Recently I was invited to the opening of a new salon and experience store of a popular Berlin based hair care brand. As part of the event I received a digital hair analysis followed by an individual consultation with their experts. I learned that my hair was 84% healthy but that it lacks moisture. Based on the result I was given personal recommendations for products and a hair and scalp care routine. And yes, I did buy some of the recommended products, as they promise a solution to the individual needs of my hair and I therefore believe them to be more efficient than one-fits-all products.
Personalization as a macro trend
According to McKinsey1, personalization will be the prime driver of marketing success in the next five years. In the last decade we have already witnessed an acceleration of personalized offers, not only in retail but across all kinds of industries and markets.
Obviously, personalization is not a new concept, especially in luxury market segments personal consultation and individual recommendations are an important part of product and service marketing. We have known about the appeal of personalization for a long time, but in the past it has usually been an expensive and time-consuming form of marketing. Thanks to the ever-increasing advancements in technology and digitalization, personalization has become more widely available and convenient. Major online retailers owe much of their success to product recommendations curated by big data analysis based on customers’ purchasing history.
Why do consumers love personalized offers? First of all, especially in globalized online retail, there is a seemingly infinite number of products and services and browsing through all of these to find the perfect offer for one’s own needs can be time consuming and even confusing. So, personalization is simply convenient for the consumer. However, there is a deeply emotional side to it as well. In our modern, hyper-digitalized world, the experience of an anonymous global discourse can make us feel small, transparent or even overlooked. Amplifying our identity and individuality is an understandable desire.
The pandemic accelerated the personalization trend. Due to the unavailability of brick and mortar shopping, and the resulting lack of opportunities to test and try-on products, brands had to come up with digital solutions to give consumers a similar experience. Even consumers who didn’t spend a lot of time on the internet and digital devices before the pandemic, started to accept and appreciate digital solutions.top
Main drivers of personalization in beauty
As the category name suggests, Personal Care is integrally personal. Our skin and especially our face are particularly personal as they are our interface with the world. Through our skin’s sense of touch, we experience our environment while others recognize us as individuals through what we display on the canvas of our face.
One of the first entrepreneurs to recognize the importance of the personal component in beauty marketing was Estée Lauder. “She believed that to make a sale, you had to touch the consumer, show her the results on her face and explain the products. That was the start of the company’s personal High-Touch service.”2
A lot has happened in the last 60 years – in terms of knowledge about the skin and its various interactions with other systems such as our immune system or the skin microbiome, technological advancements in beauty marketing and consumer relationship management, but also and foremost in consumers’ expectations towards beauty products.
In skin science, we have learned that our skin is not only our biggest but also a very complex organ. Today, beautiful skin is widely synonymous with healthy skin. And while ‘beauty’ has always been in the eye of the beholder, skin health is measurably determined by numerous factors, such as moisture levels, inflammation, depth of wrinkles or oiliness. So, when attempting to develop personalized skincare products, there are a lot of factors to take into consideration.
The most obvious technological advancement that supports the personalization trend in beauty and personal care is the ongoing improvement of accessible and convenient communication between brand and consumer. User experience and interface design have evolved to become their own important category within digital communication. Consumers don’t have to look for ways to communicate but are encouraged to effortlessly connect at any touchpoint along the customer journey via apps, voice interaction devices, chatbots, survey tools or VR and AR interfaces.
Besides intentional customer feedback, companies also track consumer data (collected from cookies, analytics tools, website heatmaps, etc.) to better understand consumer behavior and intentions. As this creates enormous amounts of data, another essential driver for the expedition of personalized beauty offers are the technological advancements in big data analysis and machine learning.
But the most important driver in beauty personalization is changing consumer demands and attitude towards the idea of beauty and consumerism in general. In the past, the scope of beauty often revolved around Eurocentric beauty standards, flawlessness and ephemeral fads. Nowadays, however, the rise of mental health awareness and the acknowledgement of the harmfulness of narrow beauty standards have led to a mindset of a self-defined concept of beauty among consumers. ‘Beautiful’ is how we see ourselves when we feel comfortable in our own skin, when our self-image mirrors our physical health as well as our understanding of our self-worth. If our concept of beauty is personal we want our beauty products to reflect our individuality too. The recognition of diversity among humans and that everybody is different in their features as well as their needs, has resulted in a demand for products which are tailored to consumers’ individual requirements.top
A snapshot of current implementations of personalization in skincare
The idea of one’s own identity varies widely among consumers and can include factors like social status, moral attitudes, ethnicity, culture or simply their favorite color. If individuality is not that easy to define, how can brands develop personalized beauty products? What care our skin needs is determined by a variety of different factors: our general health, genetic predisposition, age, gender, hormone levels, skin type, climate and sun exposure, stress, diet, lifestyle and the composition of our skin microbiome.
In recent years, we have seen brands approach the personalization trend in many different ways. These approaches can be divided into two categories: “passive” personalization requires the user to submit personal information about their skin and lifestyle; “active or hyper” personalization methods analyze the skin based on a biological sample provided by the consumer.
Some brands offer apps that let the customers keep track of their skin over time. Via this curated trial and error approach users can make AI or expert supported choices on what products to use to help them with their individual skin care goal (e.g. improving their acne).
In a comparatively less time-consuming approach, brands offer quizzes on their websites or apps where users answer detailed questions about their skin type, lifestyle, diet and preferences to get personalized product recommendations. The advice is usually based on scientific expertise on skin and skincare ingredients as well as data analysis.
Especially in the APAC region, consumers trust AI diagnosis tools to give customized skincare recommendations. After taking a few pictures of your face, an AI will examine skin parameters such as depth of wrinkles, acne distribution, hue of dark circles or oiliness and predict what type of ingredients your skin needs.
Our genes have a major impact on how we age. Brands that formulate and recommend skincare products based on DNA samples provided by the customer analyze a specific part of the genome, e.g. the genes involved in collagen production, and recommend products which promise to counteract the individual risks of the consumer.
We know that our skin health is also determined by our hormones. Skincare recommendations based on hormone level analysis are especially relevant for brands which offer customized products for consumers who experience symptoms of menopause or puberty on their skin.
After 40 years of extensive research into the skin microbiome, we at CLR know that the homeostasis of the skin microbiome is a crucial component of skin health. Some brands offer microbiome analysis kits that require the consumer to provide a patch sample of their skin which is then evaluated regarding the contribution of certain strains of microbiota. Based on the results, a brand can recommend products designed to re-establish balance to the skin microbiome.top
What’s next in personalized beauty?
When it comes to technological aspects of personalized beauty offers, we are still at the beginning: digital analyzation tools and artificial intelligence are constantly improving and we will see more advancements in the near future. Virtual and augmented reality are rising in popularity for virtual try-ons in color cosmetics, and applications in skincare marketing will likely be found soon as well.
One of the less obvious benefits of personalized skincare is the leap in available data. The more consumers provide information, the more data scientists and product developers have to learn about skin, e.g. the distribution of a certain feature among a specific demographic.
Data collection is a very sensitive topic, however. Over the past decade we saw several companies facing a backlash and even lawsuits for misusing personal customer data for profit. EMEA consumers, in particular, tend to be suspicious of brands which offer services based on personal data. With technology advancing so fast, laws and regulations sometimes have a hard time keeping up. Therefore, as a brand offering personalized products, the safety of customers should be the number one priority. Transparent communication of what happens with and who gets to use the data provided is key as trust is the most important value in customer relations.top
Creating personalized skincare offers
If you consider starting your personalized skincare brand or product line you should keep in mind why consumers are interested in individualized products in the first place: they expect products tailored to their own needs to be more effective than one-fits-all solutions. So, when choosing active ingredients for your formulations, make sure the efficacy is meticulously tested and documented in the technical data provided by the supplier.
CLR offers a wide range of highly effective actives carefully designed to improve skin health and wellbeing. All our products are thoroughly tested in in-vitro and in-vivo studies; efficacy and safety are comprehensively documented. The product, its relevance and consumer benefits are always at the forefront of our work. With a focus on R&D, an in-depth knowledge of skin, its processes and needs, we develop active ingredients that make and keep skin healthy, comfortable and beautiful.
(1) McKinsey & Company: The future of personalization—and how to get ready for it
(2) Estée Lauder: The Estée Story