Beauty: The Update that Saved Cosmetics

Washing your face with a cleanser, putting on foundation, or using lip balm to help chapped lips are some of the many personal care rituals integrated into consumers’ lives. Personal care is an intimate part of a consumer’s day, and the reality is that the circumstances of 2020 forced many of us to reconsider personal care routines, since our daily lives were disrupted. This created a domino effect, making industries, like the beauty industry, refocus on new needs. Since consumers’ routines were modified, the products involved in certain regimens were also reconsidered as essential, luxury, or unnecessary. This was a time for beauty brands to identify the new practices in place and learn where and how cosmetics can better support the consumer.

The pandemic obviously impacted not only the act of personal care but the means of exploring and purchasing products. While online shopping has been steadily becoming more normalized the past few years, store restrictions or personal health precautions pushed this digital approach to the forefront of the shopping experience. Going digital opens up a lot of opportunities, but it absolutely comes with some cautionary concerns. Reflecting on these advancements in the beauty industry shows how retailers and brands combatted the challenges of 2020 by creating novel ways to keep the consumer close and connected.

Selling in a Digital World  

The dynamic online experience holds a lot of opportunities for beauty brands to uniquely express themselves and connect with consumers in an innovative forum. The beauty industry has needed to adapt new strategies to attract consumers as well as meet changing needs. The biggest shift can be seen in the switch to both digital products and communications.  

As the world of shopping has shifted from in-store to online, especially in the wake of the pandemic, consumers have lost the ability to touch, feel, and experience products in person. In the past, this was a key selling point for cosmetic products where consumers could see the colors next to their skin or even try on test products. In those moments, consumers could evaluate the coloring or consistency in-person to help feel confident in a purchase. However, with this shift to digital, marketers have needed to find ways to emulate the tangibility and accessibility of experiencing a product at shelf, including free trials and samples or influencer campaigns in social media, to help consumers review and evaluate a new product without being able to touch it. These consumer-centric tactics help build a connection and trust in the brands and products in the absence of direct experiences.  

The nuances of social media marketing, however, are no longer a surprise. We all anticipate seeing personalized (some eerily so) ads when scrolling social media platforms. The ability to integrate offline experiences to the digital world is no longer a “nice to have” but presumed by consumers. Therefore, cosmetic companies must welcome creative ideas to deliver unique and impactful experiences that are superior to the competition to be able to stand out. Beauty brands must manifest novel ways to keep the consumer excited and engaged. The future of foundation is not only an interactive beauty application (through virtual try-ons, interactive questionnaires, beauty scanning apps, etc.) but also through truly personalized care. Truly innovative, creative, and authentic personalization, however, requires investment into really understanding consumer behavior, expectations, and drivers of purchase. Otherwise, brands risk losing consumer trust and loyalty. 

Smart Technology, Smart Consumers

Understanding how vital the smartphone has become to most consumers, beauty brands began to invest in technology to stay in touch with the consumer—literally. From tapping the screen to applying formula on the skin, beauty brands want to be at consumers’ fingertips. Finding ways to ensure products perform well includes any initial interactions the consumer has with the brand prior to purchase all the way until final use. The technology should ease the process and make a complicated process simpler. A convenient outlet offering a wide variety of options creates a strong consumer-centric message.   

Smart technology can be interactive by giving feedback or advice, emulating the counter service that diminished during the pandemic. Through outlets like the internet, the consumer is becoming more educated on components of life to consider when exploring personal care items. The beauty industry is aware of this growth, thus highlighting how context may impact which product to purchase. For example, evaluating a consumer’s skin does not only mean recommending certain shades to best match. The consideration of environmental factors (like humidity, air quality, or UV exposure) as well as consumer priorities (such as fine lines, pore visibility, or dark spots) makes the serum feel unique and catered to consumer lifestyles. Companies are trying to help consumers feel satisfied with the products by finding innovative ways to get the most out of a beauty routine. By incorporating consumer electronics into the beauty industry, brands can use the behavioral data to follow the trends and priorities of consumers more precisely and, therefore, adapt quickly.

From curating personalized recommendations through AI (artificial intelligence) to using an app with augmented reality (AR) capabilities to virtually sample different products, the beauty industry has adopted new technologies into the product process to give consumers confidence in their purchase without physically handling the product. Enhancing the sensory experience in this process is critical since consumers are more frequently removed from the aisle and arriving at a phone screen. Using devices to formulate results through an easy interface gives the perception of higher quality and overall professionalism. The no-hassle approach is appealing for consumers interested in testing out various looks easily. The user experience is no longer just the product and package itself but includes the virtual arms attached to the product. Whether it be an app with voice-enabled commands or the ability to virtually try-on various shades of eyeshadow, the technology informs the consumer in a digestible manner, thus helping make the new tech part of an established regimen.

Using technology does require foresight into how this addition will be incorporated into the product experience. A balance must be achieved to ensure its an appropriate application of the technology. While it is cool to incorporate trendy features and gain the perception of being cutting-edge, the improper implementation may cause the tech-push to fall flat. When choosing the right technology to include, consider the value it will bring to the consumer in the context of buying personal care items. The digital technology should support the actual product rather than overshadow it. Consumers will know if the technology isn’t intuitive or doesn’t add value to a product. So, even though offering personalized experiences at scale through digital means gives the consumers a sense of individual attention, ensure the technology proves itself as part of a product with purpose rather than some wacky add-on gadget. The technological tools should be used to enhance the overall product experience.  

The Data is in the Details

The truth about digital products, such as apps, search engines, or websites, is that there is a lot of tracking done with the data. This resource of information is often managed by for-profit companies, allowing channels of communication and access to collect, store, and analyze user behaviors. The “big brother watching you” mentality has caused some consumers to be weary to utilize smart technology, while others either recognize it as a tradeoff for the service, or worse, don’t realize this is occurring at all. For companies to appropriately utilize smart technology while promoting a trustworthy image, transparency must be at the forefront of the user experience. New laws, such as the CCPA, are being enacted to protect the consumer with data privacy objectives. While these basic requirements illustrate the need for a level compliance, companies also benefit by being upfront with consumers. Allowing consumers to agree to the well stated terms and conditions gives a sense of ownership and autonomy back to the consumer. Furthermore, being forthcoming about the data creates a positive brand image, ultimately promoting the overall goal: to connect with consumers.  

When beauty tech products emphasize a certain formula for a consumer, the individual should always have the agency to defer to a different product, brand, style, or nothing. Technology can help consumers in making decisions, but it can never make the decision for the consumer. If the consumer decides against a suggestion, the marketers and designers may learn what is driving interest elsewhere and push the company to create better products. The benefits and hesitations about data usage are valuable to know and give a clear understanding of the product. By taking ahold of the narrative, the company can set the proper expectations for consumers to feel both comfortable and satisfied with the overall experience.

Being compliant to privacy mandates adds a sense of authenticity to the brand image since the consumer knows what the deal is upfront. Transparency not only keeps the brand honest, it also sets a precedent which can have ramifications if broken. The integrity earned in sharing this information should not feel like a threat or a reward but a fact of the matter. Consumers should have the right to make an informed decision, which ultimately benefits the company because openness helps avoid backlash. Using the digital experience is a proactive approach to informing and enhancing the beauty buying journey. Support the consumer in the fine details by aligning product objectives with consumer expectations.

Moving Forward 

From using skin-scanning devices to customize regimens to tracking results through a smart mirror, smart beauty devices are helping companies learn the driving forces behind consumer preferences. Having this insight is crucial for brands to grow with the consumer. The shift towards digital advances requires companies to anticipate ways to address future scrutiny. Brands must prepare to be able to effectively communicate how the technological medium benefits both the consumer and the company. Further, brands must be ready to explain the inner workings of the app or device to let consumers be aware of its impact.

The world of cosmetics continues to expand as innovations rush to meet the needs and interests of consumers. Some changes from the pandemic will extend far beyond the year 2020. Being camera-ready for video conference calls or finding ways to combat acne caused by mask wearing (“maskne”) were not major concerns until Covid-19 occurred. Keeping up with the general consumer is a challenge, but smart technology is a way to provide lifestyle relief. Integrating technology should have an objective for creating products that consumers do not see as a whacky machine but as something that adds value to their daily routines and lifestyle. The beauty industry is one of the many industries effectively trying to elevate the standard experience by leveraging higher engagement with modern mediums.

If you are interested in learning more about technology that helps to better understand the consumer, please reach out to Allison Gutkowski at Allison.Gutkowski@hcdi.net