Beauty’s Rising Gen X Opportunity, AI as a Pathway to Human Engagement and Nine Other Ways Facts From Day Two of WWD Beauty CEO Summit 2024

On the second day of the WWD Beauty CEO Summit 2024 at the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne in Miami, visionary founders and executives – from Aurelian Lis dermalogica to Brooke Shields from Start to Drew Elliott and MAC Cosmetics and Aïda Moudachirou-Rebois – took the stage.

Topics included navigating a disruptive global retail landscape, harnessing AI to its full — and ethical — potential, what Ozempic’s rise means for adjacent supplement categories, Gen X’s untapped opportunity at prestige beauty and more .

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Here, 11 key takeaways from Day Two of the conference.

1. Experiential retail is an integral part of tomorrow’s winning omnichannel strategies.

“Experiential retail is the future – if retail becomes transactional, we’re going to be in trouble,” said Sylvie Moreau, president of Europe and the Middle East at Sephora, adding that the retailer is in China and across the world “launching classes, services and creating beauty events that must come to stores.”

In North America, the retailer is embarking on a more than five-year journey to renovate all of its stores in the region. “We’re going to give them new fixtures, a new layout; this is not a store design project, it is a store merchandising project. It has a lot to do with how the consumer shops, how they navigate the products that are laid out, where do we put the beauty studio? We’re taking our ‘perfect look’ and rolling it out to every store,” said Artemis Patrick, chief executive officer of Sephora North America.

2. Much is said about beauty’s low barrier to entry, but success depends on differentiation.

“Understanding unmet consumer needs is at the heart of this strategy,” said Piyush Jain, CEO of Maesa. “Consumers don’t need new brands… that don’t really serve a unique, differentiating purpose. Why is the brand needed in the consumer journey?”

3. Ozempic isn’t going anywhere – and it’s creating opportunities across adjacent categories.

One in eight Americans have used GLP-1 in the past year, and with that comes a boom in several nearby fitness categories.

“A lot of consumers who are starting to use GLP-1 medications aren’t necessarily eating healthier, they’re eating less….There’s a huge amount of side effects and that’s where we come in,” said president of The Vitamin Shoppe, Muriel Gonzalez, referring to recommended supplement products that address these needs, including protein, probiotics, multivitamins and more.

Additionally, the Ozempic market is only expected to grow with new telehealth services, including The Vitamin Shoppe’s new Whole Health Rx platform, where users can get GLP-1 prescriptions.

4. Your community is also your most valuable source of data.

Trinny Woodall, founder of skincare brand Trinny London, seeks to understand the behaviors and preferences of her community – or the “Trinny Tribe” – to inform the brand’s storytelling.

“We have an average watch time of eight minutes on YouTube; we also have a 35 percent audience in the United States, so for us, that’s a very interesting platform to think about, how do we tell stories that women feel emotionally connected to, allowing them to find the brand, ” Woodall said.

Marianna Hewitt, co-founder of Summer Fridays, said: “We always like to say that we create products that work, and part of that is community involvement in product development – by having our community as part of our [that process] they feel a sense of ownership when the products come out.”

5. AI is only as good as its training – if done right, it can strengthen the human touch and connect with your brand.

“The biggest risk with AI is that we don’t embrace it and embrace it as an industry,” said Aurelian Lis, CEO of Dermalogica, warning that specificity is key to wielding the tool most effectively, and without bias. “The company approach that scares me the most is just, ‘let’s get all this data and create a huge data lake.’ You should start with a question – you don’t start with the answer.”

“AI is intelligence, and intelligence is based on learning and questions—it’s not an answer,” said Nick Howard, director of global strategy at EveLab Insight.

“The magic of AI is inspiring to create value chain optimization in the workplace, but if you find a new [AI] model, you should be taking the time to train it because of the data set it contains [built on] critical,” said Elsa Jungman, CEO and founder, HelloBiome.

“The differentiating factor of pure luxury, I think, is that it will come back to the human touch – how to encourage that human element with AI is where we should be spending our time ,” said Lis.

6. More than a beauty brand – become a culture brand.

“I’ve never considered MAC to be a makeup brand — it’s a culture brand,” said Elliott, the brand’s global creative director, who took the stage with MAC senior vice president and general manager Aida Moudachirou-Rebois. “Culture has always been at the heart of MAC and that’s what allows us to be ahead of trends and build our own.”

Moudachirou-Rebois added: “Culture is in everything we do – from our product to our Viva Glam [campaign] — everything is connected to being in the moment and being connected to our culture.”

7. Embrace Gen X – a forgotten beauty opportunity.

“Gen X is 70 million strong, which is 20 percent of the population,” said Larissa Jensen, vice president and beauty industry consultant at Circana, adding that the cohort spends $173 billion on general merchandise each year and it represents 20 percent of beauty spending. “They’re practically begging us to help them embrace their beauty, celebrate their age because aging is a privilege.”

It is this Gen X experience and opportunity that led actress and entrepreneur Brooke Shields to launch her Beginning Is Now platform, now rebranded as Beginning with the launch of her eponymous hair care range.

“Women over 40 have already done a lot and their lives are so complicated. They have done so much, and it is more of their time. I found myself in that position,” Shields said. “There was so much white space when it came to hair care, especially for women over 40 but not in the geriatrics area or the medical area.”

8. The most effective global expansion strategies leverage brand heritage and leverage localization tactics.

This is true across markets, but Sephora is particularly important in China – a market that the beauty industry is trying to tackle and adapt to. “Location is the first step for Chinese consumers to understand what the brand stands for, then the products will be the next step,” said Alia Gogi, president of Sephora Asia, which recently brought Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty to the region . “Fenty, for example, is still true to their inclusiveness, but they’re speaking to match the Chinese skin tone.”

9. Tap into loyalty programs to drive customer retention and engagement.

According to Ulta Beauty president and chief operating officer Kecia Steelman and Space NK CEO Andy Lightfoot, effective loyalty programs are essential to understanding customers and providing them with a personalized experience.

“At that [loyalty program] data is key and is what separates the successful retailers from the struggling ones. You have to be able to connect with that consumer, especially in this category,” said Fer na Cruach.

10. Medical aesthetics is rapidly integrating into the typical beauty regimen.

“[Treatments] they are not a stand-alone solution, they are part of something broader,” said David Moatazedi, president and CEO of Evolus, adding that the aging of the category’s core consumer is driving its evolution. “The point of care is changing; it’s now more of an experience, consumers are booking their treatments on the day or the day before, and generally getting in and out of office within half an hour. That experience changed from a medical procedure, to a beauty treatment today.”

11. Use technology to personalize every step of the customer journey.

“It’s all about personalization….It’s not just one personalization at a time; it’s personalization at the top of the funnel all the way to checkout,” said Melis del Rey, general manager, US stores, beauty, baby tech and beauty at Amazon. “We spend a lot of time building machine models so we can model what is replenishment behavior, what is the behavior of a brand loyalist or an explorer – those models help us at scale to navigate the shopping experience and unique opportunities create for customers.”

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