How beauty brands are navigating complexity around modern femininity

The struggle to find meaning in the diversity of womanhood

In an increasingly complex world, navigating a fragmenting consumer landscape means that for brands to truly engage with individuals in a meaningful, credible and relevant way is an incredibly challenging undertaking.  It used to be relatively simple from a marketeers point of view; some products were for men (beer, big crisps) some for women (make up, clothes). Whilst a gross generalisation, marketeers for a long time felt vindicated in their gendered approach because it shifted product.  For some brands that remains a sensible option, but for the rest, it’s one-dimensional and limiting.

Cognisant of the diversity that now exists, many brands have cast off tired and stereotypical views of what gender could or should mean.  It’s no longer enough to celebrate womanhood by generalising women as the multitasking supermum, ready to take on the world.  It’s an increasingly meaningless and glib simplification of what it means to be a woman in 2020.  So, what we see is the emergence of brands that have embraced that complexity and made it a central tenet of their proposition.

Glossier is a fantastic example of a brand that has leaned into the reality of new female diversity.  By democratising beauty by selling attainable, authentic and individual expressions of beauty, the brand can mean something truly personal to millions of women and is thriving exactly because it understands femininity in all its forms.  And by allowing their customers to shape the messaging, rather than projecting a brand perspective onto their customers about what ‘diversity’ or what ‘beauty’ might or should look like, the brand feels simultaneously premium and aspirational but grounded, everyday and inclusive.

Billie is another brand that is eschewing category convention and challenging conventional wisdom around the aesthetics of beauty by effectively encouraging women to liberate themselves by celebrating body hair.  It’s a bold move from a brand that wants to sell razors, but it’s an effective way to disrupt not just a category, but an entire and very entrenched consumer mindset around what beauty and womanhood should mean.

Now clearly there’s a flip side to such an approach and it’s not an option for many brands.  Whilst complexity presents a clear opportunity to forge deeper, more authentic and increasingly personal relationship with individuals, the inherent risk of attempting to mean something to everyone is invariably that a brand’s equity is diluted and ends up meaning nothing to nobody; a veritable vanilla panna cotta of a brand, truly devoid of purpose.

And if the pitfalls of irrelevance aren’t enough, increasing conversations around gender fluidity and push back against gender binaries from Gen Z consumers mean that marketeers face a challenge of how and indeed whether to incorporate gender into their brand messaging and communications at all. Whilst finally embracing the revolutionary idea that women and men are not just one thing, there is a new and very tricky landscape for marketeers to navigate on the horizon.

By: The Value Engineers

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