Beauty and the Digital Beast
Technology has always been at the core of beauty innovation. But now the digital space is changing all industries in a fundamental way, and beauty is no exception. Influencers of beauty trends, consumer expectations, and the high street are all changing - staying on top of these changes whilst remaining connected with consumers is key for any beauty brand.
Online influencers & need for authenticity
Social media has led to the democratisation of beauty trends. Everyday consumers, engaged in a category, can wield significant influence on a brand and product. Top beauty bloggers can easily have over 250,000 unique visitors a month, and consumers take this opinion over and above that of 'experts'. Consumers often see these bloggers as 'everyday' people, someone like them, someone they can trust.
This sort of influencing is just the digital equivalent of word of mouth that has always occurred, just on a much grander scale. But this trend is also driven by consumers increasing demand for authenticity and transparency from brands. Consumers have never been so savvy when it comes to marketing, conversely to the trust seen in blogger opinions; they are quick to believe brands are dishonest and untrustworthy.
But what happens when consumers trust is broken? As consumers turn to bloggers for information and advice, how are they to know they are not getting paid by those in the industry to talk favourably about their products? Like beauty editors, many bloggers are sent products to test and review, some might even be paid. At least with brands being upfront, you know they are trying to sell you their products whereas 'independent' advisors could be out for their own gain. Being exposed would be detrimental to any influencer and the brands associated with them.
So where should a brand stand? Many claim a brand in this digital age should be completely transparent in its intentions and products. But there is a difference between transparency and authenticity. According to internet marketer Aaron Wall, appearing transparent is profitable, being transparent is not. Revealing too much is never good, especially for a beauty brand. Seeing an unedited, close up of most ageing celebrities skin is not going to sell skincare products. Adding a touch of mystery and aspiration around beauty is more alluring. But it's authenticity that is key.
Being authentic is about a brand deciding what they are about, being true to who they are and what they will deliver. Consumers will respect that and understand it, even if it's not for them. Brands need to recognise that influencing is now a two-way street, they need to be part of the discussions not dominate them, and be clear about their intentions. Ultimately an authentic brand will use social media to get their products out there and influencers to try them, love them, tell everyone about them.
Better products, more information, higher expectations
The technology behind beauty is huge. The things that products can do are big and getting bigger. Turn on the TV and see mascaras promising to deliver 10 times more length and skincare products promising to stop the ravages of time. Digital means consumers are more informed than ever before, and this combined with better, faster and smarter products, is changing consumers perceptions of what can be achieved. Consumers are aspirational, they want bigger and better, they want to be inspired.
A great example of this is the DIY beauty treatments. In harder financial times and better informed, consumers continue to indulge in the services of salons and spas at-home to save costs. We see greater demand for beauty kits or pampering treatments, from hair colorants, spa treatments, nail products to self-tanners. Microdermabrasion kits and chemical peels are now being launched in the at-home market by professional skin care companies.
Technology is now allowing consumers to personalise products through mass customisation. 54 shades of lipstick are no longer enough, consumers want the one that is especially designed for them. On the flip side many consumers want one product that does it all, such as BB creams. And some just want the absolute cheapest possible, hence this increase in discount store sales.
Consumers want their cake and will eat it too. And not delivering means everyone on a brand's Facebook page will hear about it. Brands need to stay in touch with consumers changing needs and use their brand or brands to deliver against their core positioning through continual innovation.
With all these increasing demands, brands are meeting the challenge as best they can, but often the focus is still on the functional. The problem is it doesn't take long for a challenger to replicate a functional benefit. Brands need to deliver parity or higher on a functional attribute but differentiate through their brand. Don Norman, author and user experience/usability expert said it best - "Products were once designed for the functions they performed. But when all companies can make products that perform their functions equally well, the distinctive advantage goes to those who provide pleasure and enjoyment while maintaining the power. If functions are equated with cognition, pleasure is equated with emotion; today we want products that appeal to both cognition and emotion."
With all this technology, it is actually about maintaining a positive emotional connection with consumers. Digital technology allows brands to communicate their brand identity better than ever before. Creating an authentic brand that taps into this emotional resonance will have the upper hand. It's no longer about tapping into age group, it's about tapping into a state of mind. Functional benefits and innovative qualities will always be at the core of any beauty brand, but it's the emotional connection a brand can generate that will gain their point of differentiation.
Changing role of the high street
Digital has changed the way we shop. With the ease of online shopping it's no wonder the high street is suffering. The high street will evolve so it is no longer about sales, it's about serving. Consumers will look to beauty brands for their expertise and advice, but the purchasing will be done online.
In the age of austerity consumers are more savvy with their money, but if it matters to them they will invest. And this is reflected in the boom of luxury spending. The ability to jump online and compare prices and order direct enables consumers to still feel they are getting a deal. Alannah Weston, creative director of Selfridges, said "Just because she's standing in your handbag department doesn't mean she isn't paying her money to someone in another city that has them in another colour at a better price". Consumers won't compromise on appearance, but will on how much they spend and the brands they buy.
High Street retailers are being shut out, and those not keeping up on the evolution in shopping will be left behind. But beauty is a tactile experience, so the physical will always play a role for any brand. The high street is a place to experience the brand, and become a social space for its consumers. This will allow a brand to express its brand imagery, rather than focus purely on being a shopping environment.
Creating an experience rather than a shopping environment is something Department stores do very well. Consumers will look to trusted brands for advice and education, this is where a brand can use its strength to create an experience on the high street. Without this a brand will lose any resonance of expertise and fall behind.
But some say this is fine for a luxury brand, but what about mass brands that are feeling the squeeze from the accessible and affordable brands and the quality and aspirational brands. For these brands it's about combining the two - affordable and aspirational. Aspiration comes from its authentic positioning, and it should be delivered through an omni-channel strategy. An omni-channel strategy is one that is a seamless consumer experience through all available shopping channels. This allows consumers to experience the brand, not a channel within a brand.
But beauty is a saturated market with low cost of entry for the start-ups emerging online. Successful brands will need a strong presence across all shopping channels. Research has shown that omni-channel shoppers spend up to 15%-30% more than multi-channel shoppers and exhibit strong brand loyalty, often influencing others to buy from a brand. A beauty brand needs to be digital as well as physical. It needs to mirror its imagery from the high street to television to digital.
Digital is changing consumers' interactions with beauty brands. Digital consumers are savvier in their knowledge, in their demands, and in the way they buy.
A brand that is authentic and is part of a two-way discussion with consumers will be more successful. Having an authentic brand offering delivered through an omni-channel approach will allow brands to create an emotional connection with the consumers beyond the functional and allows consumers to engage with and influence a brand more than they ever have before.
But as with the digital space, consumers are continually changing, especially in the fast moving and innovation driven world of beauty. So ensuring the dialogue remains open and constant is the best way to remain relevant and keep your foothold in their world.