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The Business of Beauty Global Forum: How Do We Create Connection?

During the third session of The Business of Beauty Global Forum, Pamela Anderson, Isayama Ffrench and Glossier chief executive Kyle Leahy unpacked how to build unique brands and drive authentic relationships with customers.
Pamela Anderson speaks at The Business of Beauty Global Forum.
Pamela Anderson speaks at The Business of Beauty Global Forum. (Matteo Prandoni)
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Everyone knows what it feels like to come across a brand that captures their attention: it’s almost like “brand magic,” said Imran Amed, BoF founder and CEO. How exactly brands make that magic is complicated, though, and it’s becoming even more imperative in an increasingly crowded market. The things that once made a brand stand out — like speaking in a specific tone, or within a particular channel — are played out.

“There are so many brands fighting for attention. What was once a unique selling point, has now become formulaic,” said Priya Rao, executive editor of The Business of Beauty.

In the final session of The Business of Beauty Global forum, speakers including Pamela Anderson and Isamaya Ffrench, founder of her namesake brand Isamaya, and Glossier chief executive Kyle Leahy took the stage to uncover what it takes to connect with customers.

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The best brand marketing is perspective

Isamaya Ffrench, founder of her namesake make-up brand behind the Instagram-loved penis-shaped lipsticks; and Marty Bell, co-founder of ‘80s-fuelled sun care line Vacation, which looks to make sunscreen indulgent with whipped-cream spray-can packaging, have managed to build buzzy brands without massive marketing budgets. They did it by putting their personalities and passions into their products.

“Some of the best brands in the early stages are just true personifications of their founders … that’s very hard to compete with, if you don’t have someone who has a view on the world and a perspective,” said Bell, who built Pool Suite, the cult music site tied into the Vacation label.

Brands often focus too much on numbers, rather than being driven by a guiding spirit, which gives products purpose and vitality, said Ffrench.

“Do what feels right, if you’re strong enough to have a vision and get a brand off the ground, you know what your audience wants,” said Ffrench.

Glossier is starting its second act

Glossier dominated global beauty conversation in the last decade with its no-make-up make-up, Instagram friendly millennial pink packaging and era-defining direct-to-consumer model. Following a period of sales declines and layoffs, the brand is starting its second act in a much-changed industry, including a wholesale debut at Sephora in February.

“As we really thought about what makes us uniquely Glossier, it wasn’t a DTC brand. That’s not our value proposition, it was a channel,” said Kyle Leahy, who succeeded founder Emily Weiss as chief executive in 2022.

The new Glossier, said Leahy, will take its cues from customers, whether in its own stores — which the brand is rolling out after shuttering during the pandemic — or retailers. Glossier hosted yoga events in stores to celebrate the launch of deodorant, and put its signature “You Look Good” mirrors in Sephora stores, for example. Leahy also credits Glossier’s faster product drop cadence to feedback from consumers.

Clean means a lot of things

“Clean” has quickly become one of beauty’s favourite buzzwords. Though consumers demand better, safer products, and brands touting the phase in their marketing, the industry is far from a clear definition of what “clean” means.

“What I find is that ‘clean’ cuts off conversation and you can’t get into nuance, you can’t get into the grey areas … It feels like we’re in an arms race to clean where we get to nothing,” said Charlotte Palermino, co-founder of anti-clean brand Dieux, which makes reusable face-masks.

Palermino; Dennis Gross, founder of his namesake skincare brand and Desire Verdejo, founder of HyperSkin, a label focused on hyper pigmentation and dark spots, approach the idea of “clean” differently. Palermino wants to put a stop to the idea that chemicals are bad and plant-based, pure products are more sustainable. Gross says brands should think about “safe” vs. “unsafe” rather than “clean” vs. “dirty,” while Verdejo forefronts the lived experience of Black and Brown people when talking about product efficacy.

“Fear is combined with a joy and enthusiasm and curiosity for products,” said Verdejo. “We don’t fear monger, but we do speak directly to ingredients and about what we are and what we aren’t. I think our customer deserves that because her fears and concerns are real.”

Data can create connections with customers

Estée Lauder built global beauty conglomerate Estée Lauder Companies on one-to-one connections between customers at the beauty counter. That is hard to replicate online, but granddaughter Jane Lauder has made bringing ELC into the future with data, personalisation and “marrying the math with the magic” her mission as executive vice president, enterprise marketing and chief data officer.

“Data is not there to tell you what to do, it’s to give you insights and spur creativity,” said Lauder.

ELC-owned Clinique creates connections online by tying together virtual try-ons with traditional Clinique consultants. Through live chats, the consultants evaluate shoppers’ skin and make recommendations. Insights across brands, especially as collected through e-commerce, help the company strategise product development and campaigns. That will only get more all-encompassing with the emergence of AI; which will put the conglomerate, with 50 years of customer data, at an advantage when it comes to fuelling AI-led R&D and creativity, said Lauder.

“In this next moment, the data you have is going to be critical,” said Lauder.

Beauty is emotional, but technology plays a role

The beauty industry is driven by emotion and intimacy. Still, technology plays an important part in driving and scaling personalisation. Grouping consumers into categories doesn’t cut it anymore, brands need to go deeper and understand their customer on an individual level, said Maju Kuruvilla, chief executive of payment company Bolt.

Because purchasing beauty is emotional. Rather than using data for acquisition, conversion and retention, brands should think about the customer journey as punctuated by recognition, celebration and connection.

“At the core of personalisation, there is a person. That is more important in the beauty industry than any other industry,” said Kuruvilla.

Flora and fauna fuel the industry

Whether it actually impacts purchases or not, shoppers are more aware than ever of sustainability. Much like the word “clean,” though, there’s no clear picture of what sustainability looks like — and there are many ways brands can come at the concept. Some forefront sourcing, others, farmers rights, or packaging and materials.

Two very different brands: 200-year-old French fragrance behemoth Guerlain and two-year old candle upstart Maison Amen, aim to systemise sustainability and work environmental considerations into every decision.

“It’s part of the DNA. Just like being profitable is important, being sustainable in all the areas of an organisation is,” said Rodrigo Garcia, founder and designer of Maison Amen.

Guerlain centres its endeavours mostly around sourcing: it has updated its roster and pushed suppliers across the chain to make improvements, including stopping the use of a pesticide that kills bees — which pollinate most of the world’s crops, which are crucial to fragrance, beauty and the world at large. Maison Amen is tackling packaging by harnessing the power of mycelium, the web structure that makes up mushrooms, to make more durable, “nature-approved,” containers.

Icon Pamela Anderson sees real beauty in compassion

Actress, model and Playmate Pamela Anderson turned flailing show “Baywatch” into the world’s most-watched programme, and personified the high-octane sexuality of American beauty ideals in the ‘90s. Times have changed, however. Oft objectified and portrayed as unintelligent, through her book and documentary “Love Pamela,” Anderson has taken control of her narrative, advocating for compassion, celebration of imperfections and soft femininity. Her wellness journey meant finding her way back to herself.

“Grace and dignity no matter what: you hold your head high. Everyone has gone through things that are embarrassing or difficult, but we’re all just people,” said Anderson.

The icon was the beauty ideal; but behind the scenes, her involvement in beauty expanded to advocating for animal rights and better packaging — and turning down gigs that promoted brands that didn’t match up to her ideals.

“Products have to come from a loving place. That’s the secret ingredient: having heart,” said Anderson.

Finding your “why” drives meaningful brands

At its core, the beauty industry showcases that people want to belong, according to Roxie Nafousi, development coach and author of “Manifest” and “Manifest Dive Deeper.” Connecting to your “why,” or the reason for doing what we do, is more important than ever. As brands and careers develop and the stakes rise, founders can get bogged down in sales targets and growth ambitions, forgetting their why.

Founders should align the values driving them with their brands, asking themselves why their brand exists, and what purpose it brings to the world, she said.

“You are having a profound impact on peoples’ lives; they aren’t just products, they aren’t just experiences, they aren’t just services,” said Nafousi “You are profoundly impacting the quality of someone’s life, you’re helping them to feel better.”

The Global Forum is made possible in part by our partners Bolt, BeautyUnited, Unilever Prestige, McKinsey & Company, MagicLinks, Cavu and Stanly Ranch.

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