Good Equals Great for Plum

As beauty and personal care brand Plum completes a decade of growth, founder Shankar Prasad explains the philosophy that has shaped its trajectory.

Plum beauty product range with yellow background

Pureplay Skin Sciences,the company behind beauty and personal care brand, Plum, entered its 10th year with a 71% increase in revenue, a topline of Rs. 322 crore, and a loss of Rs. 52.9 crore. 

Plum’s founder, Shankar Prasad, is an industry veteran, having spent 8 years at Unilever. We sat down with him to understand what it takes to build a brand in today’s fast-changing and competitive beauty industry – and why he thinks that Plum’s focus on ‘being good’ is a differentiator. 

The Constants of the Beauty Industry

Much has changed since Prasad founded Plum in 2014, but he points out that there are some fundamental constants, and anyone looking to enter this industry needs to be aware of them.

Multi-brand is a given: The beauty consumer will always have multiple brands on her shelf. The absolute number of brands she buys may have gone up, as the market has expanded, but the consumer always has and always will, seek different brands for different needs. 

Indian pride, global pull: The pride and propensity towards Indian products has gone up sharply, but Indians have always had a love affair with global brands and this will continue. This is true across industries – from cars to alcohol, fashion to beauty. In beauty particularly – from Moroccan argan oil to Korean beauty – consumers are aware of international trends.

Value-seeking, but will pay for quality: While there is no doubt that Indians are value-conscious and actively seek deals, they are willing to pay for quality. This trend has become more pronounced as younger consumers feel they ‘deserve better.’

Based on these hypotheses, Prasad saw the gap for a youthful brand that felt international, but offered India-accessible prices.

Positioned as an affordable luxury range, Plum launched with products across categories like kajal, shower gel and face and body creams. (In 2015, Prasad couldn’t find a manufacturer who could produce a sulphate-free shampoo).

The brand’s name, identity, packaging and product nomenclature draw from global cues and the customers are called Plumsters!

From its founding, Plum has emphasised that it is 100% vegan and cruelty-free (PETA-certified). Their products do not have any harmful parabens or phthalates. They have also vowed never to launch a fairness cream, never make false promises or sell ‘false-bottomed jars.’

Plum is also trying to move towards sustainable packaging and was recently awarded for its flexographic printed cartons.

Plum logos for no animal ingredients, no harmful chemicals, recycle and animal test free
Plum delivers its promise of goodness through no harmful ingredients, no harmful chemicals and no animal testing

The brand’s articulated purpose is to add goodness to the world. From working with WWF India to clear marine debris, to funding Project Blackboard and a Recycle and Reward program for empty containers, Plum actively seeks to make good on its promise.

Plum and Project blackboard logos with a group of schoolgirls in uniforms
Plum has launched an initiative called Project Blackboard to educate the girl child, in collaboration with Save the Children. A percentage of proceeds from sales of Plum products go towards this.

At the same time, Prasad is clear that Plum is about goodness that delivers. “Consumers will try a product, and if it doesn’t meet their needs, they will churn out,” he says. “At the end of the day, the benefit has to be crystal clear.”

This focus seems to have paid off. Research from 2016 to 2023 has consistently played back that consumers think of Plum as a brand with its heart in the right place. 

People have told me that ‘be good’ is so generic – what does it mean? I genuinely believe that it is a powerful principle. In all that we do – and all that we don’t – if we can think, do and be good, we will build a brand people want to be associated with. That is the journey. By its very nature, a journey that seeks to deliver goodness to billions is asymptotic – there is no final destination. Growth and financial achievements are critical, but they are milestones.

Shankar Prasad, Founder, Plum

The First D2C Brand

The beauty market has evolved significantly since Plum launched a decade ago, and the company has grown along with the ecosystem. 

In 2014, 4G had not rolled out and manufacturers would refuse to work with small MOQs. Plum is possibly the first Indian brand to have sold from its D2C site then. Logistics firm, Delhivery, would show up just to ship a single product, reminisces Prasad.

Cut to today, where barriers to entry have all but vanished, and discovery is happening almost entirely on digital media for urban customers. Plum has not invested significantly in any other media so far, and Prasad says that despite rising CACs and capricious channels, this is not likely to change in the near future. 

The brand has however, greatly expanded its offline reach. Besides a growing third party retail network, Plum has 30+ exclusive brand outlets, mostly in malls, where they can provide a tailored brand experience to customers who have come to browse and discover.

The Brand Portfolio

Plum’s 350+ strong product portfolio includes a range for men called Phy and a sub-brand called Plum BodyLovin’ for body care products. The rationale for the sub-brand is that body care demands strong sensorials and customers like to experiment with different products, flavours and fragrances. Skin care on the other hand, is focused on efficacy and customers are loyal to brands that they believe in. 

Bodylovin products in a pool on yellow lifesavers
Given that body care demands strong sensorials compared to skin care, Plum has launched a sub-brand called BodyLovin’

The Customer View is the Only View

On the wall in Prasad’s office hangs a poster that says “The customer view is the only view that matters” and he admits that they “watch customer reviews like hawks.”

These are the 8 ways of working that have been defined at Plum:

  1. Customer View is the Only View
  2. Think Like An Owner
  3. Fix The Process
  4. Learn & Lead; With Care & Respect
  5. Inspire Others
  6. Integrity Is A Given
  7. Go Beyond
  8. Give Back More

In all our conversations, Prasad emphasises the importance of a company culture that stresses attention to detail.  He shows us a prototype carton lying in his office, with a butterfly flap. “We included this to add a little point of delight,” he says, but then noticed that we had inadvertently introduced a spring effect and the carton wasn’t shutting perfectly. No one complained, but we replaced it from the next batch.” 

Plum is confident of growing at a 35%-40% CAGR in the near future. What about tactical short term goals and targets, I ask. How does Plum address them along with its long-term vision? Prasad admits this is a tough balancing act – one they work hard at cracking everyday and something that they haven’t yet mastered. However, he sees goodness as something that is integrated into, and not divorced from, their day-to day-business.

Today, with everything that is available, you can get to a 90% delight quotient quite easily. It is much harder to get to 95% and extremely tough to reach and maintain a 99% delight quotient. Batch after batch, year after year, category after category, to be consistently good is what makes a brand great. 

Shankar Prasad, Founder, Plum

5 Comments

    1. Hi Vineeta
      First, I am thrilled you read the story. Am a big fan. Second, we never do any paid promotions and I’m sorry you feel that way. Our objective is only to report on the different strategies founders, marketers and designers are using to build brands. In Plum’s case, it was the concept of goodness and we simply brought that to our readers.

  1. It’s cute to say stuff like we’ll never sell a fairness cream but no brand will do that in this day and age.

    Fairness got a rebrand but its very much still here. “Whitening” and “lightening” are now masked as “brightening” “evening skin tone” “boosting glow”.

    Niacinamide made Fair & Lovely / Glow & Lovely the no. 1 fairness cream it is. Plum sells has Niacinamide serums too. How is it different?

    It’s all semantics, don’t you think?

  2. Find your stories very helpful. I like the way you zoom into one thing that makes the brand different. As a founder, we are all trying to find that pot of gold

  3. Though I’ve seen Plum kiosks in malls , it’s nice to learn of their philosophy and the little delightful details that make a difference to an eco conscious and discerning customer . Promoted now to loiter and check their products

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