Eyebrows are a big business for Benefit Cosmetics — and they are about to get even bigger.
The brand’s eyebrow business — inclusive of product and services offered at Brow Bars — is said to be on track to drive half-a-billion dollars at retail for the LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton-owned company this year. The brow category, seeing about 40 percent year-over-year growth, currently constitutes over one-third of Benefit’s business.
The brand wants to build on this momentum, which got its start a year ago when a revamped, nine-product Benefit Brow Collection hit the market. But for 2017, according to Jean Andre Rougeot, chief executive officer of Benefit Cosmetics, the focus is on experience. He was referring to the experience at the brand’s 2,500 Brow Bars operating in 40 countries, where a universal menu of services called Brow Styles will roll out to each and every each one.
Similar to how Drybar offers the same blowout menu in all of its locations, as of today, clients can walk into any Brow Bar and choose from one of four ways to style their brows. Feathered, Bold and Angular, Natural or Straight are the options, and over 4,500 Benefit Arch Experts from boutiques in Berkeley, Calif., to Hong Kong are trained in achieving these looks when they wax, tweeze, trim one’s brows and offer at-home styling tricks.
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It’s all an effort to change consumer perception around the styling of brows, Rougeot explained.
“Brow services were pretty boring, historically. Frankly, it was more of a clean-up service, and we’re now making this a fashion statement…Giving consumers a choice of services in brows is the next step in raising awareness in brows as a way to transform [your face]…[We’re] making a big statement as a brand about brows becoming a fashion item,” Rougeot said, noting that Benefit opens close to 300 Brow Bars a year. By the end of 2017 there will be close to 3,000 doors worldwide.
For him, this service piece will accelerate growth for the brow category even more.
Rougeot expects the implementation of a global Brow Styles menu in the 1,000 U.S.-based and 1,500 global Brow Bars to have a “significant impact” on the business and create a lift in both service and product sales. He was unable to give a breakdown of how much services and product each contribute to the category overall, but said brow sales for the second half of the year are expected to exceed those of last year’s “significantly.” Product and services are expected to see triple-digit and double-digit growth, respectively.
He attributed the category’s acceleration in the last two to three years to an increased quality of formulas, a larger product assortment, the advent of social media and a consumer realization that brows have the ability to transform one’s face.
“By framing your face with brows, you can really make yourself look different, you can make yourself younger. There’s an enormous transformative power of brows, and you can get instant results with brow products, that are frankly, a lot more impactful than mascara or lipstick,” Rougeot said. “I think we have a very genuine consumer understanding — which then gets multiplied by the fact that the Internet jumps on it.”
Early numbers for Brow Bars equipped with the new menu thus far are promising.
The Brow Styles menu had a soft launch in Australia’s 45 Brow Bars last month, and results indicate a pickup of at least 20 percent for services and products combined, Rougeot said.
Select Brow Bars will see a redesign too, with elements that include play stations to merchandise product, updated wax stations, a “What’s in Your Bag?” wall featuring antique purses and a chalkboard to highlight top launches. A handful of locations in the U.S., Hong Kong, New Zealand, Korea, Germany and the Philippines have already been renovated, but the new concept is being rolled out globally.
He declined to comment on financials for the category but industry sources said North America alone is projected to surpass $200 million in retail sales this year for brow products and services. Billed as the brand’s biggest launch ever, the Benefit Brow Collection has reportedly sold over four million units in North America since June 2016.
Last year, Benefit took an existing five-product assortment, retired two items, repackaged and reformulated three and introduced six new products. They include: Browvo, a $28 conditioning eyebrow primer; Goof Proof Eyebrow Pencil, a $24 “easy” brow-filling and shaping pencil; Precisely, My Brow Eyebrow Pencil, a $24 ultrafine defining pencil; Ka-Brow Eyebrow Cream-gel Color, a $24 cream-gel brow color with a brush; Ready, Set, Brow Clear Brow gel, a $24 invisible shaping and setting gel for brows, and 3-D Browtones Eyebrow Enhancer, a $24 wand that gives subtle brow-enhancing highlights.
“I like that it’s not based on a trend…It’s a genuine beauty need from consumers and what we see with this, [what] the ultimate achievement here is [that] maybe three to four years ago less than 10 percent of consumers would use brow products in their daily beauty routine and today that number is probably closer to 25 percent and rising fast…It’s spreading like fire; it’s not a shiny new toy,” Rougeot said.
It’s also the first time that Benefit introduced a product range that “knows no borders.” Last year’s brow activation saw equal success in all 50 markets in which it was launched, which was unprecedented in the brand’s 41-year history, Rougeot pointed out.
While Paris and the surrounding area has the highest concentration of Brow Bars — 50 to 60 that are a combination of freestanding boutiques and Sephora shops-in-shops — followed by New York City and London, Rougeot has his eyes on China. He said the country’s current 200 Brow Bars have the potential to double “fairly quickly.”
“Chinese consumers love their brows. They are probably — among all the consumers we have — the most focused on their brows as part of their beauty routine. There’s a real obsession in China,” the executive said.
Like all of Benefit’s activations, digital is integral to the rollout of Brow Styles. The kick-off of the menu will see corresponding paid media efforts online that span Facebook and Instagram to targeted programmatic ads, but the social tie-ins are likely to generate the most chatter online. Influencers sharing Benefit-related social media posts will be accompanied by the brand putting out videos across Facebook Live, Snapchat and Instagram Stories that show the varying brow looks on different consumers.
Nicole Frusci, senior vice president U.S. marketing, thinks social media has made brows more attainable from visual (Instagram) and educational (YouTube) standpoints, but it’s influencers that have really crystallized the trend for the mainstream.
“We have to give credit to influencers because they’ve been shedding light on brows for years and creating that aspiration and interest for consumers who may not have known brows were important. They include brows in their everyday makeup routines and dedicate tutorials to that…[and] they’re always educating their fans and putting brows in the spotlight for consumers, which ultimately drives awareness. We’ll continue to work with them to make sure brows stay top of mind. This is no exception,” Frusci said.
The blogger set has been central to Benefit’s overarching digital strategy for the past several years. Earlier this spring, Meredith Foster and Teala Dunn headlined the Hippie Cheek campaign and launched Galifornia blush, and in 2015, the brand took influencers to the Bahamas to reveal color extensions to They’re Real mascara and the Push-Up liner franchises.
For Brow Styles specifically, the brand is teaming with Kardashian hairstylist and founder of Ouai hair care Jen Atkin to ambush a series of influencers in their homes with Jared Bailey, Benefit’s global brow authority. Starting on June 7, Atkin and Bailey will hit about 15 homes in the L.A. area where they will provide Brow styling and a complimentary hairstyle. Content created by the two will start to populate Benefit’s YouTube channel today
While return on investment from influencers is hard to pinpoint without a tagged link or promotional code, Frusci maintained that the brand has “absolutely seen a direct correlation from our programs and sales.”
She said ROI for past campaigns has ranged from the sell-out of a new palette within three hours of announcing during an influencer experience to a 25 percent lift in sales month over month for a short, targeted promotion.
“We live in a selfie-obsessed culture, and it’s all about putting your best face forward, especially as live continues to rise. Having that perfect brow is just as important, if not more so, than having a flawless face. Brows are so important in social media, which has definitely helped the rise of the category,” Frusci said.
She compared the amount of hashtags on Instagram for the term “eyebrows” versus “foundation.” The former has almost 8.1 million usages and the latter has four million.
Frusci added: “Brows will only continue to stay important and relevant and you know what — influencers are dictating trends more and more on social media. We’re looking forward to seeing what’s next from influencers in brows.”
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