Beauty's big makeup

30 May 2017

Beauty. It’s big bucks.  According to the BBC programme ‘The Truth About Looking Good’, last year us Brits spent over £9bn on beauty products. So it’s no surprise that here at Portas clients are increasingly asking us for advice on how to nab a piece of the beauty pie. Westfield launches its first ever beauty campaign in X. Iconic Aussie fashion retailer Sportsgirl has branched out into beauty, and now stocks an exclusive range of beauty products aimed at a trend-driven millennial audience.

But it’s a sector that’s changing. And fast. Beauty’s got a new face. And we’re not talking the next Aboah or the new Moss. From up-and-coming brands taking charge to new and innovative retail strategies, this is the beauty world, reimagined. Join us as we explore these changes – and shine a light on what they could mean for your business, big or small.


Skin is in

In recent years, there’s been a surge in interest in skin care. Thanks to the Korean beauty industry, a nightly ten-step skincare programme is the new norm. Because if you’re not cleansing, double cleansing, exfoliating, toning, spraying yourself with “essence,” using an “ampoule,” applying a sheet mask, adding eye cream, moisturising, and then moisturising again, then you’re just not doing it right. Another burgeoning trend fast approaching fever pitch – the ‘skintellectual’ movement. For its growing number of disciples, who passionately debate the merits of this acid versus that acid while stocking up on performance-driven products by the likes of Avene, Orveda, Biologique Recherche, science is the new sexy.  

The wellness wellspring

The lines between beauty and wellness are becoming increasingly blurred. Which is why at Goop, the online platform started by actress cum ‘clean living’ evangelist Gwyneth Paltrow, dietary supplements, super-food infused smoothies and healing crystals are merchandised alongside makeup and hair products. According to Goop’s Jessica Richards, dollar sales in wellness have quintupled in the last year. Why? Because ‘people want to work out, drink a green juice, and have their skin glow’. Brands like Moon Juice, which hails from LA and uses ‘plant proteins, adaptogenic super herbs, and mushrooms to elevate the body, mind and spirit’, and Bondi-beach based The Beauty Chef, whose probiotic powders deliver a hefty hit of vitamins and minerals that purport to promote a healthy balance in the gut, are garnering loyal followers in their pursuit of a holistic, healthy lifestyle.

Inclusivity & the end of anti-aging

This past year has heralded a new era of inclusivity and empowerment for the industry. Beauty brands big and small are not only redefining what it means to be beautiful, they’re also redefining who a beauty customer is.  Rihanna’s makeup line Fenty features 40 different shades of foundation. Jecca, a cosmetics line designed specifically with transgender people in mind, boasts products like concealer capable of covering beard shadow. CoverGirl sets the benchmark for diverse ambassador rosters, counting among its ranks Muslim vlogger Nura Afia; motorcycle road racer Shelina Mored; Amy Deanna, a model with vitiligo; and Maye Musk, Elon’s 69-year-old, silver haired mum. Because, as Amanda Hess at the New York Times recently observed, age ain’t nothing but a number:  anti-aging is out; inspiring confidence is in.


The rise of the indies

In an era where selfies and Youtube make-up tutorials are ubiquitous, indie brands are on the up – and fast stealing market share from the big dogs. Take Glossier, the uber cool direct-to-millenial beauty brand that had over 100,000 Instagram followers before launching a single product. Or The Ordinary, a skincare brand whose £6 foundation is anything but judging by the 25,000-person-long waitlist racked upon its launch. Buffeted by social media, influencer endorsements and product innovations that put niche needs first (vegan, halal, ‘breathable’), these newcomers have reset the beauty agenda. As beauty marketing expert Sophie Jenkins says, “The barriers of entry have reduced, paving the path for increased accessibility and social connectivity that independent beauty brands have been able to take advantage of.”

A new breed of beauty retailer

With rise of the indies comes the rise of the retailers that stock and celebrate them. Gone are the days when beauty shopping meant silo-like kiosks in department stores manned by stand-offish shop assistants. Today, pop into a Sephora, Ulta or Mecca Cosmetica store, and you’ll find an inspiring, brand agnostic beauty emporium with everything from energising supplements to iridescent cleansing milks. Or shop from a number of up-and-coming pureplay beauty retailers – among them, Cult Beauty, Beauty Bay, Violet Grey, and as of next month, Amazon (the e-commerce giant has just announced it will be launching an ‘indie beauty marketplace’ in June). If sampling’s more your thing, sign up to Birchbox, one of the first brands to capitalise on the subscription retail model. 

The beauty behemoths fight back

For the likes of L’Oreal, Lancome and Estee Lauder - conglomerates that have long dominated vanity tables and been in cahoots with department stores for decades - these new market entrants pose a real threat. But instead of sitting back and twiddling their (no doubt perfectly manicured) thumbs, the industry Goliaths are evolving their retail strategies – expanding their brands into multi-brand specialty retailers, and in the case of Elizabeth Arden, enticing visitors to its department store counters with complementary spa services. They’re also gobbling up Davids at an alarming rate. Over the past year, there’s been a slew of mergers and acquisitions. Indie brands including Vital Proteins, Hum Nutrition, Hourglass Cosmetics, Maison Francis Kurkdjian, True Botanicals, Pai Skincare, Wander Beauty, Drunk Elephant and Tula Skincare have either received injections of capital or been bought. The beauty arms race is well and truly on.


Make it personal

As Portas, we talk about the death of demography. To be successful, beauty brands need to stop thinking ‘consumer’ and ‘segment’, and start thinking ‘people’ and ‘person’. Understanding the individual buying and using your product or service is critical. At a practical level, this means engaging in dialogue with them. Sometimes it means partnering with them to co-create something.

Case in point: Glossier. Glossier doesn’t just post pretty pictures of models and celebrities using its products on social media; it talks to its followers as if they were old friends — from replying to comments with helpful tips and tricks, to reposting images and tutorials. The brand’s social media channels and website also act as a form of R&D lab. Take the Milky Jelly face cleanser which launched in January 2016. The product was developed almost entirely via crowdsourcing; Glossier’s founder, Emily Weiss, simply went on her Into The Gloss website to ask ‘What’s your dream face wash?’.

If your brand doesn’t have a cult-like online following and crowdsourcing isn’t an option, explore other ways of making your product personal.  Brands with customisable products are seeing huge success. Think of Care/Of’s curated daily vitamin packs; Eyeko’s Bespoke Mascara; or BareMinerals’ individually blended foundation. Or do something as simple as sending out personalised EDMs – addressing someone by their first name is a simple and easy way to build an emotional connection. Anything that makes the customer feel special and unique – and not like a generic pen portrait – is worth investing in.

Have a clear sense of purpose

All brands need a north star, but this is particularly true in a sector as competitive and fragmented as beauty. Take skincare start-up Drunk Elephant. What Drunk Elephant stands for (clean, natural ingredients) and what Drunk Elephant doesn’t stand for (silicones, fragrance and dyes, chemical sunscreens, sodium lauryl sulfate and alcohol) is crystal clear. So much so that when, early on, a well-meaning industry expert told founder Tiffany Masteron to change the name because Drunk Elephant was too ‘weird’, she stuck to her guns. As she explained to BoF, ‘I just thought, I’m going to act like I’m already successful, and hold true to these first ideas and what’s coming from my gut. Otherwise, I’m going to lose the vibe from the beginning.’

Conglomerates might not have the same ‘vibe’ as the beauty disrupters, but they should heed the same advice. Heritage brands have an opportunity to remind people why their hero products are – and always have been – hero products. These products might not be trendy, but they’re dependable. They do what they say on the tin. As Estee Lauder chief executive Fabrizio Freda explained at a company meeting last year, ‘The trial moment is not the profitable moment. Trial is an investment. Repeat is a profit… The profitable brands are still the big brands with great hero product, great repeat, and not the many small brands that generate a lot of noise on trial’.

The same principle can be applied to digital innovation. In beauty, a lot of innovative chops are spent on things like magic mirrors and make-over apps. This is the age of beauty ‘retailtainment’ after all. But sometimes it’s just tech for tech’s sake. Anything that a beauty brand invests in should ladder back to the overarching purpose.

Be open – not elusive

In a recent survey of over 10,000 people from around the world, 78% said it is ‘somewhat or very important for a company to be transparent.’ And 70% said that ‘these days I make it a point to know more about the companies I buy from’ (Havas, February 2016). In today’s socially connected world, transparency counts for a lot. There’s been a shift from conspicuous to conscious consumerism and people increasingly value companies that chime with their own personal values. This means companies need to wear their hearts on their sleeves. They need to be open, honest and accountable. They need to turn their backs on the old beauty vanguard of corporate, inaccessible and ‘ivory tower’.

But while transparency can do wonders for beauty businesses, there’s also a lot at stake. Over at LUSH, every ingredient in every product is listed online and linked to a page explaining what it does and where it comes from. But the company recently found itself in hot water. An article on the site ‘Truth Beauty lies’ exposed the practice of adding fillers and preservatives to products to extend their shelf life. Deciem, parent company to skincare brand The Ordinary, is well known for its radical transparency. But it recently got itself into an Instagram kerfuffle when its CEO, Brandon Truaxe, went rogue, renouncing his CEO title; posting pictures of piles of rubbish in Morocco, promising to eliminate plastics in packaging; and blocking followers from the @Deciem account. Appalled at his behaviour, some users decided to boycott the brand.  What can we learn from all this? Don’t be elusive. Let your customers in. Keep them close. And let your purpose and values keep you on the right track.