Today’s beauty industry is decidedly different from 10 years ago.

Instead of traditional advertising, beauty and cosmetics brands are largely digitally-focused, using social channels (and influencers) to reach and engage users.

Experiential marketing is also another big source of investment, with campaigns allowing beauty brands and retailers to tap into the changing behaviours and interests of consumers.

Here’s a look at why experiential is a particularly effective strategy for this growing industry.

Encouraging consumers to try something new

With an increasing number of direct-to-consumer brands entering the beauty market, the fight for the consumer’s attention is now fiercer than ever. Alongside this, it’s oft-assumed that beauty consumers are fickle, and that their loyalty is easily lost.

In contrast to this, however, new research from Ipsos suggests that consumers are typically unwilling to try out new brands. In a 2019 survey of over 2,000 US and Canadian consumers, 55% of respondents said they “always choose a trusted brand” that they know over a new brand they haven’t used before.

This is where experiential can be a hugely valuable strategy, allowing brands and retailers to grab the consumers’ attention in a way that can be more impactful than other forms of marketing.

Earlier this year, Boots partnered with Glamour Magazine on the ‘Glamour Beauty Festival’ – a live event giving visitors the chance to discover some of the new brands set to launch in Boots’ stores. It was part of Boots’ wider strategy to reposition itself as a big player in the beauty retail space. With interactive services such as skincare consultations and foundation matching, the event allowed both Boots and partnering brands to capture the interest of consumers at the same time the products became available to buy.

Offering a hands-on experience

According to Kantar data, 21% of cosmetics are now sold online. This is undeniable proof that consumers are becoming comfortable with beauty ecommerce. However, it also highlights that – as Kantar describes it – beauty is ‘an industry full of contradictions’. This is because beauty consumers still crave the physical experience of shopping for beauty, particularly when it comes to trying and touching the products before buying.

For beauty brands without a physical presence, experiential marketing can provide this. And even for those that do, experiential can also heighten and enhance the hands-on experience. This can be hugely valuable, as Ipsos highlights how the majority of consumers are either unsure or definitely would not buy a product if they’ve only ‘tried it on’ virtually.

Max Factor is one beauty brand to recognise this; it launched the popup ‘Facefinity’ gallery in 2019. The gallery involved an ‘infinity mirror’ to highlight 12 (out of 40 in the range) of the Facefinity foundation.

More importantly, perhaps, was the opportunity for visitors to test products, as well as have their photo taken by a professional in order to showcase the quality of the make-up. Not only did this provide consumers with the chance to try the products in-person, but it also held the brand accountable, allowing consumers to test whether one of the product’s biggest selling points (i.e. making people ‘photo-ready’) was actually true.

Making beauty personal

Consumers are increasingly turning their back on a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to beauty, and instead looking to brands that cater to individuals. The success of Fenty Beauty – a brand which spearheaded a more inclusive approach to make-up – is testament to this.

This demand for personalisation also extends to services as well as products, meaning that brands are integrating customisation into experiential efforts.

One example from earlier this year is Mac’s ‘Studio fix’ experience, which involved a pop-up shop located in Liverpool’s city centre. Based on a celebration of diversity, the shop featured a live and evolving mural on its exterior – designed by illustrator Alexandra De Assunçao – which reflected the diversity of real-life Mac customers. Alongside this, the shop also included a personalisation station, whereby visitors could take part in a ‘shade match’ consultation to identify their foundation colour codes.

This is not the only time Mac has mixed personalisation with pop up physical stores. The brand also created the ‘Meet your Matte’ pop-up on Valentine’s Day this year, offering commuters at London’s Old Street station the chance to find their perfect lipstick shade. Visitors could take the interactive wall quiz, and consult with ‘Mac Matchmakers’ to get a one-to-one brand experience.

Creating shareable moments

As well as generating in-the-moment sales and awareness, experiential marketing can have a trickle effect for beauty brands, as consumers share their experiences on social media. Consequently, we’ve seen experiential activations become increasingly visual in recent years, with some brands designing them to be deliberately ‘Insta-worthy’.

Case in point: Lancôme has installed a 36-foot Eiffel Tower replica at London’s St Pancras International station for this Christmas. The tower is decorated with over 1,500 bottles of Lancôme’s latest fragrance release, intermixed with 1,000 internal and 320 external flashing LED lights (which create a special light show).

The installation – which has a pop-up shop located at the bottom – is visually arresting, and almost guaranteed to catch the eye of passers-by. This means people are also likely to share images of it on social – even if they do not engage or interact with the brand themselves.

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All the pinks at St Pinkras…

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You could argue that these types of experiential activations are unmemorable – largely forgotten once they’ve been uploaded into the Instagram abyss. They can certainly be ineffective for creating any real connection with consumers; this is why the best and most effective examples include a combination of immersive and visually impressive elements.

One example of this gold standard is ‘Glossier Studio’, which was a temporary retail space that acted as a preview to the brand’s now permanent London store. Designed to mimic a New York City loft-style apartment, the décor of each room aligned with Glossier’s highly recognisable (and Instagrammable) aesthetic. The event also involved super fans, influencers, and journalists being invited to experience various ‘get to know the brand’ events, such as exclusive dinners and special Q&A’s.

The combination of stunning visual elements and immersion meant that attendees were inclined to share their experience across social media channels, effectively building anticipation for the brand’s upcoming store opening.

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my feet got the #glossierpink memo ????

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More on experiential marketing:

Experiential Marketing Best Practice Guide