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FIT’s Capstone Students Explore the Changing Beauty Consumer

The graduates concentrated on three fundamental topics: accessible beauty, engaging the new beauty consumer and men’s beauty.

When the beauty industry transforms, so do the consumers.

That was the message from the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Cosmetics and Fragrance Marketing and Management master’s degree graduates during their Capstone Research presentations titled “The Changing Face of the Beauty Consumer.”

Sponsored by Unilever U.S., the commencement event was held on June 4 at the Morris W. and Fannie B. Haft Auditorium and identified fundamental shifts occurring in U.S. lifestyle and demographics. The graduates concentrated on three fundamental topics: accessible beauty, engaging the new beauty consumer and men’s beauty.

The evening’s keynote speaker, Gina Boswell, executive vice president of personal care at Unilever North America, explained to the audience that the graduates’ research focuses on consumers as individuals.

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“This particular topic could not be more appropriate for this moment in time,” said Boswell. “We are literally at the precipice of massive change across the United States and the world. The changing face of the beauty consumer may be the single largest factor to affect our industry in the coming years and it’s a change we need to embrace to continue our unified mission of improving consumers’ lives.”

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The first group of graduates zeroed in on accessibility. They began by stating that the “brand” used to be known as the hero. Today, the hero is the product and in 2030, the hero will be what the consumers will need. In fact, team members told the audience that a new group of consumers will emerge called the Progressive Rationalist. This unit’s purchase behavior will not be defined by traditional demographics like income level, age or race. Instead they will identify with three key needs: convenience, clarity and cash.

The first need is convenience. According to the team, brands need to be accessible from all points of distribution. Next was the idea of clarity. Consumers will want to know the nature of the supply chain and will demand authenticity. The last was cash. Consumers will no longer waste money and brands need to help consumers save without risking brand image.

Stressing the importance of engaging the new beauty consumer, the second group spoke about a strategy to leverage total consumer identity. In their findings, the graduates said that by 2030, race will transform into cultural values. To address these changes, the team explained that brands must implement four strategic initiatives, the first being exchange, which is about engagement through a cultural conversation between brand and consumer values. Next was individual reality, which focused on understanding and engaging with the consumer’s reality to provide a more meaningful connection. The third topic was about connectivity. This consisted of how to stay relevant as technology evolves.  The group recommended optimizing education so brands can be consumer-focused and not product-focused. The last initiative concentrated on organizational framework and how beauty teams should focus on finding the intersection of interests across cultures, generations, genders or communities.

The final group concentrated on changes in men’s beauty and grooming. They found that 76 percent of men agree that males are under more pressure than past generations to present a polished image. Also, if brands are able to increase men’s yearly product purchases from five to seven times at an average of $10 each, the U.S. market could reach $10 billion by 2030, 30 percent higher than currently projected. In order to accomplish this, the team ignited a four-step approach to men’s grooming.

The first step was ignite, which identifies needs and consequences by introducing credible, simple solutions. The second was steer, to leverage key influencers and focus on ease, accessibility and trust. The next step was fuel, which utilizes imagery and communication reflective of the dynamic state of masculinity. The final step was accelerate. Brands need to focus on one hero product at a time while building momentum, sophistication, trust and loyalty over time.

At the end of the presentations, professor Stephan Kanlian, chairperson of FIT’s master’s program, spoke about the success of the curriculum and how he wants to see it grow.

“Success for me, is seeing the growth of our alumni,” said Kanlian. “I’ve always said that the day that I know the program has been truly successful is when I’m at a board meeting and the room is full of my own graduates. I’m also very proud to see them developing brands and innovating new marketing strategies and that, to us, is the true test.”

“The 2014 Capstone findings and predictions reinforce Unilever’s approach to answering the demands of the evolving beauty landscape by anticipating trends and needs through creative innovation and research,” said David Rubin, brand building vice president for U.S. hair care at Unilever North America. “The insights uncovered in FIT’s think tank support our continued focus on exceeding our consumers’ needs and creating programs that lead the marketplace.”