Personal Care | Brands act responsibly in a “woke” category
Initiatives advance sustainability, inclusivity
Personal care is “woke.” In a category of brands known for struggling against commoditization and battling for shelf space, leading brands developed products and communications to limit their impact on the environment and advance a wider definition of inclusivity. Brands also responded to consumer concerns about the impact of products not only on the planet, but on themselves.
Brands promoted natural ingredients and introduced technical innovations to both personalize products for individual needs and simplify them to avoid time-consuming, multi-step regimens. Online start-ups, often from Asia, competed for consumer attention by sometimes stressing not only what natural ingredients their products contained, but also what chemicals were absent.
The idea of beauty continued to evolve, from an acceptance of physical appearance in all its variations, to a more holistic view incorporating health and wellness and recognizing gender fluidity. Related to the focus on beauty, skincare products drove the momentum of the personal care category. At the same time, sales volume softened in other sectors of the category, including shaving and oral care.
Part of the general slowdown of consumer product goods, shaving and oral care also were affected by weakness in some key markets, like South America. In addition, these sectors were populated by mass market brands, which declined 4 percent in value year-on-year, while the luxury brands increased 14 percent, according to BrandZ™. Overall, the BrandZ™ Personal Care Top 15 rose only 2 percent in value, following an increase of 8 percent a year ago.
Sustainability and technology
In a major category sustainability initiative, Procter & Gamble Co, Unilever PLC, and Colgate-Palmolive Co were among global companies partnering with TerraCycle, a New Jersey-based recycling company, to test an initiative, called Loop, to reduce single-use packaging with a recycling system designed to combine sustainability with convenience. Products are distributed in containers that are picked up from the consumer when empty and recycled.
Major personal care brands and retailers also participated in an effort to create common indicators for evaluating brand sustainability practices. Among personal care brands launching product innovations to promote sustainability were Head and Shoulders shampoo and Ren, a skincare brand. They introduced bottles made from plastic waste collected from beaches and the ocean.
Other technical innovations improved product efficacy. At the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show, L’Oréal introduced a wearable called My Skin Track pH, designed to help wears anticipate, and prevent, dryness and other skin conditions. L’Oréal acquired Modiface, creator of augmented reality mirrors for applying makeup virtually in-store or with a smart phone app.
L’Oréal also introduced My UV Patch, a wearable sensor that monitors exposure to the sun. In a more discrete option, L’Oréal also offers a UV-monitoring fingernail decal. Using artificial intelligence to analyze uploaded photos, the Olay Skin Advisor app estimates the age of the user’s sink and recommends a personalized product offering.
This type of technology, first introduced at the luxury end of the market, is quickly moving to mass. Even as the internet becomes a central destination for beauty consumers, mass retailers are attempting to become beauty destinations by resetting their beauty and personal care departments and including technological, value-added services to provide help and advice.
Brands have invested more in high-touch make-up counter diagnostic tools not just for make-up colors, but also for skincare. Because it can be difficult to create this experience in traditional retail outlets, some of the consumer package goods companies are creating pop-up stores that feature this technology.
Personalization and simplification
Meanwhile, larger brands are encountered start-ups with direct-to-consumer models that provide access to data, an unfiltered line of communication to their consumer, and the opportunity to create narrowly personalized skin-care regimens.
Typically, challenger brands are better able than large brands to gather rich data from consumers and find opportunities in hyper-personalization because the cost on a mass scale is so high. But even for challenger brands it can be difficult to find the relevant and useful insights buried in enormous amounts of data.
Many of the challenger brands, particularly in skin care, originate in South Korea. Paradoxically, these brands often introduce complicated, multi-step skin care processes at a time when time-pressed consumers are attempting to simply their lives.
Some of the large luxury brands are creating products that attempt to resolve this tension between hyper-personalization and simplification. Clinique recently launched a hydration system, called Clinique iD, that includes several moisturizers to which the consumer, choosing from one of five cartridges, adds the formulation that matches the specific skin need.
This innovation potentially reduces packaging and the number of variants on a retail shelf. Reducing shelf packaging and presence even more are super-simplified products that promise to take care of all skincare problems for a super-premium price. Also, some startups are introducing simplified products appropriate for variations in types of hair within ethnic communities or within mixed households.
Garnier and Dove benefited from the consumer concern with skincare as an aspect of overall wellness. In addition, changing visions of beauty emphasized cleaning and maintaining skin, and accepting naturalness, rather than covering up perceived imperfections with makeup.
While brands continued to express their commitment to diversity by extending the ranges of products to encompass myriad variations of skin and hair type, they also widened their embrace of diversity to include transgender models and online influencers representing many different ethnic backgrounds.
Revealing how the personal care category is changing, the start-up Fluide calls itself “makeup for him, her, them, everyone.” Similarly, Billie a women’s razor brand, received favorable reviews for ads that showed women actually shaving body hair, countering the practice of promoting women’s hair removal products by showing only smooth, hairless skin.
Balancing on social fault lines of social change sometimes produced controversy, as when Gillette entered the conversation around changing ideas of masculinity. In a well-intentioned attempt to associate with contemporary view of masculinity, the brand revised its strapline from “The best a man can get” to “The best a man can be.”
Brand Building Action Points
- Have a purpose
It is not necessary to communicate a higher purpose, but the consumer will expect the business to be driven by some direction other than making money alone.
- Look outside the category
Look outside the category for new ideas. Look at food, at healthcare, and particularly at technology brands that are harnessing data responsibly to meet consumer needs in a more personalized way. Be transparent and offer a fair value exchange.
- Explore AI
Explore greater use of artificial intelligence, in collaboration with social media partners, as a way to engage, entertain, and educate consumers who are looking for advice about beauty and personal care. These are additional touch points to build—and monetize—consumer relationships.
- Accept complication
There is no one-size fits all. Brands are attempting to simplify and personalize their products, while also reducing their environmental footprint. Some consumers are willing and able to pay a premium for these benefits.
- Learn differently
Incubate. Experiment on a small scale. The major brands have much more data than the start-ups and should have a clearer picture of emerging consumer trends and an informed point of view. The opportunity, compared with an ankle-biter brand, is to use those insights to build scale.
- Keep calm and carry on
Learn from the ankle-biter brands, but do not overreact. Panic is not a productive reaction and overcorrecting can be costly and wasteful. Focus on the brand’s core strengths and build community around those. More and more online start-ups are moving into physical retail, which suggests that where big brands began is not such a bad place to be.
Innovation is critical. It is also a buzzword, its meaning diluted from overuse. Do not abandon innovation but reframe thinking around innovation. Start with thinking about the future of your category and your consumer. Have a vision of where the brand needs to be in two or three years. The right approach for getting there depends on the company ambitions, internal mandates, structure, and appetite for disruption. Possibilities incubators, partnering with a start-up, and co-venturing opportunities.