The beauty industry used to be ruled by large cosmetics companies like L’Oréal and Estee Lauder. 

These days, while they’re still generating success, major brands are increasingly feeling the heat from a number of new brands intent on shaking up the industry.

With a consumer-focused and inclusive mind-set, modern brands like Glossier and Fenty seem to be taking over the likes of Elizabeth Arden and even Mac as consumer favourites.

So, what are these challenger brands doing to win over today’s beauty consumers? Here’s more on their strategies and successes.

Authenticity over expertise

In an era of plummeting consumer trust, many legacy beauty brands are struggling to connect with today’s fickle beauty shoppers. This, to some extent, has to do with changing purchasing habits. 

Where consumers used to head in-store to sample and shop for beauty, a growing number are now buying online. In 2017, ecommerce accounted for 8.5% of beauty sales. As a result of this shift, brands that typically rely on characteristics like expertise, quality, and heritage to market their products are struggling to make their voices heard amid the chatter of digitally-focused, socially savvy start-ups. 

And what are these new brands chatting about exactly? Their products in the context of authenticity rather than expertise, for the most part. In other words, instead of selling cosmetics on false promises (i.e. the airbrushed ideal that no foundation can achieve), brands like Fenty and Glossier are letting consumers themselves define what ‘beauty’ looks like. 

glossier instagram

In a similar sense, brands like The Ordinary are deliberately debunking the tropes that have defined the beauty industry in the past. This is largely in terms of price, whereby companies typically inflate cost to make up for expensive advertising and posh packaging. 

In contrast, The Ordinary takes a ‘no frills’ approach to beauty, using unfussy packaging and low pricing alongside pure and quality ingredients. In comparison to the traditional business model – which is often fuelled by celebrity endorsements and expensive, glossy advertising – it’s an approach that appeals to consumers' growing desire for transparency. 

Peer-to-peer approach

The likes of Mary Kay and Avon have been using customers to sell their products for decades, meaning the peer-to-peer beauty brand is nothing new. However, thanks to the rise of social media (and user-generated content) beauty brands are now updating the model for modern consumers.

Instead of selling in-person, brand advocates are now doing it on social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook. This can be ‘selling’ in a theoretical sense, i.e. for the purpose of influence or advocacy. Glossier does this, for example, using user-generated content to fuel its online community.

Others, however, use a more traditional peer-to-peer approach, with consumers able to actually sell products on behalf of the brand. Younique is one example of this. A digital peer-to-peer cosmetics company, it enables customers to set up their own personal ecommerce site, host selling parties online, and promote products on their personal Instagram and Facebook accounts. 

younique instagram

The appeal of Younique stems from the same principle as influencer marketing, with consumers more likely to trust recommendations from genuine advocates of the brand rather than so-called ‘experts’. The fact that Younique donates a portion of its sales to a sexual abuse charity also amplifies its aim of ‘empowering and validating’ women, in all senses.

A skincare brand with a similar model, Rodan and Fields, takes this one step further by posting before and after photos of its sellers on its social media. With sellers not only using the product, but also seeing visible results, the brand is able to further its level of authenticity.

rodan and fields instagram

Personalisation and people

While many brands now use reviews and feedback to determine products and marketing campaigns, some are putting the power entirely in the hands of consumers. 

Again, Glossier seems to be a pioneer, using its audience to gauge how and why its products are created. Before it launched its first ever range, CEO and Founder Emily Weiss asked her personal social media followers what their dream cleanser would be like. It has also set up a Slack channel for top customers, in order for them to be able to share feedback and ideas about its products.

glossier community

Volition Beauty is another brand that takes this idea even further. Built on the premise of solving real problems (rather than just selling products), it allows customers to submit ideas for the products they’d like to be made, as well as vote on the ones they’d most like to see created. 

From a brand perspective, this helps to create and build an invested audience – consumers that are likely to actually buy the product they’ve seen come to fruition. From a consumer perspective, it means even greater personalisation, with the target audience more likely to feel like the products hold greater value and appeal.

Essentially, this community-driven approach aims to democratise the beauty industry, giving consumers the power to create the products they really need, rather than products borne out of market fluctuation or industry trends. 

Diversity and inclusivity

Previously, the beauty industry has been guilty of catering to typically slim, light-skinned women, leaving swathes of consumers struggling to find make-up to suit their skin-tone. 

Fenty, the make-up brand from Rihanna, majorly disrupted the industry when it launched in 2017. With inclusivity as its USP, it launched with a 40 shade foundation range, designed to cater for all skin tones. Fenty also challenges traditional industry beauty standards in its marketing, using unconventional and diverse models to showcase its products.

fenty beauty diversity

With immediate success, it’s clear that the consumer demand for this kind of brand has existed for a long time. Fenty reportedly recorded $72 million in earned media value in its first month.

In response to this, major brands have had no option but to step up their game. While some have introduced new shades into existing ranges, others are launching new collections with 40 shades as the standard. 

Meanwhile, with brands still offering limited collections facing a backlash, it seems Fenty has well and truly set a new standard for the industry. Now, anything other than inclusive is simply not accepted.

Related reading:

Nikki Gilliland

Published 17 July, 2018 by Nikki Gilliland @ Econsultancy

Nikki is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (1)

Eoin Kenneally

Eoin Kenneally, Ecommerce Consultant at Consultant

Is this a little bit of an endorsement for multi-level marketing? On the other hand all of the "challenger brands" will be the next dollar shave club if they have success over a sustained period of time. The incumbent brands will just buy them up and roll them out globally

29 days ago

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