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The Beauty Battle

Updated: Jul 11, 2021

Glossier's original ad campaign. Credit: Pinterest

Arguably the fastest-growing and most competitive industry on the planet, comparable only to the notoriously cut-throat food and beverage industry, beauty has become all the rage. With a growing focus on wellness and weeks on end spent in quarantine, the beauty industry has experienced a renaissance in the past few months. Thanks to lockdowns, consumers have had more time than ever before to experiment with skincare and makeup, two categories whose sales increased over the course of worldwide quarantines, despite being discretionary spending categories.

Part of the reason for the beauty industry’s overcrowding are celebrities. Everyone from Selena Gomez to Nikki Reed has created their own skincare or makeup line. However, many of these upstart brands die off quickly, crushed by the beauty industry’s heavy hitters. So, how do the best beauty brands consistently beat out the intense competition; and, more importantly, what are the other brands missing?

Selena Gomez models for her line, Rare Beauty. Credit: Allure

Millie Bobby Brown's "Florence" line has struggled. Credit: Weekly Ads

In the exclusive upper echelon of beauty, there are two categories: the classics and the newcomers. The classics consist of time-honored brands like Chanel, YSL, Giorgio Armani, Laura Mercier, etc. These brands are well established, with longstanding, loyal clientele. While they do occasionally introduce new products, their business models thrive on maintaining the classic skincare and makeup products they’ve carried since their launch.

Kaia Gerber for YSL beauty. Credit: Pinterest

The newcomers, on the other hand, consist of successful startups, such as Fenty Beauty, Charlotte Tilbury, Hourglass Cosmetics, and most notably, Glossier. Most of these brands were founded in the last five to ten years, and didn’t have the benefit of a large name behind them. Take Glossier, for example. Named one of the “most innovative companies” by Fast Company, Glossier was born entirely of social media. Its founder, Emily Weiss, started her beauty blog, Into the Gloss, while she was a fashion assistant at Vogue. Through ITG, Weiss began cultivating her own skincare and makeup line, incorporating her community’s skincare and makeup likes and dislikes to create the now-eponymous Glossier. Launched in 2014, Glossier is now worth a reported $1.5 billion, according to Expand Rambling’s Craig Smith. Between 2015 and 2016, Glossier grew more than 600%, and in 2020, its annual revenues surpassed $100 million. As for its incomparable social media presence, Glossier now has more than 2.7 million followers, while Weiss’s blog account, ITG, has 870k.

Glossier and ITG founder, Emily Weiss. Credit: Forbes

So, what sets Glossier apart? Or, more importantly, how did it break into the same league as Chanel, YSL, and Dior? The answer, in short, is the brand’s cult of personality. First, Glossier has an unparalleled social media presence. From its website to its Instagram page, the aesthetic is seamless. Now termed “Glossier pink,” the brand’s iconic color sets a relaxed, cool-girl tone for the brand. Second, Weiss has built her brand on the idea of “no makeup makeup,” such that all of her products are more skincare-focused. Prior to Glossier, no other brand was able to fill this niche, and to make it their entire brand culture. Third, Glossier constantly rolls out new products, all of which employ “beauty tech.” Basically, through color matching algorithms and impeccable customer support, Glossier has tailored its makeup to every possible skin type. Finally, the brand’s packaging and ventures into “Glossiwear” have built a brand whose influence extends beyond the company’s product line. Sweatshirts with Glossier printed across them are a staple in every beauty enthusiast’s closet, and the company’s stickers and pink, bubble wrap pouches make every Glossier purchase Instagrammable.

A Glossier order. Credit: Lily Like Blog

Glossier has proven that you don’t have to have a big name to make it in the beauty industry. So, why do other upstart brands not have the same success? First, most of them lack a strong social media presence. And, without an “Instagrammable” appeal, these upstarts are dead in the water. Second, they don’t have established client bases, and will find it extremely difficult to steal loyal consumers from classic brands. Third, though many of these brands are created by celebrities, the brand doesn’t have a cult following. That is to say, celebrity can’t do it all. Though celebs assume their fans will buy from their line, this infatuation will likely result in a one-time purchase, not a devoted customer. Finally, their products aren’t innovative enough. Unfortunately, most categories have been filled. From broader ones like vegan cosmetics to niche categories like pH-balancing lip balms, pretty much every area of the market has been cornered. As a result, there’s very little that’s new under the sun in the beauty industry. This, in turn, puts increased stress on a company’s marketing; as there’s nothing proprietary about their products, their marketing has to set them apart. And, as I already mentioned, if you don’t have a well-developed social media presence or a cult following, this will make marketing your products virtually impossible.

Ultimately, beauty startups now, whether celebrity-backed or not, have a tough road ahead. In order to succeed, they have to find and cultivate their “edge,” build a formidable social media presence, and create a brand community that extends beyond their product line. In an age where we’ve shifted online now more than ever before, companies are in a constant battle for relevance, and in a cut-throat industry like beauty, you have to stand out to survive.

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