Beyond Cosmetic Formulas: How Brand Identity Drives Consumer Choices

Elizabeth Heath

Oct 26, 2021 · 5 min read

If you’re designing, creating, and marketing a new cosmetic product or beauty brand in 2022, you need to be thinking now about what consumers are going to want then. Trends in the personal care industry can be short-lived — thank goodness harsh contouring and floating eyeliner are both now passé!

But knowing what cosmetics consumers want doesn’t just mean selling the new “it” shade of lipstick or the latest miracle skincare ingredient. Consumers, especially the emerging Gen Z shoppers who now make up 40% of the buying public, are buying more than just a beauty product. They’re buying an experience, a brand they trust and believe in, and, in many ways, they’re using their purchases to make a social statement.

Real Diversity Matters

Diversity in cosmetics and cosmetics marketing is no longer about a token model of color in an advertising campaign or adding a few more representative pigments to a line of foundation. It’s a holistic approach that includes not just the outward-facing aspects of brand identity, but who’s behind the brand – how many employees, including top decision-makers, are women, people of color, LGBT or nonbinary, or people with disabilities?

When it comes to products and campaigns, if you want to reach socially conscious Gen Z and Millennial consumers, your brand must represent diversity in all its forms, including:

  • Gender Inclusivity. Gen Z has been called “the queerest generation” – with 16% identifying as LGBT. A quarter of those see themselves as nonbinary, meaning they don’t ascribe to traditional male/female gender identities. Your products – and the marketing of your products – should reflect gender inclusivity. Because even if shoppers don’t identify as LGBT or nonbinary, they have friends who do – and they want to buy from brands who care about the people they care about.

  • Products and Marketing for All Skin and Body Types. The illusion of the tall, perfectly slim model with flawless skin shattered a long time ago. Today’s beauty consumers want to see themselves and their peers in products and advertising – and that means models with freckles, wrinkles, thicker waists, hips, and legs, models with natural hair, models with vitiligo, and models with disabilities. Products, too, need to be created for diverse skin and hair types, without “otherizing” these consumers. Need a good example? Unilever has eliminated the word “normal” from all its beauty and personal care lines.

Social Responsibility on Many Levels

Millennials and Gen Zers have come of age on a planet that’s in peril – with the threats of climate change and extinction, extreme human rights disparities, and ongoing risks of global conflict. They’re making conscious, researched lifestyle and buying decisions that reflect these concerns, which means a brand’s sustainability or social responsibility creds have to be more than superficial.

  • Sustainability and Circular Economy. As recently as a few years ago, earning organic certification or the leaping bunny label might have been enough to establish a brand as “sustainable.” Now, the definition of sustainability has expanded to include the concept of the circular economy – the elimination of waste and unsustainable practices all along the supply chain. There are broader applications of the term too, including fair trade and ethical employment practices from the ground up, and absolute transparency when it comes to ingredients and sourcing – especially for vegan, organic, and cruelty-free brands.

  • A Political Stance. It used to be that brands of all sizes shied away from choosing sides. Now, they do so at their peril. Nike ostensibly took a gamble when it partnered with Colin Kaepernick for an ad campaign. But the gamble paid off, as the campaign yielded the company $6 billion. A whopping 70% of consumers surveyed in 2019 said they want brands to take a political stance, which suggests that being apolitical when it comes to issues around race and social justice, animal welfare, and the environment is simply not good business. Just remember that today’s beauty consumers are smart — if a company’s sociopolitical agenda is only performative, sooner or later, its customers will figure that out.

Convenience and Options

Today’s beauty consumers want to know and believe in the brands they buy, but they also want the process to be fun, easy, and fast. Here are some of the ways that consumer demands are changing how brands market and sell their products.

  • Digitalization in Real-Time. Digitalization of cosmetics shopping isn’t the future – it’s the present. The majority of US consumers are digital natives – meaning they were born in the digital era. They want a shopping experience to be as tech-savvy as they are, whether that means virtual try-on technology or A/R mirrors in-store that allow for touchless try-ons. Brands that break the familiar mold of in-store samples will appeal to these tech-savvy consumers – who, additionally in light of the pandemic, may be less willing to handle samples that many hands have touched.

  • Speed and Convenience. Yes, the boom in online cosmetics sales that occurred during the pandemic was about social distancing and restricted retail access. But it also translated to ease and convenience for consumers – and there’s no putting that genie back in the bottle. A report from Edge Retail Insight says that 30% of all beauty sales will be online by 2026 – and we think that’s a conservative estimate. And shopping online and waiting for the mailman is no longer enough. Sephora and Ulta both offer curbside pickup. BeautyLish offers Zero-Day Delivery in select cities, and other beauty brands are partnering with Instacart, and even Uber Eats to offer fast delivery of cosmetic orders.

For Indie Brands and Rising Stars in cosmetics creation, backing up your brand ethos with a sustainable supply chain, ethical sourcing, and recyclable packaging are additional complicating layers in an already challenging product creation environment.

At Goldn, our aim is to make it easy for brands and suppliers with similar mindsets to find each other and collaborate. We also enable technology providers to connect with Cosmetics Creators, so that everyone wins – suppliers, brands that are building their identities, and consumers who want to buy products they love from brands they believe in.

Written by

Elizabeth Heath

Liz is a writer and editor based in central Italy.

Connect with Elizabeth Heath on LinkedIn.

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