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Psychology of Beauty: Understanding the African Consumer

Published July 7, 2024
Published July 7, 2024
Prince Akachi via Unsplash

Africa’s beauty industry has emerged as a rapidly growing sector that’s currently strengthening the continent’s financial prowess. This growth has been characterized by various cultural influences, diverse consumer preferences, and a rising demand for both global and homegrown products and brands. As the continent’s beauty market continues to expand, understanding the psychology of the African consumer is critical for a brand’s success. “When we decided to rebrand [in June] and bet on accessibility, we discovered that the African beauty market is quite different in comparison to the Global North,” Valerie Obaze, founder of R&R Skincare (formerly R&R Luxury), says to BeautyMatter. “Consumers here want luxury, but also at a price they can afford,” she continues.

Consumer behavior in the beauty industry often hinges on emotional and psychological factors, and this is particularly true in Africa. “The beauty behaviors of the consumers within the African beauty industry and the African continent vary from country to country, so making one product and classifying it as one for everybody wouldn’t work,” beauty entrepreneur and specialist Toyin Odulate says to BeautyMatter. “Beauty products are not just functional. They are imbued with cultural significance, personal identity, and social status. For brands looking to penetrate this market, understanding these sentiments is crucial,” she continues. Odulate had worked with L’Oréal as a Senior Project Manager in the International Marketing Department (Africa), and was responsible for key brands like SoftSheen-Carson and Garnier for the Sub-Saharan African markets, before moving on as Project Director, where she represented the Middle East and Africa zones.

African consumers are deeply influenced by their cultural heritage. Beauty standards and practices vary significantly across the continent, shaped by ethnic diversity, traditions, gender, and local beauty ideals. According to The Exchange, in West Africa, for example, organic products that enhance natural hair textures and skin tone are highly favored, while in East Africa, there is a growing demand from men for organic and natural grooming products, in contrast to the women. South Africa’s Suki Suki Naturals, a cosmetics and skincare brand founded by Linda Gieskes-Mwamba, has successfully tapped into this cultural sentiment. Gieskes-Mwamba notes, “Our products are inspired by the rich skin tones of women of color. We saw a gap in the market [especially in Southern Africa] that matches darker skin tones, and our consumers have resonated deeply with our mission to provide this for them,” Gieskes-Mwamba says to BeautyMatter. Its products like the Buchu Moringa Milky Cleanser for example, is rich in vitamins C, A, and E, and indigenous ingredients like the moringa leaf extract, which is packed with antioxidants that improve skin tone appearance, texture, and elasticity.

For many African consumers, beauty products serve as a form of self-expression and identity, whether haircare for POC or skincare. There is a strong desire to celebrate and embrace their natural features—a sentiment that’s been driven and reinforced by a broader global movement towards inclusivity and diversity. Brands that recognize and celebrate this aspect of identity tend to perform better, as research by Mintel showed that 63% of Americans are inspired by beauty brands that show diversity. Many global beauty heavyweights, including L’Oréal and MAC Cosmetics, have made significant inroads in the African market, with their wide range of foundation shades catering to diverse skin tones. The same applies to other global independent brands like UOMA Beauty.

The visual appeal of packaging plays a significant role in attracting African consumers. African brands like LIHA Beauty, eni Culture, and Suki Suki Naturals currently explore this. Packaging that reflects African art, motifs, and colors can create a strong connection with consumers, a sentiment R&R Skincare played into during their rebrand. Additionally, packaging that emphasizes natural and organic ingredients resonates well, given the increasing awareness and demand for sustainable and health-conscious products. “We needed to leverage visually appealing packaging that highlights what we’re about and embody what it means to be a true African brand,” Obaze says. “We used earthy tones and culturally relevant imagery and shapes to help reinforce our authenticity and connection to our roots,” she continues.

Price sensitivity is another crucial factor influencing purchasing decisions. While there is a growing middle class with higher disposable incomes, affordability remains a key concern for many consumers. Brands are therefore striking a balance between quality and cost, offering value-for-money products that do not compromise on effectiveness. After working with multinational beauty conglomerates on senior levels, Odulate founded her beauty brand, Olori Cosmetics, in 2015. Recently launched as Olori Beauty in the US, the company has made significant strides in understanding the African consumer and is distributed across over three hundred retail outlets across Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, and the UK. “For us, our launch was based on the belief that African consumers differ across the board, and every one of them seek efficacious products regardless of their financial status,” says Odulate. “Our products are designed to be accessible without sacrificing quality,” she continues.

To effectively capture the African market, brands are conducting thorough market research to understand the unique needs and preferences of African consumers. This includes recognizing the diversity within the continent and tailoring products to meet specific regional demands. Trust and authenticity are paramount, and brands are being adaptable to the varying economic conditions across African countries. African consumers have also increasingly become savvy and can discern genuine efforts, enabling brands to demonstrate a genuine commitment to the African market, whether through local partnerships, community engagement, or ethical business practices.


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