With the incessant desire for ever-more personalized products continuing to grow globally, brands are falling over themselves to find new ways of enticing and engaging with their audiences. Beauty is a particularly competitive battleground of course, as increasingly savvy and switched-on consumers demand products tailored to their skin, hair and overall look and style. 

From discovery to world-changing applications

There’s no doubt that the winners will use technology to prevail. From data-driven product recommendations and experiences to better-informed marketing insight and product innovation, ambitious brands have plenty of ammunition at their disposal.  

But for me, the successful ones must engender real belief from their customers by going beyond the hype. Shrewd consumers know a marketing gimmick when they see one. But if they perceive real value, they’ll be motivated to share the data that informs even richer engagement and increasing competitive advantage. 

The convergence of beauty and technology 

I tested this theory when I visited the Personalised Beauty Summit EU in London. The event in South Kensington was the perfect place to explore the convergence of beauty and technology, with everyone from multinational brands and global tech companies to product developers, suppliers, manufacturers, retailers and trend analysts vying for attention and advantageous insight.    

Even as I sipped my first tea of the morning, it had become clear that companies are operating along a sliding scale when it comes to gaining insight and recommending a personalized product. It ranges from a short survey online to a self-taken photograph being shared, and from a consultation and face-to-face analysis with sophisticated equipment in store right the way up to a DNA sample being taken and analysed. 

The current modus operandi has brands such as Olay at the lower end of the scale. It uses an online questionnaire and image recognition to inform a recommendation from multiple products. I see this as an easily-implementable win to offer more personalization with little infrastructure change. 

Further up the scale, it’s a case of tailoring rather than categorising. Although technically it’s still categorising – instead of the recommendation coming from, say six options, it comes from thousands. This is an area currently dominated by premium boutique brands utilising what I suspect to be small and difficult-to-scale manufacturing processes. 

It’s a brave boardroom that decides to shift a brand any further along the scale, as the move would require a completely different business model. The reason? Introducing thousands of product variants demands huge changes in manufacturing requirements. You’d have to be very confident of market success to justify that massive upfront investment – and I don’t see many companies making that leap any time soon.  

A compelling reason to believe 

Which brings me to a key question. How far along the scale does a brand have to go to make consumers feel they are experience truly personalized products? The main objective for the customer is to buy a product that suits their specific needs. While I’m sure a fully-customised product would be the ideal solution for them, I’m equally certain that it will come at a much higher price point. The reason to believe must be very compelling if they are to invest accordingly in that product. 

The truth is this: no matter where it sits on the scale, the real challenge for the brand to make its customers believe they are enjoying the right product for them – and not simply on the wrong end of a marketing stunt. Take a purchasing choice that’s been made following a single store consultation or online survey. If the customer perceives the product to be less than ideal, they’ll be stuck with it and perhaps use it grudgingly, or they’ll throw it away. Either way, they are unlikely to buy that brand again.  

This is further complicated by increasing consumer knowledge in beauty and personal care. Individuals are more aware these days of the potential need for multiple products to be used at different times. So not only are they looking for a personalized product, they are seeking personalized service that can inform them about what to use and when. 

But with the challenge of personalized service comes opportunity. For example, giving consumers frequent feedback and updates when they use a product will immediately increase brand engagement. This strategy will also provide reasons for the customer to believe in that a product – or range of products – is truly suited to their skin. The type of technology to enable this richer engagement is in its early stages, but as innovative solutions gain market penetration, I see real opportunities arising. 

Be healthy to look healthy 

I took note of some interesting stats at the summit, including this set from Philips: “62% women think of beauty in a holistic way – how you live your life, food you eat, exercise, work life balance”. Not surprisingly, perhaps, “63% of women prefer healthy looking skin over younger skin,” while “80% of women think you have to be healthy to look healthy”.  

With all of this in mind I believe the holy grail for a customer who truly cares about personalization would be a relationship with a brand offering a hyper-personalized product-based service. They would want a few products (not necessarily custom made) which they know are optimal for their skin. They’d be sure of this because of the detailed analysis they’ve received that’s given them the reason to believe.  

After purchase, they’d rely on the personalized service to track and combine data on exercise, food, sleep, environment, lifestyle and anything else of relevance. The service would then use the data to sharpen recommendations for personal care products and beauty regimes. This is the virtuous circle that will take personalization beyond gimmicks and into a world of valuable consumer engagement. 

Want to hear more about our approach towards personalized beauty? Come and see us at CES 2020.

Rosie Parrish
Rosie Parrish
Principal Experience Designer

Helping brands create new markets and high value business.