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Opportunities in Body Care Come to Light Via Social Media


By: Sourabh Sharma
Posted: November 25, 2013, from the December 2013 issue of GCI Magazine.

Body care, which has seen sales pick up recently after some slow years, has the ability to be a significantly growing segment of the beauty industry, owing to seasonality, varied skin types, myriad of needs, and the plethora of remedies and treatments that brands offer for different parts of the body. Of more than 50,000 online conversations about skin care that were generated in early summer 2013, 67% were about body care, underscoring its importance in the beauty industry. Those results come from a 2013 study of body care brand representation in social media by market researcher SKIM.

The Dialogue in Social Media

The web space is alive with conversations that are freely and publicly available. Social media exists as a solution to candid insight where other research methods are either too advanced to yield a simple understanding or are simply outdated in a mobile-enabled, cosmopolitan world. Today’s consumers are empowered to go public through mass communication outlets such as tweets, blogs, product reviews, Pinterest images, YouTube videos and Facebook updates. And anything that becomes public—no matter the source or the medium—becomes the brand’s face in full view of all consumers, current and potential, as well as competitors.

It is a missed opportunity when brands do not find a way to organize social media and use it to shape marketing strategies. Or at the very least, take it as another point of view. SKIM researchers have found a way to organize social media’s “big data” bundle in a way that makes it actionable, which is much needed in the potentially vibrant body care category.

The key takeaway from SKIM’s body care study is an apparent overwhelming lack of positivity in the category, i.e. consumers are not thrilled with product offerings. Perhaps they are even confused by the overwhelming deluge that hits them daily. And more often than not, body care conversations are dominated with talk about product flaws or problems instead of success stories.

Although social media consumers tend to be more negative on the web in general, the study shows fewer positive perceptions in body care compared to other cross category studies conducted by SKIM in areas such as frozen desserts or condiments. Whether talking about product effectiveness, distribution and store preference, or the overall evocative emotions generated about brands, the body care category, overall, shows a need for more positivity. The good news is there are plenty of opportunities for this to happen.

Where Consumers Talk About Body Care

While forums and communities represent the largest proportion of conversations, only 40% of these are positive. Tumblr, which has the second highest number of conversations about body care, represents 34% positive conversations and 15% negative ones. With the exception of Facebook and videos, all other platforms that generate body care conversations are less than 50% positive, exposing a wealth of opportunity for body care providers to boost positivity in the social media space. (Table 1)

The least talked-on platforms for body care were those that constituted primarily photos, which evoked 73% positive conversations, perhaps due to the importance of a visual impact in the beauty category as a whole. Brands can learn from this to boost visual content via larger presences on visual, photo-based platforms such as Pinterest and Instagram, alongside Tumblr.

Favorite—and Not So Favorite—Stores

Chatter around the distribution of body care products shows a similar trend: the more a retailer is talked about, the less positive the conversations. While resellers are the largest source of conversations about the placement of body care products, they garner a mere 10% positivity. (Table 2)

Other highly talked about retailers are much more positive (47% at clothing stories, 49% at Sephora and 48% at pharmacies). Macy’s alone gathers 70% positive conversations, compared to 61% in all other department stores combined. This further exemplifies the need for body care providers to create meaningful retail partnerships to combat increasingly crowded shelf space.

The Body Care Competitive Landscape

One of the key strengths of social media is that it allows brands to compare their position on an even, competitive landscape. Because consumers speak freely of their preferences and brands, a level playing field is difficult to acquire through classical, asking-based research. Consumers are less likely to talk authentically about a brand when asked a question, particularly when it is asked by the brand itself. A two-by-two matrix plots sentiment (a range of conversations that increase in positivity) versus passion (the strength of these emotions, which distinguish love from like and hate from dislike). Among body care products, the most talked about brand is Clinique, which falls into the “love” segment. Consumers like its dependability, and it has a loyal following. Consumers say things such as: “Been using it and it really works!” (via Facebook) or “I’ve loved everything I’ve tried in the [Clinique] line!” (via an online forum). (Table 3)

Clinique shares this space with less talked-about brands, perhaps indicative of lower distribution or sales volumes. They include three mass/masstige market brands: L’Oréal Paris, Nivea and Olay, and one specialty store brand, Bath and Body Works.

And while no brand is especially liked, Dove falls into a dislike segment, and Garnier to the hate side. This is due in particular to ideas like Dove’s selling of “lightening products” (via Tumblr), and Garnier’s perceptions regarding a product line that separates (via an online community). Digging deeper can uncover more trends about why brands occupy the spots they do—and what they can do to improve their perceived positioning.

Perceived Identity of Brands

Social media can also be used in ways similar to traditional forms of research. SKIM researchers demonstrated this by using a grid-question approach to understanding different elements of personality and emotions that brands can stand for, identifying these as a strength or weakness. The results further build a case for the overwhelming lack of positivity in the body care market. (Table 4)

In terms of personality, the grid-question analysis demonstrates the kinds of brand profiles that consumers seek, which is a reversal of the way brand management typically works. In other words, while brands try to create a profile for themselves, social media reveals the consumer interpretation of this profile, thus providing a reality check.