By  on October 8, 2010

As we were going to press with this issue of WWD Beauty Biz, which is focused on the impact of technology on the beauty industry, the Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index retreated to 48.5 from 53.2 in August. The index, based on a survey of 5,000 U.S. households, revealed that confidence in the state of the economy remains grim, particularly with the jobless rate continuing to hover in the high single digits. Although the economists insist the recovery is well under way, marketers and retailers know that luring shoppers to open their wallets remains a challenge to be surmounted every single day.

Simultaneously, technological advances in the digital realm have rendered a seismic shift in the balance of power between consumers and the companies they patronize. The marketing monologue is now a dialogue, one in which brands and retailers have to not only talk to consumers, but—more important—they have to listen, interact, educate, entertain and create a community of like-minded people who feel an emotional connection to each other and the brand. As I learned while reporting "Power Connections," the result is a new strategic landscape that is fundamentally changing the industry. "Digital isn't just a Web site. It isn't just social networking. It isn't just commerce," Wendy Liebmann told me. "It is the underpinning of how we think about communicating, shopping and buying today." Discover how beauty's most forward-looking brands and retailers are harnessing that power to drive sales in the face of continuing consumer apathy here.

One country that most certainly isn't suffering from consumer apathy is Vietnam. There, a booming youth population and growing middle class are fueling explosive growth. Although the country is still plagued by a torrent of gray-market goods and fakes, its turbulent political past isn't an issue for the nation's young people, who comprise more than 50 percent of its 86 million people. Adam Thyer and Chi Mai report from Ho Chi Minh City, in fact, that the under-25 set is more interested in pop culture, personal consumption and self-expression. The result: Vietnam's personal care market is expected to almost double between now and 2014, according to Euromonitor International, from an estimated $598 million to $925 million by 2014. For a complete overview of the country's growth prospects, turn to "World Wide Watch."

A category that is sparking increasing interest among Western consumers and will almost certainly hold appeal for young Vietnamese, too, is the hybrids category, color cosmetics infused with treatment benefits, made possible by advancements in ingredient technology and research and development. Learn more about the market in "United State," then turn to the "It List" for a comprehensive roundup of another small but growing arena: beauty e-tail sites.

Should additional proof be needed, Isaiah Mustafa, interviewed in "Last Call," can attest to the influence of the digital sphere. The football-playerturned- actor has catapulted to fame as the hunky star of Old Spice's "Smell Like a Man, Man" campaign, which is now the most viewed video on YouTube and has helped double—double—the brand's sales. Confidence-building measures, indeed.

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