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Personalised beauty products: six steps to seizing the opportunity

Personalised beauty products create the opportunity to stand out in a crowded market, unleashing rapid new growth. YouGov data shows consumers are keen for personalisation, and we’re seeing disruptive companies capitalise on this demand across industries – Holland & Barrett’s Healthbox, for example, personalises wellness.

Yet most current personalisation offerings rely on mass customisation, so end up looking homogenous. True personalisation, where products are manufactured based on a person’s unique biology, condition or preferences, has been hampered by technology and processes. But we are now at a tipping point where the technical challenges are resolvable for an acceptable investment.

So, how can beauty brands develop personalisation offerings that are feasible, scalable, effective and desirable? In our experience of helping organisations across industries bring ingenious products and services to market, there are six secrets to focus on.

1. Find a real unmet consumer need that a personalised approach can meet

For personalised beauty products to generate brand loyalty and unlock meaningful growth, they need to go beyond novelty and instead, meet real consumer needs aligned to one’s beauty ambitions. That means going back to basics and talking to consumers about the challenges they face with existing beauty products and the market in general. The key is to involve people from across the business so you can identify opportunities at every level, taking into account cross functional limitations and opportunities, from personalising clinical aspects through to customising consumer journeys.

When working with a leading global beauty brand, we uncovered an opportunity to change how people use moisturisers by getting feedback from a broad range of consumers. They told us that the myriad products on offer, targeted at everything from different weather to different moods, left them confused. The outcome was a small, connected ‘super smart’ device that personalises your skin care routine daily, enabling a consistent multi-channel brand experience and sets a new standard in consumer loyalty.

2. Use science-based, credible diagnostic and product technology

The science of personalisation is progressing rapidly, driven by the miniaturisation of and access to clinical-grade diagnostic equipment, the rise of artificial intelligence and advancements in data analytics. Innovations have made it possible to quickly diagnose a person’s microbiome (the unique ecosystem of bacteria on their skin) from a simple swab, or instantly analyse a person’s skin using photos. Such technologies use provable science, crucial to building consumer trust.

P&G’s Opté, for example, is a handheld device loaded with tiny cameras and a miniaturised inkjet printer that precisely mixes and prints foundation. As you run the device over your face, the cameras instantly recognise imperfections in your skin and the printer covers them up with the perfect shade of foundation. Opté uses established, trusted technology that P&G repurposed, making it easier for people to grasp and trust the concept and the underpinning science.

3. Don’t forget to connect with the customer

While robust science is crucial to building trust in personalised products, an enjoyable experience and shared values are vital in the buying decision. Beauty products have a strong online community where consumers share opinions and experiences, so it’s important to give the novelty of a personalised product a ‘shareable’ edge. A companion app, for example, could help track how a personalised foundation minimises acne. The app would enable further personalisation on the next purchase and make the long-term effectiveness of a product more apparent, which will encourage people to talk about their experiences.

Ensuring personalised products don’t sacrifice your brand’s purpose will also help build a customer connection. For example, when building a personalised product recipe, you could ask the customer whether premium ingredients like retinols are more important than clean ingredients that minimise environmental impact. This would add a layer of personalisation that really connects with the customer, while also supporting the global drive towards more sustainable business.

We know sustainability is an important differentiator for consumers, and one that personalisation can really capitalise on. Our work with Pulpac, a start-up that’s created a paper-based alternative to single-use plastics, highlighted a strong demand for more sustainable FMCGs, with global brands eager to work with the company.

4. Consider new business models to maximise personalisation

To capture the full benefits of personalised beauty products, it’s crucial to explore the new business models they enable.

Personalisation builds a much stronger relationship with a customer than traditional products, and that makes subscription models more enticing. It would even make sense to evolve the product a customer subscribes to as time passes, whether it’s adapting clinical ingredients to meet a person’s goals or changing them with the seasons.

At the same time, the need for technology in true personalisation can transform in-store experiences. It would be possible to give expert customer assistants the data to support their recommendations, reassuring customers. Or even create a make-up ‘photobooth’ that assesses a person’s needs before dispensing a product tailored to them.

5. Create a realistic plan for scaling

Scaling the manufacture and distribution of personalised beauty products is a real challenge, particularly when you consider consumers will likely expect to receive their product in a matter of days. Innovative manufacturing processes, like additive manufacturing, can produce customised products very quickly and with minimal effort. And a rapidly expanding logistical network of shipping and last-mile delivery companies is making it easier to get those products into the hands of customers very quickly.

The right manufacturing and distribution solutions for your personalised products won’t exist wholly within your business. You’ll need to carefully assess who can deliver effective manufacturing process innovations and who to partner with to get your products to customers.

6. Keep learning and improving

Introducing truly personalised beauty products won’t be simple, so you won’t find the perfect solution instantly. It’s about starting small, possibly running the personalised product as a start-up within the wider business, before iterating based on real user feedback. The great thing about personalised models is, you’ll naturally get more data from customers on which to base your improvements, letting you progress quickly. And when you’ve established successful products and systems, scaling fast will be simpler and less risky.

Personalised beauty products have reached a tipping point

Innovative technology can now overcome the traditional barriers to personalising beauty products. The big brands now need to act or risk newcomers disrupting them. By focusing on real needs, using robust science, connecting with the customer, optimising the business model, planning to scale and continuously improving, all beauty companies can seize the opportunities of personalisation. Are you ready to think big, start small and scale fast to get ahead?

Contact the author

  • Jenna Phillips

    Jenna Phillips

    PA healthcare expert

    Jenna collaborates with stakeholders throughout the healthcare system to design and implement complex strategy initiatives

    Insights by Jenna Phillips

Contact the consumer team