Beauty Brand Best Practices To Engage Millennial And Teen Consumers


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.

Photo Courtesy of ABC News

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.

Photo courtesy of Disney Springs

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.

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.

Photo Courtesy of Teen Vogue

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

Inclusive exclusivity

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.

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

Novely 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.

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.

"E.V.E.N." your content and 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.

This article first appeared on Beauty Matter

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Do 2020 Presidential Candidates Still Have Rules to Play By?

Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.

When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.

2016: What rules?

Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.

Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.

And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.

And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?

Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.

Digital policies for 2020 and beyond

While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.

Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy

Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:

  • If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
  • While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
  • If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
  • Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
  • Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?

Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.

Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply

The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:

  1. Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
  2. Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
  3. Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
  4. Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
  5. Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
  6. Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
  7. Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
  8. Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.

Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles

Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.