Brand loyalty is essential to brand success. With customer journeys turned upside down, beauty brands need to start building loyalty sooner rather than later – even before consumers start buying the brand.
In our three-part series spotlighting Gen Z, “Beauty Under Quarantine”, we’re examining how women’s customer journeys have been upended by the pandemic and how brands need to complement analytics with a “stay human” storytelling approach to stay connected with women and successfully navigate the dramatic changes.
In Part 1, we examined how core beauty motivations are changing due to the pandemic and how psychographics can help brands stay in sync with women, understanding what they want from beauty during this unprecedented time.
In Part 2, we explored how brands can use psychographics to help them re-capture some of the magic that’s been lost along consumers’ beauty journeys during lockdown – and potentially even deepen their relationship with consumers.
In Part 3, we examine how brands that understand their consumers’ psychographics have a unique opportunity during COVID-19 to build emotional customer engagement and ultimately, brand loyalty – even before consumers buy the brand.
To gain insight into how customer journeys are changing during the pandemic, we complemented the many hours of conversation we’ve had with women about beauty in recent years with online beauty-centered labs in April with Gen Z women.
Brands Need To Step Up
With major change – even unsettling change – comes opportunity.
Beauty sales have taken a major hit as a result of the pandemic. The New York Times reported that first quarter sales of higher end beauty products through department stores and retailers like Sephora and Ulta declined about 14% versus year ago. First quarter sales of mass beauty products sold at drugstores fell 4% versus year ago.* Keep in mind, lockdown didn’t kick in until mid-March when the first quarter was almost over, which means that these numbers likely under-represent the impact on beauty sales.
More jaw-dropping, and perhaps more reflective of pandemic reality, NPD reported that beauty sales for the week ended March 28th plunged 58% versus the previous year. **
Despite these humbling sales figures, now is not the time for beauty brands to hold back. Instead, brands should be leaning in. During this most unusual of times, it may be tough to drive sales. But it could be an opportune time to nurture customer engagement, thereby building future brand loyalty.
In our discussions with Gen Z women in mid-April, we heard that consumers are looking to beauty brands for leadership. They’re expecting brands to step up. One woman on lockdown in New Jersey, a national hot spot, stated, “The most important thing for me is that brands are promoting staying inside. They’re posting about their teams staying home and under quarantine. It’s more than, ‘oh, you should buy our products.’ Some brands have so much influence with 2 million, 10 million followers. They can reach so many people and promote staying safe.”
Another woman echoed the positive power that brands, celebrities and influencers can have. “The surgeon general told Kylie Jenner to write about the coronavirus, saying that people would listen to her — so she started to write about it.”
A quantitative study by global marketing researcher GfK backs up these comments. Fielded in the US in mid-April, the study showed that 83% of respondents said that the way brands conduct themselves during the crisis will impact whether they do business with them in the future.***
Consumers may not be rushing to fill their online shopping baskets with the latest beauty finds right now, but they are watching brands – and taking notes.
A Time To Seed Loyalty
Brands that get their actions, messaging and tonality right with their coronavirus response have much to gain – not necessarily in immediate sales, but in immediate emotional currency. One Gen Z respondent called out L’Oreal for all the good the company is doing: “L’Oreal has been posting since mid-March about donating masks, giving money, helping hospitals. I don’t buy a lot of L’Oreal products, but after this, I’d be willing to try more.”
Unfortunately, though, “getting it right” is not easy. Speaking about a brand that merely mentioned the crisis, one of our Gen Z beauty panelists, said, “They posted a ‘thank you’ to doctors, but haven’t updated it. It feels inauthentic. When they addressed the coronavirus, it felt like they ‘had to’.”
Most marketers typically think about building loyalty in the back half of the customer journey after consumers have already become users. They think of loyalty in terms of net promoter scores, upselling ratios and customer retention rates. With image-based categories like beauty, though, a consumer’s love of a brand can start growing at first sight. As a result, brands have an opportunity to seed loyalty much sooner in the customer journey – before people have even bought the product.
With consumers paying more attention to brands now even though they’re buying less, brands have a unique opportunity to seed loyalty early in the journey – even before the consumer makes a purchase.
Creating Emotional Resonance
The first step in creating and deepening emotional engagement with consumers is using customer journey analytics to define the various types of beauty journeys consumers are pursuing. Understanding where consumers are coming from – whether it’s organic search on Google, Instagram posts or referral from a brand affiliate, for example – helps to answer “where” and “when” along the journey a brand can spark a consumer’s interest.
Once those traffic journeys are mapped out, though, brands need to answer the “what” – what can brands do to actually ignite the spark? To answer that question, brands need to understand the human that’s behind the analytics.
While there’s no magic formula for creating customer engagement, there are three potent ingredients that need to be strategically aligned within the context of the journey for the magic to happen: the consumer psychographic mindset, the brand voice and the lifestyle context provided by brand advocates and affiliates. When the brand’s voice is expressed and amplified in a way that’s meaningful for the psychographic mindset, the consumer feels a strong emotional resonance with the brand – and a sense of loyalty.
This emotional resonance starts to reverberate when the brand voice, through owned or paid media, is fully in sync with the consumer’s psychographic mindset. A brand can create an even stronger emotional connection with consumers when the psychographic mindset, brand voice and advocate context all cosmically and symbiotically come together with paid, owned and earned media communicating with one unified, amplified voice.
Glossier, darling brand of Gen Z and Millennials, is well-versed at fostering C2C (consumer-to-consumer) conversations that generate curiosity, anticipation and excitement about the brand prior to becoming a customer. In one of their newest ventures, they’re building on the runaway success of just-launched Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the Nintendo video game that brings friends and family together virtually during quarantine. Gamers can dress their avatar in Glossier’s highly coveted iconic pink hoodie, thus widely showcasing the brand through this see-and-be-seen virtual world.
Their pop-up stores provide another case in point of creating conversation. Glossier brands and “owns” highly desirable, Instagram-ready retail experiences that encourage its ambassadors, influencers and regular consumers to elevate it even further by raving about it on their social media posts.
One of our Gen Z beauty panelists described her Glossier pop-up experience this way: “My friends and I had all heard of Glossier and seen it on Instagram, so when the store opened up we all wanted to go – and made it into sort of an event. I think I would have eventually tried their products without going to the pop-up store, but I did buy my first Glossier products that day.”
Clearly, Glossier had already seeded brand loyalty with this Gen Z consumer well before she had ever ascended the staircase into the Glossier experience and handed her card over to buy the brand.
Engaging Consumers In The Age Of Coronavirus
We see the Emotive Engagement Model in full action now, during the coronavirus shut-down, through brand responses to the crisis.
Those brands that deeply understand the psychographic mindsets of consumers and speak to them with a clear, strong brand voice and message are standing tall and resonating with consumers emotionally. When brands weave their pandemic messaging into the journey to engagement in a brand-authentic way, that emotional resonance is especially strong — and even stronger when advocates and affiliates are echoing that story.
L’Oreal, for example, has had a very comprehensive response to the coronavirus in both messaging and actions. Re-purposing its famous tag line in Instagram posts like “Staying home is saying to everyone you’re worth it” has resonated powerfully with the Achiever psychographic mindset who is a professional, independent woman of strength and substance. They’ve further amplified this message by showing celebrity spokeswomen like Helen Mirren and Aja Naomi King offering encouraging words while staying at home.
One Gen Z Achiever on our beauty panel called out L’Oreal as “getting it right” on many levels during the pandemic which made her feel a deep bond with the brand:
“The idea of ‘because you’re worth it’ is really connecting, especially now when they’re saying you should stay safe because you’re worth it. Beyond stopping the spread of the virus, that message is giving a deeper purpose to social distancing – and that makes you feel good about yourself.”
“L’Oreal is doing all kinds of things – making hand sanitizer, helping out hair salons, offering Q&A’s to help you color your hair at home. They’re all about positivity. They’re still talking about beauty and wellness, but they’re also talking about staying safe.”
e.l.f. Cosmetics has taken a completely different approach to addressing the pandemic that’s playful, yet serious and appeals to the creativity and individuality of the Self-Expressive psychographic mindset. Building on the phenomenal success of its “Eyes Lips Face” TikTok videos, e.l.f. turned its TikTok into a PSA with #eyeslipsfacesafe, encouraging people to “keep their hands washed and spirits up” – and, of course, make a creative video about hand washing. e.l.f. has amplified this effort by inviting major influencers to participate in the campaign and inviting their followers to do so as well. Avani Gregg, for example, had almost 1 million likes on her elf post.
A Self-Expressive on our beauty panel was inspired by how elf responded to the coronavirus:
“I love that e.l.f. has a fun spin to the way they’re dealing with the coronavirus – because they’re a fun brand. I think the message sinks in more when it’s fun. The videos are entertaining, but they also make you think about how you wash your hands.”
“e.l.f.’s TikTok makes me feel happy. That’s how I want to feel now – and that’s how I like to feel about beauty. I haven’t bought e.l.f. in a while, but this is making me want to go back and have another look.”
Investing In Future Loyalty
The pandemic has put many beauty purchases on pause. The sales numbers prove it, and the customer journey analytics reflect it in dramatically shifting behavior patterns.
It’s clear, though, that while women may not be buying as many lipsticks, eye liners or nail polishes right now, they are listening to and watching beauty brands – very attentively. The humans behind the analytics want to engage with brands. As they watch how beauty brands conduct themselves during this crisis, they’re forming loyalties.
Brands that dive deep on understanding those humans behind the numbers and speak to them in a clear, true, brand-authentic voice are making an invaluable investment in the future. Brands that emotionally resonate with consumers are doing much more than just keeping their brand top-of-mind. They’re planting seeds of loyalty that will be ready to sprout as the country and consumers edge forward to a “future normal”.
*“Why Get All Made Up With Nowhere To Go?”, The New York Times, Julie Creswell, May 8, 2020.
** “The Beauty Of Staying Home”, NPD Group, Larissa Jensen, April 7, 2020.
***”Pandemic Marketing’s Consumer Paradox: Force For Good vs. Exploitation”, Media Daily News, Joe Mandese, April 22, 2020.