The Influence of Identity: What Gen Z Wants from the Beauty Industry

Posted by: Angie Read

Despite the growing focus on natural beauty, the beauty industry has nothing to fear from Gen Z. In fact, teens and tweens today might be the best thing to happen to the beauty industry in years. Per Piper Jaffrey’s most recent semi-annual teen survey, beauty spending is up 20 percent from just a year ago as teens continue to splurge on makeup and skincare. Mintel also reports that color cosmetics (31%) and hair care (24%) are the two largest beauty segments among younger consumers.

Growing up in the age of social media and selfies, Gen Z obsesses more over their appearance than previous generations. Sure, it sounds a bit narcissistic, but the reasons are more complex than one might expect. Teens know they can be photographed anytime, anywhere, and they expect those images to end up online. Teens view their personal identity as a curated composition; they are building their own personal brand over time. Building “Brand Me,” starts at a young age and is constantly evolving. With their carefully curated personal identities so public on social media, they are hyper-conscious of the way they present themselves.

In their ongoing quest to define “Brand Me,” teens have fun experimenting with their individuality through makeup, hairstyles and fashion – and sharing that process with their friends (both online and offline). Rather than turning to their moms or older siblings for beauty advice, teens are going online for ideas, trends and step-by-step tutorials from some of their favorite influencers.

Defying Gender Norms

Yet, these influencers are not the same as those who inspired Millennials. Gen Z is writing modern rules that favor more liberal views on race, gender, identity, sexuality and self-expression, so it should come as no surprise that those rules play into current beauty trends. Females no longer corner the market on beauty. Young men are into make-up now, and the industry is paying attention – as are teens.

In fact, Refinery29 claims it’s a good time to be a boy in makeup. Leading the way are James CharlesBretman Rock, Manny Gutierrez and Jake Warden who have become household names in the industry. CoverGirl recently named YouTube star James Charles their first ever “CoverBoy,” as the face of their new So Lashy mascara. Likewise, Maybelline recruited Manny Gutierrez as its first male beauty star to promote its Big Shot mascara. Both Charles and Gutierrez are openly gay and embraced by their Gen Z fans.

Speaking of boys and beauty, the youngest male beauty prodigy making waves is a 10-year-old from the UK named Jack. Jack’s Instagram account, @makeupbyjack, has nearly 300K followers. Jack is a master of some of teens’ favorite make-up trends like baking, contouring and highlighting. (You’ve probably seen his wildly popular video on Facebook.)

Highlight their Uniqueness

What do these modern rules mean for beauty brands?

Gen Z wants beauty brands to see them as unique individuals working to piece together their personal brands over time. They prefer to see real people (“people like me”) versus traditional celebrities in advertising. The challenge will be determining what “people like me” means to the most diverse generation on the planet. Right now, online influencers (and micro-influencers – those with smaller niche followings) are the closest thing to “people like me,” with Gen Z, who often see influencers as peers and personal friends. Partnering with influencers to create compelling content that highlights individuality and self-expression will help beauty brands authentically reach Gen Z. This is a generation that avoids traditional advertising at all costs, with 69 percent using ad blockers. Sponsored content with key influencers is one of the best ways to ensure Gen Z actually sees your messaging.

Uniqueness also applies to skin tones and types. Gen Z is the most diverse, multicultural generation in history, so they expect brands to develop products that work with their different skin tones and beauty needs, such as Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty. The line is for people of color who have struggled for years to find the right shade of foundation. The inclusive and cruelty-free line includes 40 shades of matte foundations, from the palest of pale to deep, deep brown.

And don’t forget to appeal to their sense of playfulness. That means offering a wide range of colors, lots of sparkle and products that can be used in a number of ways (such as highlighters that can be used on the lips and eyes). Beauty should be fun, especially for young consumers who are using it to influence their identities.

About Angie Read

Angie Read is Vice President of Growth Insight at Barkley. She has 20+ years of consumer marketing and public relations experience for brands including Sprint, Hallmark, Huhtamaki, Dearfoams, Foot Petals and baggalini, as well as...See Angie's full bio.

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