In a fast-moving culture that has democratized everything from high fashion to gender identity, inclusivity is a business imperative. This is especially true for beauty brands, whose products are inextricably intertwined with notions of personal identity and self-expression. These shifting cultural norms have put legacy beauty brands in a complicated position: the category has traditionally sold itself as a way to achieve an aspirational beauty standard, but today, the very idea of a preconceived standard of “beauty” is laughable.
To understand the new rules of beauty marketing, we must first understand new notions of beauty in general — only then can we give the modern beauty consumer what they want.
Here are some insights drawn from our research at Untitled Worldwide that shed some light on how beauty is being redefined by a brand new audience, on their own terms.
There is no single standard of beauty. Today’s beauty consumer is part of a vibrant, highly engaged audience that’s no longer limited to a few targeted types women, but encompasses people of all ages, genders and ethnicities. The idea of “mainstream” has dissolved, and brands trying to reach the “mainstream” consumer will ultimately fall short. Marketers navigating this more complex market will find themselves sitting on a massive opportunity for creativity, growth and authentic connection.
Today’s beauty is personal and self-determined. The time when marketers could push an aspirational beauty standard for the public to live up to is over. Now, beauty brands must look to the consumer, and work to cater to them as individuals. Today’s beauty consumer isn’t just asking “does it work?” they’re asking, “does it work for me?”
Consumers want to know that the product is made with their unique needs in mind, whether they’re looking to highlight their eye color, or care for their specific skin type. That means broadening product lines and becoming hyper-inclusive. To see this strategy in action, one only needs to look at the runaway success of our client Glossier, or Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty, which features a spectrum of 40 foundation shades that don’t just cater to different groups, but to just about every individual.
It’s about enhancement, not transformation. In today’s world of self-care, body positivity and self-love; consumers are looking for ways to embrace what they’ve got and play up their best features, not transform into another person. After all, there’s no need to transform if you like what’s already there.
This is a positive step forward in a market that has left people out for generations due to a lack of options for people of varied skin tones, ethnicities, and gender. Beauty companies once dictated and furthered a narrow, even damaging ideal around what is considered beautiful. Today they have the opportunity and perhaps even the responsibility to change the way we see and express ourselves.
Modern beauty brands need to both show and tell their audience that what they’re working with is already beautiful, and with the right amount of care, respect and enhancement, they can shine even brighter.
Consumers want cult products, not a cult mentality. It should come as no surprise then, that these individualistic beauty consumers have no desire to get drawn into group-think or a so-called beauty “movement.” They may crave peer-to-peer sharing and community, but they see themselves first and foremost as individuals with the autonomy to make their own decisions, contribute their own opinions, and work towards their own particular ideal of beauty. Heavy-handed philosophies or rigid group identities are a quick turn off.
So elevating a product to “cult status” is a difficult balancing act, but it begins by offering a highly inclusive product. The fervent following of the cult brands we hear so much about these days are, in reality, diverse, free-thinking communities that come together around a product or brand for their own personal reasons. They are given tools for collaboration and sharing, as well as encouragement as they travel on their individual beauty journey. They’re asked to share their own thoughts and ideals, without being pressured to adopt those of the brand or it’s followers. Again, Glossier is a fantastic example in that they have incorporated consumer feedback and peer review into the product development process.
This new approach illuminates the flaw in the predominant approach to beauty marketing for the past few decades. Brands attempted to cater to the mainstream without really understanding how complex or interesting the “mainstream” was. As a result, they’ve missed a huge swath of customers who are rapidly being picked up by smaller, but more inclusive brands that have loudly and clearly broadcast their desire to cater to the individual.
To reach these people, the beauty industry at large needs to accept the fact that they aren’t the ones who set the standards anymore. Their new role is to pay close attention to the culture, and the needs of all beauty consumers — not just a certain demographic. Savvy brands know this is not a challenge, but rather an opportunity to reach a vibrant, fascinating and absolutely massive audience.
MT Carney is founder and chief executive officer of Untitled Worldwide.