Beauty in the eye of the millennial: What brands need to know

One look at my bathroom shelf and you will notice a multitude of beauty products ranging from gels and foams to creams and polishes. Some are for hair, some are for skin, some are for nails, but they all share one trait in common: the goal of making me feel beautiful.

The beauty industry has long been driven by the desire to help consumers look and feel attractive. Traditionally this has centered around visible qualities such as radiance, glamour, cleanliness, or even confidence. But after my recent trip to Sri Lanka I had to wonder, “Is the conversation changing?”

During my time in Sri Lanka, I stopped by Spa Ceylon to take a look at its latest product range. Just as in my own bathroom, each product conveyed a distinct beauty benefit, but interestingly, the benefits didn’t stop at the visible. From “Happy” and “Calm” to “Dream” and “Peace,” Spa Ceylon’s beauty range focused on holistic wellness benefits that went beyond skin-deep. I eagerly bought the “Happy” balm as a reminder to myself to approach each day with optimism.

From Spa Ceylon I walked over to Bath and Body Works and was fascinated to find that the phenomenon of well-being-focused products didn’t stop at Spa Ceylon. Bath and Body Works sells its own range of gels and creams promising energy, comfort, focus, and sleep.

Beauty Brands: Bath and Body Works

At this point, I was intrigued. Clearly, the conversation in the beauty industry is shifting from a limited set of traditional beauty codes (feeling beautiful and confident) to an unlimited set of overall well-being codes. It is not just about smooth skin or feeling gorgeous anymore. It’s about being happy and fulfilled. It’s about viewing a person holistically rather than focusing only on just one issue or tangible benefit.

What’s driving this change, and what does it mean for beauty brands?

The rise of the “wellness” generation

According to a recent Forbes report, “healthy and happy” will be the future for millennial consumers. For this generation, it’s about reaching a state where your mental, physical, and emotional health are in sync. This shift in attitude means that consumers’ priorities and expectations have changed, impacting the brands they purchase.

Beauty brands: happy and beautiful girl

When it comes to beauty, consumers care more about feeling enriched than they do about just feeling beautiful. Wellness is a constant and ongoing pursuit, and brands need to play a role in this journey. As a result, positioning will be key: The brands that win will be a partner for consumers, helping them on their quest for happiness, health, and beauty.

The shift from hedonistic indulgence to meaningful indulgence

The millennial generation isn’t just seeking out new experiences—they’re asking for more engagement, deeper meaning, and greater customization than ever before. Even indulgences need to have a positive payoff. For example, many millennials would trade a night of binge drinking for a sunrise yoga class at Angkor Wat or a wine-and-paint night at a local studio.

Sunrise Yoga

Beauty brands have an opportunity to focus more on research and development, building a pipeline of purposefully indulgent products for which consumers will happily pay a premium. Just consider the Tea Tree collection from Paul Mitchell; not only does it benefit your hair by using essential oils and real plant extracts, it benefits your mind by using relaxing natural scents to “awaken your senses and nourish your soul.”

The need to maximize

Today’s millennial consumers not only expect more from their products and experiences, they also want to maximize their entire approach to life. In just one day, a consumer could tackle a yoga session in the morning, followed by a jam-packed day at work, finished off with a cocktail with friends or a book in a quiet lounge. As a result, consumers go through a wide spectrum of emotions every day.

Bar with friends

Beauty brands can use customer journey mapping to help them better leverage the “maximizer” mindset of millennial consumers. Understanding the pressures, challenges, and opportunities that consumers face each day can help brands identify opportunities for product innovations, tailored communications, or relevant advertising. Best of all, it can help them create relevance in previously adjacent spaces. For example, a brand might identify that consumers feel stressed after their morning commutes—before they’ve even had a chance to get into the office. Creating a fresh and relaxing face mist for use after a commute could provide a distinct benefit for consumers and a line extension for the brand.

The heart of beauty

Today’s beauty brands have an incredible opportunity to reconsider what they stand for in light of millennials’ lifestyles. Whether it’s about transformational branding, refreshed positioning, or product innovation, millennials expect brands to connect with them in highly relevant ways. The shift to wellness-centric beauty offers brands one way in—with more change on the horizon.


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