As society has embraced new, more diverse standards of beauty, the beauty industry has followed suit, emerging from a cocoon of technological innovation as a flourishing butterfly that embraces women of all races, skin-tones, and body types. But the companies thriving in this new landscape aren’t the household names and corporate behemoths you might imagine. They’re upstarts who’ve put technology to work to personalize customer experiences and cater to under-served sectors of the marketplace. Let’s take a look at some instructive successes and failures to find a blueprint for success in 2019.
While new trends like serums, facial -sheet masks, and metallic tones drive over-all growth, the share prices of traditional industry leaders are absorbing punishing blows. Coty Inc., parent company of Cover Girl, has seen its share price drop 50% in the last year. Revlon has seen revenues and stock prices plummet as it struggles under the weight of billions in corporate debt. And other traditional powers in the industry are scrambling to acquire the independent and organic brands that are popular with millennials and online shoppers. Consumers are no longer content with one-size-fits-all products when it comes to make-up and skin-care, and this has allowed smaller, nimbler companies to seize the advantage. Augmented reality has been a game-changer, allowing online shoppers to “try on” products they wouldn’t be able to find at the local pharmacy or department store. Consumers are no longer satisfied with taking whatever industry leaders put in front of them, they want personalized products tailored to their desires and needs.
Sephora has been touted as a success story in eCommerce for at least 5 years now. Eschewing the top-down model that most luxury brands use to create demand, Sephora has embraced the idea of letting clients define beauty and start trends, embracing the slogan “Let’s Beauty Together” as a fundamental principle of marketing strategy and corporate philosophy. Sephora views relationships with consumers as a two-way conversation and has been active and engaging on all of the main social media channels. They’ve also embraced technology and AI, using augmented reality to enable customers to “try on” lipstick and eyelashes via their app, while partnering with Dynamic Yield, a big-data analytics leader recently purchased by McDonald’s for a super-sized price of $300 million US. They’ve used the data analytics firm’s technology to personalize customer experiences, streamline searches and transactions, and integrate online and in-store experiences.
Meanwhile, the massive success of upstart brands launched by Instagram-savvy celebrities such as Rihanna and Kylie Jenner have inspired thousands of new companies and product lines. They’ve also shifted the locus of power from brands to consumers. This has highlighted the need for diversity and responsiveness to consumer desires in an industry that used to tell its customers what they wanted. As one woman said of the way things used to be done “I've had makeup sellers say, 'Oh, you don't need foundation. You're perfect the way you are,' because they didn't carry any foundations that matched.” But the stars being born in the beauty industry feel that it’s time to let the old ways die.
Fenty and Kylie Cosmetics have leveraged social media to build personal connections with their customers, and the market has responded enthusiastically. Fenty achieved $72 million in earned media value in its first month, with its value on Instagram alone outpacing the total media value of established brands like Urban Decay. Brands have also struggled to keep up with the Kardashians, as Kylie Jenner recently became the world’s youngest billionaire, at the ripe old age of 21. Kylie is the world’s most followed celebrity on Snapchat, and her family’s TV show and popularity on YouTube have given Kylie Cosmetic new media omnipresence that rivals the brand awareness of Coca-Cola or Tide. By developing a straight-to-consumer strategy in marketing and distribution, Kylie has leveraged the personal connections that come with social media fame into an empire that rivals major cosmetics brands. It took Tom Ford Cosmetics a decade to make $500 million dollars. Kylie pocketed a billion in about three years.
Featherweights Ready to Fly
Inspired by the runaway success of these celebrities turned moguls, beauty brands have been popping up all over the place. The ability to promote products via tutorial videos with the potential to go viral has allowed new entrepreneurs the ability to raise awareness of products and brands without spending millions on advertising. And with Amazon, Ulta, Sephora and a host of online retailers now making use of augmented reality it’s possible for shoppers to try and buy products from small independent brands, and for brands to reach those consumers in markets across the globe. Meanwhile, consumers, who are dedicated to posting their own selfies and videos on social media, have never been hungrier for exciting new products. In response to these trends, established brands have been buying up independent companies more frequently than ever before, which in turn encourages new entrepreneurs to launch more new companies. As Forbes magazine has noted, there is “no other consumer sector like this right now with such a steady flow of growth, innovation, consumer interest, and acquisition activity.”
The growth of eCommerce has led the beauty industry to churn out success stories at an unprecedented rate. Stories like those of Sam Marcel and Urban Skin Rx show how new companies can leverage feel-good stories, innovative products, and natural ingredients to become overnight success stories. And as selfie-culture pushes people to be camera ready throughout the day, demand for cosmetics has never been higher. For those looking to succeed in the beauty industry, it’s essential to utilize digital breakthroughs to take your message and your products directly to the consumer.