Hello readers! I hope your autumn is off to a great start! I closed out my summer with a family vacation which was a great chance to unplug and relax. I definitely missed writing for the blog during that time and now that I am back home and mostly cured of jet lag, I want to tackle a new topic: trends and where they come from.
Sometimes, it seems like all the major brands launch similar products at exactly the same time. You may wonder how this is possible, especially if you read my post on Product Development which mentioned timelines ranging from a few weeks to a couple years. Is it corporate espionage? Is there one Miranda Priestly-style trendsetter making all the rules? Is it finally time to learn what an Instagram micro-influencer is? Thankfully, the answer to all those questions is no.
Today, I'd like to cover a few different sources of trends in the market. I'm going to focus on ingredient and product trends. There are industry trends as well, such as the growth of indie brands which I covered a bit in my prior post Industry Breakdown.
In prior posts, I've discussed the ideation phase of new product development. This is where marketing and research and development come together to plan future product launches. Their ideas about market white space and what makes sense for the brand image are definitely part of the creation of trends, but only one piece of the puzzle. This brainstorming work is not being done in a vacuum and companies constantly look for outside sources of information to guide their work.
So how do companies decide what the next big thing will be? I think it can be broken down into three main categories, which I'll describe in more detail below.
Companies are always looking for information about the consumer. This can come from a variety of sources including curated trend reports from market research agencies, sales data from the existing product offering to see which categories are growing, social media engagement on content for different ingredients or product types, or even direct consumer feedback in the form of product reviews or social media requests to bring back a discontinued product or change a formulation.
The direct consumer feedback loop provided by social media and online reviews is a double-edged sword for companies. It's great to get immediate feedback when consumers and brand ambassadors love your new launch, but the downside is that negative feedback can be immediate as well when a product or ad doesn't hit the mark. In the past you would likely collect a few months of sales data before deciding a launch was a flop, now it can seemingly fail instantly.
Another digital tactic that may seem obvious in other industries but not as much in cosmetics is using search terms in sites like Google and Amazon to understand what consumers are searching for. If you collect data that searches for certain active ingredients or product claims are trending, you can use that data to plan out future launches or edit your existing product claims accordingly. (For example, if I'm selling a toner with rose water and witch hazel called Blackstone Beauty Toner with Witch Hazel but people are searching "rose water" 10 times more often than "witch hazel", it might be time to change the name to Blackstone Beauty Toner with Rose Water, or in a less extreme update, change the Amazon listing to include the keyword "rose water" as many times as possible.)
Currently, I think all companies are connecting with consumers via social media, online product reviews, and other direct methods. I think taking the next step and using these insights to intelligently plan out future launches is a bit less common, but definitely an area of focus and growth as brands get more strategic with their digital data.
As brands focus more on highlighting the unique ingredients in their products, the average consumer is getting more knowledgeable about cosmetic ingredients. I am always impressed when people who don't work in the industry can list off which anti-aging ingredients work best for their skin or express their love for hyaluronic acid moisturizers.
One thing that people may not realize about the cosmetic industry is that a lot of the novel ingredient work is not done by the cosmetic brands themselves, but rather by raw material suppliers. They tap into trends from academic clinical research or other industries like food and translate those insights into new ingredients that they pitch to cosmetic brands. Typically, these companies have their own in-house cosmetic chemists who will create formulations incorporating the new ingredient that will be used in the pitch.
In my time at a company focused on natural ingredients, we often had raw material vendors visit our research and development team with natural alternatives to common synthetic ingredients. Fragrance houses would share their insights into the next big thing for scents. There is something very cool about attending a presentation about fragrance trends and then noticing that ingredient in everything from perfumes to candles over the next couple years.
If you don't work at a huge company with lots of purchasing power and raw material vendor connections, is this avenue closed to you? Definitely not. I am a member of industry group called the Society of Cosmetic Chemists and they often feature presentations from raw material vendors on new developments and have many sales representatives in attendance at meetings. Last year, I took a course in cosmetic science at UCLA Extension which included a variety of new ingredient offerings curated from industry events and trade shows. Additionally, LinkedIn is a great resource to connect with technical sales representatives from raw material vendors if you have an idea of what you're looking for and which company may be a good fit.
Benchmarking other regions or brands
The final method is pretty simple and can be summarized as "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." It is now common knowledge in the US beauty market that Korea is the trendiest country for skincare. Several years ago, if something was huge in Korea, chances were that it would trickle into the US market in a couple years. Now with brands and retail stores embracing K-beauty brands and products, that timeline has shrunk down considerably. I've also read that the infamous 10-step beauty skincare routine is facing burnout and people are looking for more simplicity. Either way, I think Korea will continue to be a place that US brands look for inspiration.
There is always fierce competition within the US market as well. When I worked at a company focused on naturals, we were always looking to formulate natural alternatives to trends in the synthetic market. Now, I think large brands are looking to small indie brands for inspiration on new products that are resonating with consumers and using their economies of scale to bring those trends to mass market retailers. Brands are also following macro trends that are not ingredient or product-specific like making formulas that are customized or personalized to the individual or focusing on global packaging trends to reduce single-use plastics.
Overall, I hope today's article gave you some insight into where new trends come from. Chances are, if a market research firm shares with all their corporate partners that the next hot trend is x, a raw material vendor gets to work on an ingredient that fits that trend, the first brand to market gets great feedback on social media, it won't be long before you see everyone jumping on the bandwagon. Over the past several years, this has been the case with products like BB creams, micellar waters, and sheet masks. What will the future bring? It will definitely be ever-changing, and in my opinion, that's what makes the industry so fun and engaging! As always, please let me know if you have any questions or feedback below!