In a world experiencing heightened emotions brought on by unprecedented world events and months of uncertainty, navigating consumer engagement is requiring all organizations to look within.

“The basic message on brand values is not that different than it is for us as human beings,” said Kristen O’Hara, chief business officer at Hearst Magazines, during the company’s first beauty summit in late-June. “Good values are good business and we see that play out in the beauty category.”

Company values have always been an important part of brand messaging and connecting with a larger community but are now even more vital as they have become a clear tipping point for consumers who are smarter and have learned to be savvy when making personal shopping decisions. In its beauty study, “The Path to Purpose,” Hearst Magazines reveals insights into the beauty industry’s new reality and the importance of values in all conversations today.

Since stay at home orders went into effect, Hearst Magazines reported that beauty-related conversations have increased by 20 percent. This increase is higher than other lifestyle topics including fashion, music, home décor, food, books, and video games. According to the company, this is due largely to people seeking a sense of normalcy through beauty and grooming routines during the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey showed 81 percent of consumers are using the extra time to focus on self-improvement and 87 percent said that keeping up with regular beauty routines makes them feel better both physically and mentally.

To influence decisions and learn about new beauty products and practices, consumers told Hearst Magazines they still look to the media. Fifty-eight percent of survey respondents who engage with magazine media said beauty editors have the “best tips and tricks,” while 54 percent said they “love their beauty/grooming advice,” and 47 percent noted they go to beauty editors for inspiration.

Beauty’s Original Tastemaker

Regarding the methodology, Hearst Magazines tapped market research firm MarketCast to help conduct the survey, which involved virtual forums, in-depth and follow-up interviews and a nation- ally representative survey before and in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. MarketCast’s Ally Aleman, senior vice president, reflected on the survey results and noted that, “beauty editors are the original influencers.”

“It’s no surprise that their expertise and advice continue to resonate during this time, with more than half [of respondents who engage with magazines] appreciating their tips and advice,” Aleman added.

Among consumers of color, the survey found social media to be especially influential with 71 percent of consumers saying social media is a large part of how they find new beauty and grooming brands and products and 60 percent saying “it is important that a product is from a brand with a strong social media presence.”

“Consumers want brands to show that they care during these times with 84 percent saying they like when a beauty and grooming brand supports COVID-19 relief efforts,” said Aleman. “Our first hypothesis in the wake of COVID-19, [was that] influencers won’t have as much influence. The reality is it’s now all about authenticity, credibility, and transparency. And those are the key qualities that consumers are looking for from influencers right now. And consumers of all ages are spending a ton of time on social right now and use social as a huge source for content consumption as well as expression.”

Hearst Beauty

Beauty-related conversations have increased by 20 percent during the coronavirus pandemic.  Courtesy Image.

Reader’s New Reality

One key interest readers and consumers have tuned into during quarantine is skincare and grooming. And with more time to explore new practices, digital touchpoints have become crucial. According to Hearst Magazines’ research, approximately 30 percent of quarantined consumers are using more products in skincare and grooming routines and at the same time, makeup has taken a backseat. And younger consumers have shown interest in beauty as entertainment, exploring digital DIY content and experimenting with new products and tips they have seen. Further, Hearst’s survey found 66 percent of consumers of color have been watching more makeup tutorials and/or DIY content during this time.

“During the pandemic, beauty has provided a sense of normalcy, and it’s a topic for consumers to engage with others during our months of quarantine,” said Todd Haskell, senior vice president, and chief marketing officer at Hearst Magazines. “That’s going to make a big difference moving forward. There is an opportunity for brands to lean into things like makeup tutorials, and digital trials and experiences to continue to engage with these customers. Shopping patterns are still likely going to be disrupted for months as consumers develop a comfort level with what they’re okay with in this new normal.”
In regard to messaging, this also means an opportunity to capitalize on consumer interest and focus on the sentiment that “beauty is healing.” It is also the time, and an opportunity, for brands to align with like-minded content creators.

An Authentic Authority

For the editorial beauty team across Hearst Magazines, now is also time for each publication to double down on all efforts of inclusivity, authenticity, and forthright discussions, aligning with brands that have been proactive and thoughtful towards diversity and wellness. During Hearst Magazines’ Summit, an expert panel composed of beauty editors from Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health, Marie Claire, Harper’s Bazaar, and Good Housekeeping engaged in a deep dive discussion of the current and future state of the industry.

Julee Wilson, beauty director at Cosmopolitan who was formerly from Essence, led the session, which examined everything from current trends in the industry such as the prominence of “wellness” and the growth of “clean beauty” to the short-term implications of COVID-19 and long-term meaning of “self-care.” All agreed the industry needs to be focused on authenticity and unapologetic storytelling.

As editors at publications that have millions of interactions with consumers each day, it is imperative to engage in meaningful conversations and ensure messaging meets readers’ expectations of values and transparency. And more importantly, the brands who make claims will not only need the science to back it up, but the credibility offered by the industry’s top beauty publications.

Executive Spotlight

WWD Studios speaks with Todd Haskell, Senior Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer at Hearst Magazines.


Todd Haskell, Senior Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer at Hearst Magazines.  Philip Friedman/Studio D

WWD Studios: What was the impetus behind developing this study? And what were the goals?

Todd Haskell: Hearst Magazines produces more beauty content than any other media company around the world, and beauty is our largest content area across every platform we use (in-book, online, video and social) … it’s also the largest advertising category for Hearst Magazines by an equally large margin. We are always looking to understand what’s happening beneath the surface, to provide additional insight for our editors, to better serve the needs of 140 million monthly readers, and to deliver value to our advertising partners. And we want these insights to be immediately actionable for our clients, reinforcing Hearst Magazines’ position as the leading beauty media company.

WWD Studios: Were you surprised by any of the findings? Which ones, and why?

T.D.: While some findings confirmed what we’d been thinking, some came as a real surprise. For example, the changing perception of what “Clean Beauty” means … in a post-pandemic world: Clean has become synonymous with safe, and that is powerfully resonant with consumers. That has huge implications for beauty brands, and how our brands cover the topic editorially.

Another surprise was how much broader consumers view the topic of inclusion — the issues of ethnic and racial diversity have become increasingly top of mind for consumers in recent years, and that issue has become justifiably paramount in the past month. Now, we are seeing new areas where consumers are looking to see diversity expressed: for example, disability is now celebrated as an illustration of personal courage, and not hidden away … a fascinating opportunity for beauty marketers.

Consumer expectation on these topics continues to grow, and this presents an imperative for both content producers like Hearst Magazines and beauty brands themselves, but one that we are enthusiastically embracing.

WWD Studios: What are some of the key takeaways of Hearst Magazines’ Beauty Summit for beauty marketers and brands? 

T.D.: First and foremost is that good genuine brand values are good for business, and have become a foundational expectation. Consumers still demand value and performance, as well as innovation and choice, but increasingly the perception of a brand’s values is what results in a final purchase decision, and it clearly supports brand loyalty.

Also, this trend spans typical demographic segments: while Gen Z consumers might feel even stronger about issues like LGBTQ equality or diversity and inclusion in their messaging, these topics are rapidly becoming priorities for the vast majority of consumers at every age group. Same when it comes to where people live: for Gen Z consumers, LGBTQ rights aren’t just a city-dweller’s issue — they are widely expected from young people in small towns and rural communities alike, and these need to be reflected in both editorial coverage and brand-marketers’ messaging.

WWD Studios: How does Hearst Magazines differentiate itself in the market? What are the benefits for beauty brands and marketers that partner with you?

T.D.: The global scale of our brands gives us insights into beauty trends as they first appear around the world. Our brands provide contextual relevance for beauty brands to deliver a message to people that are deeply engaged with the beauty category, looking to discover new products and techniques, and understand the latest innovation. But they also depend upon the credibility and authority of our editors to help understand what’s important and why. With our huge video and social footprint, our beauty editors have become trusted resources with whom consumers feel they have a personal connection.

All of this expertise is leveraged for clients when we create the best co-branded beauty content experiences in the world, powered by our editorial expertise and a deep understanding of how to leverage data to inform audience segmentation and distribution strategies to drive what people ultimately need: results.

Want to learn more? For a copy of Hearst Magazines’ beauty report, DOWNLOAD HERE.