The global beauty tech space is very active and full of potential in the near term. But to have staying power it needs to deliver value - the ‘So what?’...
Imagine what your skin would say if it could talk...
Will it be enough to offer customized moisturizers? Will consumers scan their faces frequently to find just the right color foundation? And once consumers find what they want, will they continue to need all this new technology? We need a good answer to the ‘So what?’ question.
In this article, I explore how ‘wellness behavioral nudges’, or ‘delightful curated experience’, or even a sense of connectedness could make the difference between beauty tech success or failure. It’s about the motivational factors influencing our interaction with the technology.
Every major beauty company is exploring beauty tech and what it means for their brand and their consumers, eager to build on the early momentum we’ve seen in the past two years.
Personalization, personalization, personalization (did I mention personalization?) is still the industry-wide trend driving customized beauty products and experiences, with artificial intelligence and augmented reality playing leading roles on the tech side.
But going forward, considering genuine consumer needs and stimulating meaningful interactions will help create long term impact, and inform near-term execution. Here are three characteristics of beauty tech we believe are necessary to remain relevant over time, and keep beauty tech the foundation for sustainable business growth:
Wellness behavior nudge
This is nudging the consumer’s behavior to reach their own goals over time in a way that ‘sticks’, or to learn new things. We all know how difficult it is to un-learn old behaviors or learn new ones. An intelligent system can support that for positive meaningful change. Consumers will change behavior when the new behavior represents an important outcome. Cognitive behavior (CB) principles are often used in healthcare digital ecosystems and help those with chronic or acute needs change behaviors to improve their health. These same approaches can be used to help beauty tech become more impactful.
What to do >> Use advanced sensing and AI to understand product efficacy over time as well as behavior patterns, as a framework for being able to provide intelligent guidance and relevant information to the consumer. The product experience becomes ultra-personalized and contextualized, with the potential to include engagement with salon or wellness experts as an integrated influence.
Delightful curated experience
Curating a consumer’s experience with more contextual interface, and augmentation with useful content that adds to the experience in a relevant way, creating value and increasing engagement. That can include intelligent purchase journeys, with relevant purchase decision support and fulfilment. An example of an aggregating layer in this space is voice interface, but the point is the curation of experience from the consumer’s perspective, adding value from their perspective.
What to do >> Make technology frictionless for a lean experience through great UI and hardware design craft, leverage applied science for wow factor delivery through active devices for the salon experience at home, and AI analysis for the intelligence to curate a consumer centric user journey with built-in purchase. The interaction should represent the lowest mental burden and the highest level of simplicity for the job to be done. Amazon doesn’t always have the lowest prices now, but they sure make buying simple.
Social relevance connections
Why do people use Instagram on the bus every day, and why do they purchase ‘selfie-ready make-up’. They might not be able to verbalize their needs, but being part of something and connecting with others is often one of the strongest motivations. For technology to deliver value, connecting with others can be a driving force for adoption.
What to do >> Make sharing natural and simple - an extension of the consumers’ mental model. Use AI to add trend insight intelligence to the consumer solution, and IoT / natural UI to enable rich engagement and creative sharing between people. Empower people to contribute to their sphere of influence with tools to create, experiment, refine, and share. Develop content not for your audience, but for the people they will share it with.
Taking a different perspective, how does that all overlay across today’s practical technology opportunities?
AR, AI and Sensing Trends: Companies have been investing heavily in advanced sensing technologies that support the beauty tech sector in the next wave of beauty and personal care solutions, leveraging expertise in artificial intelligence, augmented reality, connected device systems and product realization. Recognizing the strong desire from the industry to measure, monitor, and quantify, we set out to make it easier. Many of the technical answers already exist in lab-based technologies, but they are bulky, expensive, need high control over measurement conditions, etc. There is a growing trend towards bringing the lab/clinic home, and we bring capabilities that make it possible to transfer technology into the hands of the consumer.
Improving Analytical Models: Brands can leverage imaging and predictive technologies by building light-tissue interaction models and other valuable tools to enable a new generation of truly personalized skin care approaches.
Democratizing Skin Care using Technology: Bringing the benefits of multi-spectral imaging into a consumer-use device. This technology allows the tracking of various skin attributes and changes over time (and can be used to analyze hair). Giving people the tools to determine skin condition and track product performance over time will be an absolute expectation in the next few years
Making Technology Invisible: Many people want technology to be discrete and don’t want to carry around additional devices. With smartphones being ubiquitous, new sensors embedded into smartphones will increase the sensing capabilities and enable additional, low-cost consumer data options. Data will be king and will enable not only new user functions and business models, but a true marketing to one ecosystem.
Empowering Consumer Insights and Data: In the area of consumer trials, we see a very strong trend towards the use of technology to gain real-time insights in the real world. Until recently quantitative consumer trials have relied on stated performance and memory, so by their nature are prone to perception biases and are less agile to course correction from real-time insights. As a result, we see a massive opportunity to utilize technology in the consumers’ hands to gain valuable insights in real-time into product usage, efficacy, and context of use. This could improve the speed of product development, provide insight for new innovation, and also gather evidence for claims. It requires capabilities across system architecture, sensors, data science, AI, UI design and others to successfully realize this vision. To that end, we have explored Experiential Sensing as a first concept for empowering data-driven consumer insights.
What to look out for
- AR is becoming far less of a gimmick, as the tech becomes more sophisticated, mobile, and able to provide a personalized experience with:
Selection and Customization of Products: helping users visualize what makeup and hairstyles look like on them before they buy, or giving a visualized analysis of skin / hair condition.
Product Performance Tracking: how is the moisturizer helping my skin? Should I switch to a new product? Tracking changes over time and using AR to visualize evidence of impact with lab-like precision at the consumers’ fingers
- Products are becoming more and more integrated into the daily lifestyles of consumers, e.g., integration into the bathroom, at-home living spaces, and on-the-go, as AI tools become more sophisticated and mobile. Look for more personalized and contextually aware data clouds, lab-like diagnostics, and analytics that allow the user to track their skin/hair health over time and personalize regimes in response to real-time changes in weather, lifestyle, treatments, etc. And, as beauty tech becomes more ubiquitous in the consumer’s daily experience we’ll get to see who else jumps in the ring. What will the major appliance companies or tech giants like Apple, Amazon, or Google do? Will Apple pursue a watch with skin diagnostics or AI to recommend skin-care regime/products? Who will win, the beauty brands or the people who already own the home or mobile space?
- Evidence creating technologies are becoming more sophisticated and integrated into the consumer products themselves, the product development process, business intelligence, communications, and operations. Two key areas getting more attention.
Evidence-Based Claims: We see a strong trend of technology being used to build quantitative data (in consumer trials and commercial use) to demonstrate efficacy and backup marketing claims of product performance and benefits. Imagine if you could follow every customer and see what they see, feel what they feel, and understand if your product is performing as intended? Forward-thinking companies will turn to technology for a deeper understanding of their customers, in order to develop more innovative products and market evidence-based claims.
Evidence-Based Results for Consumers: Many skincare products require that the customer stick to a treatment regime for an extended period, often months-on-end before results are clearly noticeable by the user. Consumers want to know that the product will meet their needs. After they purchase, they want proof that it’s working, and they want to track changes over time to prove it.
- New devices and chemistry combinations are being developed to create entirely new treatments and experiences.
While there is significant investment in chemistry R&D by companies such as L’Oreal, Estee Lauder, P&G, and Beiersdorf, there is also investment in novel devices, delivery systems, and other “device + chemistry” solutions that continue to expand the category, add consumer benefits, and create novel consumer experiences. Take for example, the SKII StemPower cream that uses tiny magnetic particles. After applied to the face, a small magnetically charged hand-held device is used to activate the beneficial properties of the cream and help drive the cream deeper into the skin. In this case, the product experience is only as a result of the device (i.e. the magnet) and the chemistry (i.e. the special cream).
Succeeding in beauty tech is hard. While new technologies are always exciting to look at and talk about, the products that succeed can always answer this one fundamental question: ‘So what?’ If the product isn’t relevant to consumers' lifestyles, or reduces friction both physically and emotionally, and if it doesn’t provide a unique benefit at some conscience or subconscious level - it will fail. The challenge and opportunity is taking a strategic viewpoint and leveraging leading advanced tech capabilities in a relevant way.
For meaningful technology innovation with business impact, let’s talk.
If you'd like to find out more about our work in beauty tech, join us at the Beauty & Money Summit in LA on 25th April, where Andrew Beddoe and Eric Cohen present An Innovator's Guide to Personalization., discussing the lessons learned at the leading edge of technology personalization.