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Engaging the New Beauty Consumer

By: Roshini Greenwald (group leader), Jacquelyne Smerklo (co-leader), Gayathri Balasundar, Kimberly Lam, Deanna Spence and Brenna Stone
Posted: June 4, 2014

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There is, in fact, a way to integrate today’s technology with a more authentic sense of community. Restaurant chain, HAI - DI – LAO in China, has pioneered the first tele-dining experience, allowing families living apart to connect virtually over dinner (Stylus, 2014).

Beyond virtual, communities are physically growing as travel is on the rise. With a growing and increasingly global network, consumers have developed a dynamic and evolving relationship with both their own values and their commitment to their communities. While new consumers want to develop a wide, global, diverse network, they are also interested in self-expression coupled with a need for a sense of belonging. This balance highlights the future consumer’s empowerment as well as need for self-identity.

In China, a BBDO study conducted amongst affluent Chinese youth uncovered that they question the super competitive, fast speed of urbanization in favor of a stronger sense of morality in the community. They are starting to take a deeper look inward to their community and rebuild the basic values that bring people together, namely morality, humbleness, and fairness. They are evolving toward a balance between individual ambition and the pace of their society today.

Consumers today feel a constant push and pull between belonging to their community and their own self identity. They balance a want for external validation with a need for choice and empowerment. One brand that has addressed this new sense of community is Sprint. Their new Framily Plan allows consumers to build cell phone plans inclusive of family and friends, redefining a person’s closest sense of community (Sprint, 2014). Sprint is playing on the juxtaposition of a broader sense of community with a sense of self as all of their ads highlight “separate bills available!”

Beauty brands must customize experiences for consumers that allow them to simultaneously engage with their community and build their sense of self. Beauty as an industry already balances consumers’ internal and external motives, which provides a clear opportunity to further incorporate this balance into our engagement strategies.

Future Approach

One quintessential example of a brand successfully tapping into each of the four spectrums, culture, generation, gender, and community, is Coca Cola. They recently partnered with Google to reimagine their 1971 campaign “I’d like to buy the world a Coke.” They developed a digital platform using online ads and specially developed vending machines to enable users to buy a can of Coke for someone across the world, along with a personalized video message. This demonstrates the power of breaking barriers and connecting people of all cultures, generations, genders and communities (Wasserman, 2012). This is the power of Coke’s brand DNA that resonates across all spectrums of people.

In the near future, there will be technology that will allow brands to penetrate to a deeper level of granularity. Neurosensory technology will measure and track emotional states as well as physical vitals to better understand what drives consumer actions. This can be used to help craft custom products and services that are ultra tailored to consumer needs.


“Others” are already evolving from today’s consumers and brands cannot wait for technology to weave the threads together. They must start engaging the “others” today. There are four key concepts the beauty industry can rethink to take steps, or leaps, in the right direction.

Rethink The Common Thread.

How can brands engage consumers beyond demographics? True engagement is through a cultural exchange between brand values and consumer values. Rather than approaching the “others” with a visual of multicultural models, go deeper to understand whether a visual that cues individuality or close-knit community will resonate more with consumers. Beauty brands need to develop a cultural fluency that goes beyond projecting racial elements through existing brand formats. For “others”: engage = exchange.

Rethink the Consumer’s Reality.

How can beauty brands break through the clutter? Breaking through the clutter is, in fact, brand focused, not consumer focused. This approach disrupts the consumer’s reality in favor of pushing the brand message to the forefront. Instead, understanding and engaging with the consumer’s reality provides for a more meaningful and lasting connection. For example, instead of promoting products only around key holidays, find the moments that transcend culture and generation to celebrate with consumers throughout the year. It could be as simple as celebrating firsts, a first date, first job, or first day of school, which hold a lot of emotional significance for so many people. These are the moments that deeply matter to all consumers and offer an opportunity for brands to stay relevant everyday with everyone.

Rethink Connectivity.

How can beauty brands stay relevant as technology evolves? Don’t confuse technology with real connection. Optimize education to be consumer focused, not product focused. With each transaction, the goal should be to learn three interests or facts about the consumer, unrelated to the product sale. Developing real and personalized experiences will engage these consumers over and over. Beauty brands have the potential to become real members of their consumers’ communities.

Rethink the Corporate Framework.

How can beauty brands implement a more dynamic culture within their organizations? Many companies have isolated departments developing multicultural strategies. There is an opportunity to take cues from consumer packaged goods companies like Pepsi to ensure that every member of the team has expertise in consumer insights. In beauty, rather than having multicultural experts, have teams focus on finding the intersection of interests across cultures, generations, genders, or communities.


Demographic data such as race, age, sex, and geography can only reveal one dimension of a person’s overall fluid identity. In order to truly engage with the multi-faceted and dynamic consumer, companies need to reach them on a deeper level.

By removing the terms race, age, sex, and geography from brand vocabulary in place of a spectrum of culture, generation, gender, and community, the beauty industry can become the leader in understanding and engaging the new consumer. People who look like “others” today will in fact define the beauty ideals of tomorrow.