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Published May 22, 2017
Published May 22, 2017
Jakob Owens via Unsplash

With an estimated annual buying power of over $200 billion, the consumer power of the 87 million American Millennials aged 21 to 40 cannot be denied. This power, and its requisite hype, is significantly amplified when specifically considering Millennial women and the cosmetics industry.

In today’s new retail environment, as many heritage prestige cosmetics brands are making a concerted effort to reintroduce themselves to Millennial women and their teenage cohorts (aka Plurals, members of the Pluralist Generation), every marketer and brand executive will agree that business as usual will not suffice. But what exactly should luxury beauty brands do to build connections with Millennials and Plurals?

A simple Google search will yield countless articles and research studies touting what Millennials want from brands; however, much of the information lacks context, little is tailored to the prestige beauty industry, and most is contradictory—making an already daunting task even more arduous.

Using insights from nearly a decade of studying Millennial consumers and experience advising some of the world’s top prestige beauty brands, Hartwell Communications has created a list of the seven essential marketing, brand, and product best practices for the beauty industry to captivate the elusive Millennial consumer and her teen cohorts in 2017 and beyond.

1. MULTIDIMENSIONAL APPEAL: Today’s Millennial and Pluralist beauty consumer is empowered and fully aware of her consumer influence. She grew up in a post-Disney Channel/Nickelodeon and post-Title IX world where she has always been focused on as an important consumer AND as a girl. She isn’t one-dimensional and generally won’t settle for products and messages that reduce or limit to one aspect of her life.

Being known for a signature product or a signature look is simply not enough for beauty brands today. Your brand needs multiple go-to options for her busy and varied lifestyle (one day she might be heavily contoured and highlighted, the next sporting a no-makeup makeup look and the next completely bare-faced) and multiple solutions for her various skin and beauty concerns. Most importantly, your brand messaging must be differentiated so she actually knows about them.

This creates tremendous opportunity in both product and narrative development. For example, think of how Anastasia Beverly Hills has successfully transitioned beyond brows to all things sculpted and defined. Additionally, the wild popularity of Urban Decay’s Naked palettes can be attributed to the versatility of the looks they create, fitting for many lifestyles, skin tones, needs, and attitudes.

APPLICATION: The Millennial beauty consumer is complex, with many important aspects of her life and her beauty routine reflecting that. Can you accommodate her complexities? Does she know you can? She’s multidimensional, and you should be too.

2. CHANGE IS YOUR CONSTANT: Innovation is a key component of Millennials’ overall evaluation of brands. Consumer brands widely perceived as innovative (e.g., Apple, Google) are also generally known to be beloved brands, spurring loyalty and advocacy among Millennials. While most obviously applicable to technology brands, the importance of innovation in the eyes of Millennials holds true across categories, especially beauty. Her life isn’t stagnant, neither are her beauty needs. Where there is innovation, Millennial engagement will follow.

Fortunately, innovation, or change, can be represented in many forms besides the ever-critical product launches. Content strategy, promotions, social media takeovers and special events will also contribute to your brand’s reputation for innovation. Creating a persona of change and innovation is fundamentally the way to incentivize Millennials and Plurals to keep coming back to your beauty brand. For example, Sephora has shepherded a flurry of product purchases with dedicated monthly themes with corresponding displays and content—color-correcting was barely an emerging trend prior to Sephora’s focus on it last spring and now every beauty junkie and passive beauty enthusiast alike knows what it is.

APPLICATION: The Millennial and teen consumer expect something new and exciting regularly. In her eyes, change equals innovation. Are you keeping pace with her expectations? Does she perceive you as innovative? Remember, change should be your greatest constant.


Luxury categories were founded on the notion of exclusivity. Only those “in the know,” or who had the means, could be part of the club. Exclusivity in this pure sense alienates Millennials, who collectively have a Cohort Perspective mindset. They tend to think in terms of the group, that everyone’s input is equal, and they are heavily influenced by their peers.

As such, beauty brands today must foster a sense of “inclusive exclusivity.” There should always be an element of “we’re letting you in on this great secret” (an age-old element of exclusivity) teamed with “here’s how everyone can be part of it” (the modern element that creates inclusivity).

Social media serves as the primary driving force behind creating inclusive exclusivity—particularly well-planned hashtags (your own and trending tags) and curated content. Event strategies with engaging social components and high-profile partnerships will also foster the inclusive exclusivity so desirable among Millennial beauty consumers. For instance, Lancôme extended the investment of its annual Stars and Wonder Dinner by streaming the event live on Facebook, featuring interviews with influencer attendees and feeding its social profiles with images and videos after the event. Fans could feel like they were a part of the event and share brand love without being in the French Riviera.

APPLICATION: The Millennial and teen beauty consumer wants to be “in the know,” but thinks everyone else can—and should be—too. Does your brand invite and include? Does she think it’s easy to share and belong? Let inclusive exclusivity govern your brand.

4. INTERIM INFLUENCERS: Relevance is by far the most important connective tissue between brands, and Millennials and Plurals. They view the world with a collective “me filter” mindset, where they expect customization and relevancy at all times. For beauty brands, this is especially pertinent when considering formal brand ambassadors.

Long gone are the days when finding a celebrity partner to pose for a few pictures was enough to cultivate and sustain brand relevance to a generation of women. If beauty brands want to build brand connections and eventually foster brand devotion through ambassadors, not just merely build brand recognition, they must consider which influencers are the most relevant to their target. For Millennials and Plurals, that isn’t necessarily a typical Hollywood celebrity.

Furthermore, brands will get the most attention when those strategic influencer partnerships are rotating “interim influencers,” keeping the Millennial and Pluralist beauty consumer guessing, fostering an aura of innovation and inviting a new group of potential consumers to start connecting. For example, after Becca experienced tremendous success with its collaboration with Jaclyn Hill, the brand released a new collaboration with a different type of celebrity—Chrissy Teigen. Both women are known for their glowing skin (which ties perfectly with Becca’s brand notoriety) but each collaborative palette is authentically her own. Jaclyn’s a hardcore highlighter and Chrissy’s more of an illuminator, thereby appealing to different demographics, preferences, and skin types.

APPLICATION: The Millennial beauty consumer tends to be more influenced by the girl next door than the traditional celebrity ambassador. Are your efforts for endorsement well spent? Does she relate to your ambassadors? Cultivate relevancy through interim influencers.

5. NOVELTY AND UTILITY: Marketers have long relied on the daring of young consumers to launch new products and services and eventually bring them mainstream. In recent years, as Millennials have become the coveted early adaptor demographic, this tried and true formula has too often become myopic, focused on novelty while erroneously assuming that it is all that matters to Millennials. This is simply not true.

Ultimately, Millennial consumers are on a constant quest for the best possible experience, and most often that is achieved when utility is coupled with novelty. They may try something once, but without this coupling, they aren’t going to use it again, or perhaps more significantly, recommend it to others. In the world of beauty, the novelty and utility power couple should be most evident in product design (product packaging, product names, etc.) and content strategy (social media best practices and content creation). Beauty brands that effectively bundle utility and novelty set themselves up to be go-to items, cult favorites, and highly recommended.

On the product side, Lancôme’s unique take on the liquid lipstick trend, Matte Shakers, combines a fun product design with a very comfortable and wearable formula. On the content side, Anastasia Beverly Hills offers beauty-grammers utility by consistently re-gramming posts featuring their products. Those re-grams are novel for their followers (not to mention they create a genuine aspiration for many of them) and are a staple of ABH’s content strategy.

APPLICATION: The Millennial and teen beauty consumer wants solutions, but also wants fun and originality wrapped up in one product. Are your products effective and fresh, or are they singularly focused? Will she be satisfied and delighted? Novelty and utility need to be your brand’s power couple.

6. GOOD FOR THEM = GOOD FOR YOU: Millennial consumers are weaving an interconnected world—they don’t separate what they care about as an individual and what they want as a consumer. They want their decision to use a product or brand to make them feel good and to reflect well on who they are and the values they hold. While this isn’t the most important factor when making purchase decisions (quality and price are always the most important, even for Millennials), it is an important differentiator when price and quality are similar, and a key driver for loyalty.

For the beauty industry, this consumer expectation used to be satisfied by not testing on animals, but that alone isn’t enough today. Millennial consumers want to feel good when using products (meaning it should deliver results and be a pleasant experience) but they also want to feel good about using them.

Beauty brands can achieve that important balance by highlighting natural product ingredients (things she can pronounce and has heard of), creating programs that give back and incorporate messaging reflective of important contemporary issues. Look at the continued growth of natural skincare lines like Drunk Elephant and ingredient-centric color lines like Bite Beauty. The long-standing MAC VIVA GLAM line and its edgy campaigns have not only raised awareness and funds for HIV/AIDS, but humanized the brand in an important way. In many ways, prestige beauty brands can take a cue from Dove and the Campaign for Real Beauty (recent bottle shape disaster aside). Standing for something beyond your bottom line that mirrors things your consumers care about has a tremendous impact.

APPLICATION: The young beauty consumer seeks products she can feel good when using (results) and about using (her conscience). Do your products boast that kind of dual appeal? Does she know that? Does she feel that? When it’s good for her, it’s good for you too.

7. “E.V.E.N.” YOUR CONTENT & MESSAGING: Millennial and Pluralist consumers tend to evaluate brands the way they do people; they aren’t going to waste their time or attention on something that doesn’t connect with them. Today, content marketing is the keystone for beauty brands to demonstrate the relevance Millennials and Plurals expect, and thereby seize their attention.

Effective content generally follows four important guidelines, all of which are especially pertinent for beauty brands:

  • ENLIGHTENING – content should be informative and offer a tidbit consumers might not have known before encountering
  • VISUAL – whether video or still images, content should be visually stimulating; also never underestimate the power of short video
  • ENTERTAINING – excellent storytelling is central to compelling content, but a little clever humor always goes a long way
  • NON-EXCLUSIVE – content should always be inclusive—inviting feedback, having conversations, and featuring a variety of input

The most successful beauty social media stars follow these guidelines to a tee.

APPLICATION: Millennial and teen beauty consumers expect content that is enlightening, visual, entertaining, and non-exclusive. How does your content stack up on those four ideals? Are they confident in what they’’ll get when they engages? “E.V.E.N.” your content and messaging.


All brands are acclimating to our omni-channel world, but the need for truly strategic marketing, branding, and product efforts is greater now than ever primarily because powerful young beauty consumers are simply demanding more: more complexity, but more simplicity; more Millennial, but more ageless; and always more fun.

  • MULTIDIMENSIONAL APPEAL – Reflect the multi-dimensional lives of your consumers. Great success can’t be built on a signature look or product anymore.
  • CHANGE IS YOUR CONSTANT – Young consumers demand innovation, especially in an industry heavily entrenched in experimentation.
  • INCLUSIVE EXCLUSIVITY – Pure exclusivity is a turnoff; but enabling everyone to be “in the know” leads to major payoff.
  • INTERIM INFLUENCERS – Less typical celebrities, more genuine influencers who will steadily build new connections for your brand.
  • NOVELTY AND UTILITY – It’s not enough to be novel or to be useful. Your brand/products must exude a unique personality AND practicality.
  • GOOD FOR THEM = GOOD FOR YOU – If your consumers can feel good about using it and when using it, they’ll feel good about you.
  • “E.V.E.N.” YOUR CONTENT AND MESSAGING – Follow four rules for your content and messaging: enlightening, visual, entertaining, and non-exclusive.

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