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Consumers’ value of self-expression has impacted many industries, but perhaps none more so than the beauty industry. Feminism, gender, diversity and politics intertwine with how women and men choose and interact with beauty brands today.

The beauty industry has often been ahead of the curve, especially when it comes to digital and social. According to McKinsey, beauty brands have found a successful formula. “Encouraging the exchange of product experiences via Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube is a powerful way of building a community around a brand and can help to enhance its perceived quality.”

To better understand the forces currently driving change in this industry, we consulted our partners at Iconoculture to provide high-level details about the cultural trends, generational preferences and key values associated with those most interested in the beauty category.

Overall, we see that beauty isn’t a one-size-fits-all thing. With the continued trends of self-expression and inclusivity, brands need to celebrate the strengths, differences, and preferences of every customer.

Snapshot

When it comes to beauty, Gen Z (AKA “Gen We”) is clearly the most passionate. With each older generation, we see less interest in beauty. This may indicate a mix of decreased interest as we age along with outsized interest among this new generation.

People of color over-index for interest in looking and feeling their best, pointing to above-average interest in beauty products among African American, Asian and Hispanic audiences. This contrasts with continued concerns around product availability and media representation for people of color, indicating an opportunity to serve their needs more directly.

Gen Z / We

This generation is largely driving the changes in the beauty category today – all the way from a multi-faceted idea of identity to gender fluidity. Beauty for Gen We is both an individual expression and a social experience.

Differentiating Values
  • Success
  • Equality
  • Sharing
  • Relaxation
  • Compassion
Trends

Let’s be real – Teens don’t seek perfection in brands; they want something closer to reality.

Redefining gender – Gender fluidity and neutrality are tools for Gen Z to express individuality and let go of past norms.

Savvy and skeptical – Digital natives can spot a fake from a mile away.

No single “me” – Kids are exploring multiple selves across cultures, interests, genders and social groups.

Like / comment / share – Beauty is a communal experience and a public journey documented online.

Trends are everything – What’s new is what’s needed.

High / low – They mix and match drugstore buys for proven basics and more expensive brands for experiments, glamour or a little splurge, especially if referred by a trusted influencer.

Stand up – Gen Z does not accept the status quo and will get loud about what they believe is important.

Millennials

Whereas Gen Z uses beauty to explore themselves and their worlds, Millennials are settling into their own skin. Diversity, fun, and balance are paired with customization and conscious consumption.

Differentiating Values
  • Loyalty
  • Authenticity
  • Honesty
  • Conscience
Trends

Indie works – They seek out new brands with a unique point of view over the tried and true big names.

Make it mine – Customization is highly important to Millennials across this and other categories.

Balance please – As they grow up and start settling down, Millennials seek balance in all things. When it comes to beauty, it might be full glam one day and total comfort the next.

No hiding – They see beauty products not for just covering up flaws but for playing up individuality.

Skin health over anti-aging – They may be less concerned about signs of aging, and instead simply seek healthy skin. CC creams and primers are key.

Natural needs – Millennials are the most likely to seek natural beauty products, though that may change as Gen Z’s spending power increases.

DIY experimentation – Millennials love DIY in all aspects of their lives. When possible, they are interested in being a part of the creative process.

Gen X

Practical, curious, and underserved – Gen Xers may not be seeking the self-expression of younger generations, but they are still looking for solutions both old and new to feel beautiful, especially as the signs of aging surface.

Differentiating Values
  • Responsibility
  • Justice
  • Family
Trends

Where am I – Gen Xers tend to feel underrepresented by beauty brands. They’re caught somewhere between Millennial trendsetters and Boomers who are more focused on defying age.

My faves – They tend to have found their favorite go-to’s but are still open to trying new brands and items.

Mostly simple – They stick to simple, easy-to-use products most of the time.

Still experimenting – While they have their staples, they look for ways to go bold or feel more glam once in a while.

Getting work done – Gen X (men and women) represent the largest proportion of cosmetic surgery across generations, indicating a desire to stave off aging as long as possible.

See me as I am – Gen X women rarely shop at department stores for beauty products. “The salespeople are usually young and don’t understand 40-year-old skin.” (quote from one Gen Xer).

A Word on Influencers

In all industries, there can be a disconnect between brands and shoppers. In the beauty space in particular, influencers lead and dominate. The beauty industry understands brand and product videos aren’t making the cut. Consumers want to see and hear real experiences from real people. In the world of beauty, authenticity is key.

The beauty industry has been on the forefront of successful micro-influencers, or those who have fewer than 100,000 followers (though lots of them certainly go on to garner many, many more fans). Rather than working with celebrities, brands often opt to work with trusted micro-influencers. The Gen Z audience expects engagement from those they follow, so this more intimate relationship is optimal.

Influencers in the beauty industry like PatrickStarrr have it figured out: Their content entertains and educates. Other industries can look to this formula to help with their influencer strategies.

Authenticity + Engagement = A Human Brand

Fans have a greater demand for more authenticity as they search for sincerity from influencers representing brands. More than half (52%) of Millennial women trust influencers less today than they did in the past.
Gen We has the same expectations for influencers as their peers: accessibility, genuineness and interaction. Fans expect the ability to have dialogue with their peers, influencers and brands alike.

People trust people. As we move into a world with more tech and less human interactions, it’s imperative that brands have a human touch. Influencers are a brand’s best way in for genuine, long-lasting relationships between brands and fans.

What this means for brands

Each generation has different needs, so having a specific target is key to satisfy consumers. Younger consumers, namely the YouTube-obsessed Gen Z, will continue pushing the beauty industry to a more diverse but inclusive place.

For additional insight, we recommend brands do the following to better understand the specific preferences, behaviors and motivations of your core and target customers:

  • Online conversation analysis around the brand, its competitors and key category terms
  • Customer interviews in the Jobs to Be Done methodology
  • Use these insights to help differentiate your brand and build out more refined audience segments for better targeting

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Laura Oxler

Laura Oxler

Laura began her career as a content producer, bringing a creative, positive spirit to every brand. She finds energy in the strategic side of ideas and has since made the move to the Strategic Insights team, focusing on creating content rooted in strategy while she waits for her acceptance letter from Hogwarts.
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