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Cosmetics marketers put online tools to good use

Everybody wants to feel beautiful, but with thousands of cosmetics products on the market today, shopping for makeup can be daunting for consumers. Cosmetics marketers are hoping to increase product sales and loyalty by helping consumers find the right product to fit with their look and their idea of beauty. And these days, the lines between the digital and in-store experience are blurring.

Cosmetics companies now give consumers the tools to create looks that they like and to navigate the available products. Some have created online sites where consumers can define their coloring and skin types, which is matched up with their desired looks and the products offered.

“If you walk into the Wal-Marts of the world where many of these products are typically sold, the selection of product is very confusing to the consumer,” says Barry Wacksman, EVP and chief growth officer at R/GA. “We find a lot of success in offering consumers diagnostic tools online to find out what their dream look would be.”

Online interaction is the new department store makeup counter

This kind of digital interaction harkens back to the department store makeup counter, which is traditionally a social experience. This retail model centers on a salesperson that shows colors, recommends products and gives the consumer a fun experience of beauty. So, this experience naturally is being translated online and into social networks.

“The makeup counter is an experience and consultants who are going online have to bring this experience online in order to connect with the consumer,” says Marlene Eskin, consultant and owner of CosmeticIndustry.com. “They have to be helpful and knowledgeable about the product. It also helps if there is a value offering, such as a gift with purchase, like you would get in a store.”

Facebook, YouTube, MySpace and even Twitter have all provided platforms for cosmetics companies to reach their audiences socially in the digital world. YouTube gives brands the ability to showcase products through videos and Facebook offers a way to network with loyalists. But to make these social channels work, it is all about extending the offline cosmetics experience to the online world.

Some cosmetics manufacturers are testing virtual worlds where consumers can socialize about makeup. The virtual world lets women create avatars based on real photos and try out different products virtually. The products then show up for sale and can be added to a shopping cart.

“With the advent of social networks online, beauty marketers are investigating the value in creating an interactive shopping experience that would invite their community of users to interact online,” says Marian Sabety, president and CEO of digital marketing services firm Wyndstorm. “Through this experience, you can even tie in the role of the sales consultant, who can be alerted when a customer is in the virtual world.”

Marketers must work to make products look true to life online

One of the challenges with trying to sell makeup online is that cosmetics often require color selections and product choices that work with specific true-to-life skin tones. To accommodate these issues, Sabety recommends using good quality photography and creating a well-rendered avatar to show what the make-up will really look like.

“You want to create an experience for a consumer where they can visualize themselves in the make-up, where they have a personal vision of walking around in it,” adds Sabety.

To push cosmetics online successfully, there also has to be a value offer, something useful to the consumer, says Wacksman. “It’s about being helpful and about utility,” he adds. “It is about being a partner and being useful. People online have a choice whether to engage or not — it’s not like interruptive adverting messaging on TV, so you have to offer something valuable to get them to engage.”

Unlike some industries, the cosmetics sector is not doing too badly in the tight economy. In fact, according to the US Department of Commerce’s December 2009 sales figures, the personal care category saw growth, even though overall retail trade sales fell by 2.7%. Adjusted sales for the personal care and healthcare category during December were $21 billion, a rise of 5.65% from the same period in 2007.

“A cosmetic purchase is a low-cost indulgence even during a recession, but in recessionary times, people do trade down to the lower-cost brands,” Wacksman points out.

For example, as consumers tighten up their wallets, more women turn to drugstore cosmetics over department store cosmetics, says Eskin. “The key thing that is going to sell right now is value,” he explains. “The department store lines are beginning to feel the pressure and women are turning back to basics and looking at the drug store lines for deals.”

Drug store brands such as L’Oreal and Nivea do well in these kinds of markets, he adds, because they offer good products at a good value.

More cosmetics marketers using back-to-basics approach

This back-to-basics approach is coming through in messaging, Eskin continues. The industry, he says, is turning away from using technical and scientific information in their messaging, towards a more clear description of what the product does.

“You want to offer a product that a consumer can understand,” he says. “The companies have gotten very technical and scientific in their description of the products. But, sometimes too much information can be confusing. I think cosmetics companies need to get back to basics about the messaging and keep it simple to compete in this tight marketplace.”

While consumers are still willing to spend on cosmetics, beauty marketers are tasked with providing a useful exchange with consumers if they are going to sell products. Be it in-store or digital, customer service and added value are the keys to making it beautiful.

“We want to be helpful and try to be the customer’s friend and help them figure out what is going to make them look beautiful,” says Wacksman. “It is not about dumping messages about products at them. There has to be a value exchange.


MAC Cosmetics is using social networks, including YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to engage its fans. The cosmetics company has used these social sites to push out its VIVA GLAM VI Special Edition Lipstick, a lavender lip color currently being promoted by pop star Fergie. In addition, the lipstick campaign is tied to a nonprofit push to support HIV/AIDS research: A portion of every purchase is given to the MAC AIDS Fund. The Facebook page, which has more than 183,000 fans, links back to a YouTube page, which has already seen more than 15,000 hits since it was posted on March 26.

L’Oreal Paris created the “Can I help you” interactive experience that helps visitors find their ideal make-up or hair dye based on their personal features and their desired look. Visitors to www.lorealparis.com can choose from four kinds of personal beauty consultations — from skincare help to finding a new look — and are offered $1 off any L’Oreal Paris product at the end of each section. Once registered for the consultation, the users can create personal pages and add their favorite tips, tricks and videos, as well as receive free product samples.

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