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Connect With Young Consumers in the Beauty Category Through Social Commerce

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Reva Bahtia: You’re listening to Next in Consumer Products from Publicis Sapient. The podcast that shares insights on unlocking what’s next in digital and consumer products.

In our previous episode, we discussed the rise of social shopping and the instrumental role it will play as an emerging commerce tactic for consumer product firms. With the recent launch of Instagram reels and even now with Google shoppable video app, Shoploop, the momentum in the social commerce ecosystem is mounting.

Today, we're going to double click into the beauty category, a CP sector that is ripe for opportunity in this space. Let's take a look inside this new shopping mall that is our social media feeds and how it can be harnessed to connect beauty brands to young consumers. Joining me today is Gemma Leutton, Client Partner focused on beauty and personal care. I'm your host for the session, Reva Bhatia. Now, let's dive in.

OK, I'm going to kick things off with a really quick question for you hopefully. Can you walk me through the evolution that social media has played with commerce and beauty brands? It's been a long journey over the course of the past few decades, so hoping you can just give us quick summary of what's been brewing.

Gemma Leutton: Sure, so I mean, if we just think maybe we don't take the last few years and we just take the last 18 months for example because there's been a massive shift even there. And historically social has really been the number one consumer engagement channel and really that's how success has been measured for brands in social, largely still is today but actually social has always been a critical channel within purchase consideration and if you think about social commerce, it’s really social plus shopping, when I think about it that they are intrinsically linked and the behavior in the desire has always been there and now the capabilities exist to allow consumers to shop and brands to ultimately benefit. So there's a few different reasons for me in terms of why social commerce is really exploded. I mean, for a start, particularly with this younger audience so for a start socials where the majority of health and beauty consumers first discover brands so about 80% of 16 to 24 year olds first discovered beauty brands on social is naturally where they are and when they're buying beauty products that behavior in purchase for beauty products tends to be very impulsive, so you know the little treats that delights like your lipsticks or your nail varnishes and people tend to be a little bit more impulsive with those products. You know that also predominantly think about the behavior within social platforms they are on social to browse so they already in that mindset open to being inspired, they’re following their favorite friends and influencers, favorite brands, favorite services, and so being able to shop for the products that really resonate with them from that same environment has been a relatively seamless transition. The need has been there and now the capabilities exists to enable it to happen. And the brands that have really used social successfully as a transition into social commerce really what they've used social as an extended service to the brands themselves not just as an inspire or just as a buy they use it to evolve the actual experience, you know they recognize that social allows you to have a community that allows you to learn more about consumers. The more they interact as brands with the consumers the more they get back from it the more they understand them at a deeper level.

Reva: Excellent.

Gemma: But, for social commerce to really be successful, the experience needs to be accessible and it also needs to be frictionless and I think this is where we're kind of seeing the biggest shift.  So you know as I just said the behavior has been there and brands can see that consumers want the next level of “where can I buy this?” and “can I get my hands on this tomorrow? ”etc. And really with the with the onset of Facebook Shops and the instance of purchasing on Instagram, it's really made that kind of that time go quicker so that people can get what they want and actually for smaller brands as well, it’s I mean heaven for them because they you know they finally have access to audience they never dreamed were possible and it kind of creates more of a level playing field.

Reva: I was just going to say it’s more equal now like where they were probably struggling to compete with the behemoths in the beauty ecosystem and now there are all these like smaller digital native players who have a fair shot at selling their lipsticks and nail varnishes as you said.

Gemma: Exactly. And, I think maybe the last point on this question is really, with the rise of digital transactions, it becomes that level of more granular level of consumer data, which means that the cycle to continue with personalization, recommendations, tailored offers, not to mention loyalty programs, and subscription based models, it means that you finally that level of understanding is there so that there's another way of enticing of keeping the conversation going and the thread.

Reva: Super cool, so I guess segueing you know you touched briefly on some of the interesting facets of social shopping that you've seen. I'd be keen to now double click into like do you have more specific examples of some of the cooler things you've seen that, not only get people into the purchase funnel and get them familiar with potentially new brands, but also bridging that gap into getting them to purchase, getting them to convert. I'm interested to see if you have any more specific examples of brands that are doing this well or interesting activations you've seen out there.

Gemma: Yeah, I can think of a few biggie ones and then a few smaller ones as well so let's go for a few examples. So maybe first if we start with Fenty and for those that don't know Fenty is a beauty brand owned by Rihanna, has been around for about four years now but it's a very inclusive brand. It was set up because she recognized that there wasn't enough diversity within the beauty sector within shades and things like that, and so she actually they set up something called the Tik Tok Beauty House so it's really like a literal house where a group of micro influencers are invited to post brand related content in tutorials on behalf of the brands - think about it's like the ultimate collaboration because it's a platform for the influences to shine, and it's also extending their community and Fenty’s at the same time so doubling that brand footprint like super smart and of course everything that they share is completely shoppable.

Reva: That’s incredible.

Gemma: It’s way up there, yeah, with one of the most successful social collaboration partnerships within the category. And then maybe if we talk about Sephora, so they have a color match artist that uses the beauty tech Modiface via Facebook chatbot. And the way it works is that you it helps you to select the right shade, again if you stick on foundations for a bit, so it's bots analyze your image whether that static or if it comes through like the live camera functionality, it reviews your skin tones, even what you're wearing, so you know what clothes are you wearing, to give you recommendations that the same ways that in store consultants might, so actually if you think about the situation we're in right now, where people aren't going into stores often and they're looking for these kind of VR-type assistants that can really help them get what they want, then you can start to see the impact that's going to have and I think the only challenge I would give to Sephora is that, once you've tried the product, obviously you can buy it but that handoff does not sit within Facebook, it takes you back to so the journey is a little bit broken so we kind of were seeing iterations like this within beauty where the intent is there but then the journey could be a bit more seamless so here you go Sephora, a little tip.

Reva: Free advice if you will, yeah.

Gemma: I think maybe, maybe if we go like super high-end and talk about Pat McGrath, who is one of the world's most successful makeup artist, she kind of recognized that people were saying “well how do you mix that product Pat?”, “how do you make that happen?” and she was like well I just make my own at home and decided to set up her own brand for years looking for the right level of investment. And I used to work with her years ago and remember when she's doing her Series A funding like she you know she was very, very clear about who she wanted to work with and really that label is an extension of her philosophy and style and what she’s done and the example here is real like a partnership. So she's very exclusive, the products have drop dates people join really long waiting lists to get these products and she did a collaboration that’s in the play at the moment with Supreme, the street wear label. And Supreme has never had makeup cosmetics line and Pat's never done Supreme style sweatshirts, so on the face of it seems a little bit odd as a partnership but actually they've both got that kind of exclusive drop territory that sits behind them so it's a really smart collaboration. There's waiting lists that you sign up to within Instagram and also within Supreme’s Instagram and on dot com as well and I'm pretty sure it will already be sold out the day that the day that they launch at some point in late September, but what that what that means for the younger consumers in Supreme products are pretty expensive, you're probably talking like a retail of at least $350 for a T-shirt you know that is not really accessible for most people, especially those without a disposable income so by launching cosmetic products it means that consumers have a piece of that brands that they can have access to they have that little luxury that is affordable and they're buying into that sort of as an entry level. Many different brands have done it before so you got Mason Kitsune with Shu Uemura and Estee Lauder and Kith, they are kind of other examples of street wear and beauty partnerships that have existed before.

Reva: Really interesting stuff. Yeah, I mean, it's interesting that you talk about the role like what young consumers are looking for because I reflect on what you said about convenience with Sephora in the shopping journey but then juxtaposing that against the shopping experience with you know the collaboration between Pat and Supreme right? And it's like that is the least convenient process in the whole world and so you know I'd be interested to see your perspective around what young consumers really are looking for out of a social commerce experience and if there are some more proven strategies that brands should adopt that give them access to really what young consumers are demanding? 

Gemma: Yeah, there's definitely, there’s definitely some kind of key principles out there so I mean overall social’s really changed from being informative to informative plus transactional. And social channels are really the brand experience for many, many brands within the beauty sector it's their actual presence. But in order to target that conscientious younger consumer, how the brand really positions themselves is almost more important than what it sells. I mean obviously it plays a factor but maybe we just double click on that for a second so defining social mission purpose and values is really what helps brands to connect at a personal level. So, let's look at Glossier, so they are arguably the top performing beauty brand across Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. You know they've declared their purpose as giving voice through beauty, believing in the power of self-expression and personal choice in beauty and beyond, so they're not just for there not just for today it's not just you know what your lipstick color means for you, it's actually having an active stance on the world and moving into that lifestyle space, so they have a point of view on politics, social responsibility, sharing commitments, a fairer society, they tackle beauty norms - all considered topics for you know our younger consumer who are looking for brands to really align with their own values. So they recognize the importance and that comes front and center through everything that they communicate, I mean also down to product ingredients themselves and the supply chain so you know possibly, once overlooked, how the product has been made what from its packaging, its ingredient traceability, sustainability, whether it's affiliated to vegan society or is it certified organic. You know these brand decisions make all the difference to the younger consumer who want this information to be so transparent so that they can be informed. It is very is very important and there are brands out there that sort of sidestep that piece of the brand building and actually when you put them on par the brands that feel that you know maybe that's too risky and they don't have they’re not robust in that area, they're the kind of the ones that don't connect because the honesty is not there, the truth is not there. And then I guess just leading off and that you know social really provides the perfect place for communities to grow. We have the comments field, there's the share, the like, the save for later, and the constant community management that exists and has to exist, you know the brands that are really cracking it and getting it right are using that to their advantage, they're not just thinking or you know, I can't feel that comment because it's questioning whether this products tested on animals or not, you know a brand like Glossier will use that completely serves their advantages, and say well if this product is not working for you, tell me what would work and we will brief R&D Department and you know you can come along and test it with us and obviously consumers love that because have the opportunity to liaise with the brand that they value highly, have a point of view and can you imagine if it was your idea and you know you put that through R&D and it ended up being created kind of huge kudos? And Huda and Glossier really using that that sense of community to grow their brands forward.

Reva: Building evangelists right where other brands they really struggle to have any kind of direct relationship with consumers right you look at these, I mentioned before behemoth beauty brands that have been operating for many, many years and they're used to selling to retailers who sell to consumers right in many instances and so that one to one connection is something that's a little bit awkward perhaps for many of the bigger brands to figure out but you're spot on and looking at Glossier is a fantastic example, in one that we talk about in other forums you know as well from a digital transformation perspective but they've knocked it out of the park in relation to social, I mean they started as a really a community based brand right with their blog and have really evolved over time.

Gemma: 'Cause they are truly peer-to-peer they’re not top down at all, that's where you're right like that's where they started and that's where they've continued and arguably that's why they've gotten. I wonder if there's a point also on like the democratization of the industry as a whole as well, particularly for Gen Z as who I actually think have helped that that that view kind of ripple up the prestige ladder as well, like if even if we go back 10 years, I know we said 18 months let's go back 10 years for a little bit you know the faces that were aligned to beauty brands like Estee Lauder and you know Dior, I'm sure I'm not on my own when I you know I'd be thinking there anywhere in the brand that they represents yeah that you know that is definitely the brand I want to be her etc. But really you know Gen Z have helped us to really challenge that norm to undo those beauty stereotypes and make sure that we're not desiring to be supermodels we are ourselves and that's OK and then if you look at the talent even that Huda, Fenty and Glossier using they're not using celebrity endorsements anymore, they're using real people and yes they're probably on a models books, you know model agents books somewhere, but they are celebrated for their imperfections and that's OK and I really think Gen Z’s done a wonderful thing for us there by you know opening our eyes and saying you know this is not OK we need to change and there needs to be an accurate representation.

Reva: Absolutely, as I'd say like as a female minority myself, it's often a struggle like I grew up wearing makeup that foundation and powder that doesn't match my skin. I had to I didn't have makeup that matched my skin and it's crazy. And honestly exciting to see how far the industry has come as a whole over the course of frankly, I'd say like three to five years more than anything, I'm finally like finding my brands that didn't exist three to five years ago that finally are making products that match my skin so yeah it's I mean you're spot on Gemma it's like it's very exciting to see the evolution of what's happening and you know I'm also keen to see how other big brands step up and adapt all of these like really scrappy digital natives coming into play.

Gemma: Actually, have you heard of Huda? Huda Beauty so by Huda Kattan and she's a she's a makeup artist blogger, makeup artist who turned into a blogger, recognize that you know she's an ethnic minority, in that she that she was an untapped potential in the market for products and then she kind of stood by a certain look. And she has I mean she has absolutely thought if you look at the engagement rates for beauty brands, she's always in the top three, and I think that brand is only been going three years. And so she had a philosophy she stuck to it she evolved from there and she wrapped her product range around her values and I think it does come back to like, what do you exist to do and what is your purpose.

I think there are lots of smaller brands out there who have shown that there is an evolution into be it wellness or even street wear and clothing or you know banded water bottles and that it doesn't have to just stick with cosmetics and that shows the brands I think that shows the brands of the future who have a clearer trajectory of what's next versus what they're doing today.

Reva: OK, so you did a little bit of this already, Gemma, but I'm you know I'd love to maybe look a little deeper into your crystal ball and make some predictions on where you think the evolution of social commerce as it relates to beauty brands and social shopping as it relates to beauty brands will go? Again, we won't hold you to these predictions, but would love to see your take on where you think things are going next.

Gemma: So my crystal ball tells me a few different things, so first being we really expect to see a rise in hyper personalized products, so in products that are created not just not just color matched, which is the couple of examples we've used but that really understands your genetic makeup and you know whether those products are built by reformulating existing quantities of proteins etc. or SPFs relative to your skin or whether it's sharing you know DNA samples, which might sound a bit scary, but if it helps to make product formulas that are specifically you know that are right for you, then that could be a huge next wave for us.

And, I mean, we're already seeing at CES last year, they had face masks that were 3D printed by Neutrogena, so it is already starting, and I think we're just on the cusp of it at the moment and seeing that progression into wellness as well, I only think that's going to get deeper and deeper. You know the rise of smart algorithms that really match the ingredient with the personal data that they already have access to, and I definitely think that's going to be a huge territory so not just which one off the shelf suits you, but this is for me this is created for me. There's a brand called Function of Beauty where you complete a quiz, and I think you have to answer maybe it's like 9, 10 questions and at the end of it, you get your personalized bottle shampoo conditioner.

Reva: I just bought Prose literally and I gave lots of information about myself in order to get. It’s good, it smells nice.

Gemma: You know, it’d be interesting in a couple of weeks for you to say, do you feel like you got enough for the information that you gave over like is the value exchange working there or does it remains to be seen with Prose at whether in two months four months down the line then when the next kind of phase comes out is that where we start seeing more of a value exchange? I mentioned wellness a couple of times, but I honestly think this is like one of the biggest trajectories for this category. And it's sort of if you think today in beauty, it’s very focused on the external right, but if we also think about the monitoring of those external factors relative to beauty needs, so whether that's weather humidity, stress, hormone, fluctuations, fitness levels, that doesn't just create an external impact it creates an internal impact, and I still feel like a lot of the industries are very external focused, but if the Wellness trend continues, it has to come more internal. You know, there could be we could see a rise in like beauty wearables for example that tell us when humidity or when we’re too stressed or maybe that’s too stressful in itself.

Reva: My Apple Watch does tell me when I need to like breathe and calm down and when my heart rate's elevated. It’s like “Oh my gosh” and that, you know, it's fun, it's exciting.

Gemma: Yeah, but like nutrition as well like there's not really that many beauty products out there that the marry external with internal, so if you're really looking to improve your skin health, most of us know that it's not just what SPF and foundation we put on our skin, but it's what we eat as well and really there's not that many brands that have kind of put the two together you know have given us exercise or meditation practice as well as the product topical product, so I think that's kind of a huge space for development and then maybe this one's a bit out there… 

Reva: I'm excited.

Gemma: But, again, we’ll stay in wellness 'cause I'm loving wellness, but I'd say GenZers are more connected to the impact of their mental state and their emotive and mental state, so we could see a rise in what we called neuro cosmetics. To be fair and these are really products or services that are designed to lift and boost emotions, so really taking clean beauty to the next level you know, like they help you feel better through texture, through smells, through the ingredients, they have within them through how you apply them and you know it's almost like a scented candle come moisturize plus meditation, so that could be that could be a huge area of focus, I think that's crystal ball in the future in the future, but there's definitely something in that internal, external making us feel better from within kind of territory.

Reva: I love it. Sign me up for the meditative foundation. I would definitely buy some of that. So, I guess wrapping things up today with a little bit of a lighthearted question for you. It sounds like you've seen the full spectrum of beauty brands and how they're engaging with social commerce. I'm keen to get your perspective what was the last beauty brand or beauty item you purchased from or item that you purchased through social?

Gemma: It's a pretty good question, so given that we've just come out of lockdown, mine is a haircut itself, through social right? So Unilever own a company called Blow Limited, and they have always done like had like little salons on high footfall street corners within central London. And they have during lockdown evolved and they also used to do blow dries at home as well and they've evolved to during lockdown to offer cuts and colors and a whole host of beauty regimes within the home very, very quickly and you know when I was in dire need of a haircut, an ad pops up on social to say that they were now doing cuts and I just without even thinking, I've never even used them, that I've been thinking after I was like, yeah you know, I need this service they know that I need it because they've obviously seen what I've been searching for. I'll take a try and then they came round and it's great and they you know they recommended products to me and did an OK job of my hair, but it was definitely a service that I was in need of.

Reva: And they just came into your home and cut your hair?

Gemma: Yeah

Reva: That is excellent.

Gemma: I mean, when it was all legal obviously. I didn’t do it illegally. But yeah, no, yes it's like an at home service they've adapted their business model really quickly to be able to not just give blow dries, but also bring on talent that could you know cut hair as well as style it.

Reva: It’s like the Uber of hair.

Gemma: It totally is the Uber of hair, yeah.

Reva: That's incredible.

Gemma: Right where I wanted it.

Reva: Yeah, exactly thank you for sharing that story, and we are at time, so appreciate you taking the time today, Gemma. This was a really great conversation.

Gemma: Thank you.

Reva: Cheers. Thanks for tuning into Next in Consumer Products. Be sure to subscribe so you don't miss a beat on the future of digital in the CP industry.

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Scott Clarke
Scott Clarke
Vice President, Retail and Consumer Products, EMEA & APAC