More than skin deep: Behind the beauty boom

The beauty industry was once thought of as catering only to the glamorous. And it still does – but it caters to everyone else too. The industry is built on the products and services that help us all look and feel our best.

In 1990, Ulta Beauty entered the US beauty market, differentiating itself among other big industry players with lower prices and by its sheer ubiquity in strip malls. But recently, Ulta Beauty has become a highly desirable brand thanks to Generation Z, a cohort that prefers the chain to its main rival Sephora by a margin of 57 to 43 per cent. 

How did Ulta pull this off? By making its stores the exclusive destination for a long list of brands teenagers find irresistible – and of course, these products were exclusive to Ulta as well. Forbes reported that Kylie Cosmetics achieved $54.4 million in sales within the first six weeks of its launch. The chain’s product mix – a jumble of downmarket and luxe brands – plays into Gen Z’s indifference to segmentation by price. In contrast, Sephora offers high-end products with high-end prices, a less appealing aspect for these young consumers.

Moving focus to Australia, the beauty industry is worth billions and it doesn’t look like it’s slowing down anytime soon. It’s a diverse trade focusing beyond makeup and perfumes to include toothpaste, nail polish, laser treatments and a whole lot more. Recently, both Myer and David Jones refurbished their beauty departments to compete with the other players in the local sector.

Local players such as Chemist Warehouse and Mecca Brands have created agnostic brands and consumer-driven approaches to help offset softer growth in traditional channels.

Mecca Brands – which owns Mecca and Mecca Cosmetica – saw its sales rise 29 per cent to $370 million (wholesale) and have almost doubled in two years, according to ASIC filings. Mecca Brands now has 90 Mecca Cosmetica and Mecca Maxima stores in Australia and New Zealand, including seven concessions in Myer, with another 10 stores to open before the end of the calendar year. Mecca.com.au is the largest player in the online beauty market in terms of sales and web traffic.

Large beauty retailers face challenges from smaller retailers, which have focused on offering a better in-store experience or offering a narrow, but well-curated selection of products. The right retail partnership can turn a tiny startup into a billion-dollar brand or guarantee an established label’s latest launch is a hit. Some liken the relationship between brand and retailer to a marriage, with multi-year exclusivity deals the industry equivalent of a prenup.

As seen with Ulta and Mecca Brands, we know consumer demographics are changing fast. But as millennials become the dominant group – and a rapidly growing cohort of Gen Z peers follow close behind – what’s the impact on companies looking to drive up brand value? Recent research from Accenture, Barkley and Jefferies provides some answers to this question. First and foremost, it suggests that today’s younger consumers are becoming “prosumers”.

What does this mean? Essentially, they don’t simply “consume” a brand’s product or service. Instead, they absorb and process information from every interaction with the brand – what they see and read, their engagements with employees, as well as their experience of the product or service itself – to generate their perception of what the brand means to them. 

This makes having an authentic brand purpose more important than ever. By understanding what a brand stands for – its heritage, its ethics, its social values, even its sense of fun – prosumers are more likely to form an emotional bond. It is this brand “love” that drives up value.

Here are some ways to build brand value in a prosumer world:

1. Treat data with care 

The research highlights just how seriously today’s consumers take the safety and security of their personal information. Sephora recently became victim to this, having to apologise to their customers across Asia Pacific, including Australia, that some personal information and encrypted passwords may have been exposed to an unauthorised third party. Once baseline factors like value for money, reliability and quality are accounted for, being trusted with data has seven times the impact of other consumer levers a brand can pull. To build a deeper and more valuable relationship with consumers, companies need to do everything in their power to treat personal data with security and sensitivity.

2. Find new ways to win loyalty

Rewarding consumers for their loyalty is another key brand lever – and that means thinking beyond just monetary benefits. Whether it involves providing expert “how to” guides, personalised recommendations and subscriptions, or rewards for introducing friends and contributing new ideas, rewarding customer loyalty is over six times as impactful as the average brand lever.  

3. Understand what consumers value   

Consumers are constantly looking for something new and different from a brand and there are a whole host of levers that can be used to meet this demand. These range from supporting social interactions, embedding ethics and sustainability into products and services, making everyday life as simple and convenient as possible or making quality or value for money a key attribute. Drunk Elephant, a “clean compatible” digital native brand, opened its first pop-up in New York offering Instagrammable moments, exclusive samples, customised skincare smoothies and new product launch previews.

4. Make the most of what makes your brand special 

Successful brands are those that understand what makes them special as well as the distinct characteristics of the category in which they operate. For instance, the data shows that fast food restaurant brands benefit most from accelerating their omni-channel personalised customer engagement, while for personal care and beauty brands, the biggest boost comes from positive peer reviews and tailored customer service.

There can be no doubt that the consumer is firmly in the driving seat. The onus is on brands to create relevance at scale in order to appeal to the new generation of consumer, build value and capture untapped growth opportunities. It means seeing the world in the frame of the consumer, understanding the levers to pull and building the capabilities to sense, respond – even anticipate – to shifting demand patterns.


Michelle Grujin is retail managing director at Accenture for ANZ.

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