Post-​Recession Consumers Usher in New Era in Beauty

As we emerge from the economic turmoil of the past couple years, today's consumer is making new rules.  Where companies and marketers once dictated price points and brand positioning to consumers, now it is the other way around.   The consumer is setting a new standard — one that embraces social media, environmental savvy and a global approach that reassesses the very definition of beauty.

Disappearing Demographics

The recession has ushered us into the post-​demographic age, one in which the similarities and nuances between Baby Boomers, Gen-​Xers and Millennials are as important to identify as their differences. Not surprisingly, defining the consumer — and her changing needs — has never been more critical.  However, "she" is harder to define than ever.

Regardless of our statistical facts, we are all becoming smarter shoppers, we're all trying to spend less and we all want to look as good as we can. "The differences that defined these demographics are increasingly less distinct," says Wendy Liebmann, founder and chief executive officer of WSL Strategic Retail. "To a company, it can be limiting — almost dangerously so — to think in terms of demographics."

Marketers have dubbed the emerging mentality the "era of the new conservative shopper." It's not a trend, experts believe, as much as a fundamental and long-​lasting shift in consumers' attitudes. "It's a whole new way of shopping," says John Debutato, senior vice president of client solutions at Information Resources Inc., which tracks trends in the marketplace.

Redefining Beauty

Over the last year, women have redefined what is a beauty necessity and what is expendable.  "There is no longer an ideal beauty," says Claudia Poccia, global president of Avon’s Mark division. "People, especially young people, are taking pride in their diversity. There is something very antiquated about formulaic beauty."

The new goal is looking like the most beautiful version of yourself.  To that end, the desire for radiant skin has swelled so much it has upended the famous Lipstick Index — the moniker given to the resilience of color cosmetics sales typical in an economic downturn. "During this recession, we saw foundation sales pick up," says John Demsey, group president of the Estée Lauder Cos. "The Lipstick Index has been replaced by a Foundation Index. It's not about a pop of color anymore, it's about looking healthy."

In addition, the growing Hispanic population, as well as the "confluence of cultures," and "the unprecedented longevity of Baby Boomers all mean that demographics are getting blurred," says Joe Arcuri, vice president of Procter & Gamble Beauty North America. Minorities were expected to constitute half the population of the U.S. by 2050, but that date was just moved up to 2042.

Organics, Naturals & the Environment

Of course, organics and naturals have had their own prominent shelf space for years, but now people are questioning the bottles themselves. "Excessive packaging is on its way to being shameful," says Marcia Kilgore, founder of Bliss Spas.  "We used to ask ourselves, ‘Is it good for the customer?' Now we ask, ‘Is it good for the earth? What will 17,000 of these look like in a landfill?'"

According to the experts, it's only a matter of time before companies have to answer these questions. It's not unlike animal testing 10 years ago: Consumers became educated, demanded cruelty-​free products and most of the major players acquiesced.

Moreover, green-​washing, or trying to make a product seem more eco-​friendly than it actually is, is increasingly difficult as consumers become more knowledgeable.

To some extent, the recession itself spurred the movement toward taking responsibility forward. "It became a new way to excuse yourself from purchase," says Lesley Jane Seymour, editor in chief of More magazine. "If you don't want to buy something, you're not being cheap, you're being concerned about excessive waste. The recession really shook people awake, and in this way, the environmental movement within the cosmetics industry is only going to get bigger."

Consequently, the notion of holistic beauty is expected to gain an even more significant presence in the marketplace, elbowing out more conventional products.

In this new nurturing, uncluttered environment, there is less room for overly complex products — skin care in 10 steps, four eye shadows that create one look and so on.  Whatever marketers and store owners can do to streamline the process will translate into more customers.

Social Media

Facebook. YouTube. Twitter. Blogs. All are now as instrumental when it comes to brand and product positioning as traditional mediums such as print and television.

"The new approach is about leveraging social media and bringing our product forward in a way that connects with our audience," says Poccia. "We brought forward new ways to interact with the product so the consumer can mix it up and personalize it."

According to Poccia, 83% of Generations X and Y socialize online, and of that, 74% shop online. "This is a place where they live, work, play and shop," she says. "As marketers, it's our job to deliver an immersive brand experience-​tips, blogs, the ability to interface with experts."

Social media may have started out as the stomping ground for the Millennial generation, but it isn't staying that way. Says Brent Bouchez, co-​founder of Agency Five 0: The Boomers are becoming more and more comfortable in a virtual world-​specifically, using the social media network to research brands. "There is a power shift away from traditional methods of getting information.  Social networks have become the most trusted source of information. The challenge is controlling how your brand shows up, how it's talked about."

"Change in Face: The Shift of Beauty," Pergament, Danielle.  Women's Wear Daily, February 12, 2010.  Website: www​.wwd​.com.