Deciem, the skin-care and makeup conglomerate known to fans as The Abnormal Beauty Company, has built a cult following, thanks to a social media presence that is unusually honest and rid of the marketing cliches that beauty brands are known for. Brandon Truaxe, who founded the company in Canada in 2013, calls it “an extreme lack of filter in communication.”
Centered on Instagram (297,000 followers), though carried across its Facebook and Twitter accounts, the company’s social strategy — or lack thereof, as co-CEO Nicola Kilner told Glossy — is reflective of its larger ode to transparency.
Whether discussing the ingredients used or the pricing of its products, Deciem preaches authenticity and is known for being more open about its business than most, going so far as to pull up its financials with reporters. Truaxe showed WWD in November that it expects to make between $120 and $150 million in net sales this year, and double that in 2018.
But numbers can always be embellished, and predictions too confident. So Deciem is also blunt about the challenges it faces, including trying to scale in the U.S. market with limited manufacturing capabilities.
The company, which sells nine different brands, including Niod, Hylamide and Ab Crew, will begin selling its buzziest, The Ordinary, online at Sephora on December 20 and, if all goes well, roll into the retailer’s stores later this year. It just opened its first cross-brand U.S. store in New York’s Soho this month and intends to open 10 more across the country in the next six months. To sustain that growth, Deciem is working to expand its in-house production facilities, located at its headquarters in Canada, said Kilner.
“We do nearly everything in-house, so that we have complete control over innovation risks and the product life cycle,” she said.
Where it won’t be expanding is on social media — where the company maintains only one larger handle for Deciem on each platform, despite the different brands it represents. So far, that’s worked out well — it has even spawned numerous fan groups, including seven on Facebook with names like “Deciem Enthusiasts” and “The Ordinary Chat Room.” Altogether, they have 31,100 members. It’s also one of the most mentioned brands on Reddit’s popular skin-care sub-reddit “Skincare Addiction,” and has its own, dedicated sub-reddit.
Here’s a look at what they’re doing to foster this community.
Bringing the founder to life
According to Kilner, all of Deciem’s social posts are written by Truaxe, who has developed a fan base as a result.
“It always surprises me that this surprises people,” she said. “Social gives you a platform to directly communicate with your audience, so why wouldn’t a founder make good use of that?”
While other beauty brands, like Glossier and Kat Von D, have beloved founders, their branded social channels aren’t operated by them, instead written in an elusive voice put forth by a social media team. Truaxe — who does not have his own accounts — uses the Deciem pages as his outlet.
When the company launched a behind-the-scenes video series on Instagram, for example, Truaxe introduced it: “We have started video-documenting what goes on at Deciem: both good and bad (mostly bad),” he wrote. “It’s a series called ‘Fail,’ because there are a million fails for every tiny bit of happiness.”
In June, after Estée Lauder made a minority investment in Deciem, Truaxe wrote to followers concerned about how it might affect the company, saying: “We are emotional alongside you. Deciem is our baby — and we have raised this very special baby together with you. I will never let anyone mistreat our baby.”
Often, he refers to himself in the third person: “Brandon has turned 39 (or basically 40). And he has lost his voice from talking too much (happens once a week). And everything is still out of stock here. It’s a good day.”
He’s certainly devoted: In September, when The Ordinary Chat Room group on Facebook invited Truaxe to answer fan questions for an hour, he ended up staying online for 28 hours to answer every question.
“No bullshit” science
One of Deciem’s defining brand pillars is that its products and product labels are grounded in science. Top sellers include The Ordinary’s Hylamide HA Blur and EUK 134 and NIOD’s Multi-molecular Hyaluronic Complex, the results of which aren’t clear to the casual beauty shopper.
Truaxe and Kilner are not worried about creating confusion, however, believing it to be, in some sense, the way of the future.
“The consumer today is more knowledgeable about products and brands than even most employees of those products and brands,” said Kilner, adding that it’s a reality most beauty companies ignore. Instead, she said, they use vague descriptors like “glow” or “radiance” to convey what a product does, or rely on air-brushed imagery of models to do the work.
As such, Deciem never uses models in its marketing imagery, including social media.
“Models don’t highlight anything about a skin-care product meaningfully,” explained Truaxe. “The concept of beauty is viewed very narrowly when an expected human form is used to portray it. It almost becomes a form of brainwashing and we simply don’t believe in it.”
Similarly, their product descriptions, often posted in lengthy paragraphs on social media, are grounded in complicated, scientific terms.
When The Ordinary launched its EUK 134 serum in September, it debuted on Instagram alongside a caption that began with: “Say a warm hello to ethylbisiminomethylguaiacol manganese chloride, also called EUK 134 (a “warm hello” because you’ll feel a warming sensation when using EUK 134). In very simple terms, our new EUK 134 0.1% is a super-strong antioxidant that regenerates itself, unlike most antioxidants.”
The brand seems to recognize that its preferred terminology may come off as its own form of brainwashing.
One particularly confusing post about a new edition of Niod’s Copper Amino Isolate Serum begins with: “Warning: This post was way too much to write, it’s way too much to read and some people will call it marketing gibberish.” Here’s a snippet of what follows: “While the first generation of CAIS 1% contained direct GHK copper peptides (known as GHK-Cu), this second generation contains 2% of pure GHK peptide of which 1% branches with copper ions upon mixing, forming 1% pro-repair GHK-Cu (copper peptides) and leaving 1% free-form, pro-collagen GHK peptides.”
Identifying the actual product results in these posts can be a challenge, but, when they’re there, they’re less hyperbolic:
“The visible result isn’t really about lines, wrinkles or looking younger (those terms are dead and the industry will realize it very soon), but one of healthy skin showing its natural texture,” wrote one post for Niod’s Flavonoid Mud mask.
Kilner believes that this voice, though less digestible than most, is key to building a brand-obsessed foundation.
“For a million people to like you, you first need a thousand people to love you,” she said. “The early adopters become our evangelists and many future customers then come into the brand via product recommendations.”
Blunt about the business
Although a reported 91 percent of consumers today value authenticity in brands, most companies are channelling that only in how they discuss ingredients or the nature of their production. Deciem has taken the idea a step further by revealing the nitty-gritty of running a young, steadily-scaling business, warts and all.
On an especially chaotic Black Friday this year, Truaxe joked on Instagram: “Our website crashed only three times, it was out of order for only seven hours, we have received only three city violation notices for blocking traffic as we load skid after skid, we sold out of most sets before Friday actually started in Canada and we now need to figure out how to ship out the 200,000+ and growing units from our tiny home.”
When the store opening in New York City was postponed in October, Truaxe didn’t hide from it, telling Deciem’s followers: “We promised NYC would be next and finally here we are… with reassuring news that some things never change: we miscalculated yet again and NYC is still in slow progress.”
That honesty, it seems, has built affinity, not just for the brand’s online personality, but the brand overall.
In November, when Kilner won a Cosmetic Executive Women Achiever Award, Truaxe highlighted the less-than-idyllic lifestyle that led to it, writing: “It seems that if you work 22 hours a day, spend most of your life on an airplane, skip your honeymoon and forget what your home looks like, you might achieve one or two things.”