In the information age, it’s easier than ever for consumers to look up what they want on the internet. And in the process, they also have access to abundant information regarding other customers’ experiences with brands and the products they offer.
For the beauty industry, in particular, this access to information can prove a double-edged sword. We’ve seen the fallout of issues with cosmetics such as Johnson & Johnson’s talc containing asbestos and leading to ovarian cancer or Wen’s conditioner causing scalp irritation. Consumers are also quick to spread the word regarding concerns over ingredients such as BPA, phthalates, and parabens.
Natural products have rapidly stepped in to fill the demand for healthy and clean cosmetics. Hair loss shampoo is far more attractive if it contains only natural ingredients. But the current sentiment can shift easily. People quickly wise up when companies start using labels like ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ as a mere marketing ploy.
It’s time for natural beauty brands to focus on establishing their credence first.
Safety is a credence attribute
When we think of a beauty product as being trustworthy, it usually means that it scores positively on three aspects. Foremost is competence: it has to deliver on consumer expectations of efficacy. A blemish-removing cream has to do as it says. Otherwise, you aren’t getting your money’s worth. The other two aspects are integrity and benevolence, which relate to keeping promises of safety and aligning brand and consumer values.
In the search-experience-credence model, product attributes can be defined according to the availability of consumer information regarding their purchases. Search attributes are easily verified before purchase, while experience attributes are likewise easily discerned upon use. A beauty product’s efficacy ties into its quality, which you can attest to after application.
But while results might speak for themselves and deliver on the competence front, integrity and benevolence are harder to establish. If a cosmetic contains trace amounts of a harmful substance, it may trigger an immediate adverse reaction, but more often, you only find out something’s wrong after long-term use. And just because other users had an allergy, for example, doesn’t mean you will.
Emphasizing transparency and education
Reliable safety information about cosmetics can be difficult to obtain. The biggest obstacle in this endeavor is the nature of the industry itself.
The FDA doesn’t have a legal mandate to intervene in most cases when a new beauty product hits the market. If a cosmetic doesn’t contain color additives or substances that qualify as drugs, the FDA won’t vet it. In fact, the FDA has no requirement for companies to prove their products are safe or to share relevant information. In effect, the beauty industry is self-regulating.
Ina sense, this makes it easy for anyone to step in with a new product offering all-natural ingredients as an alternative to big cosmetics. But as you’ll soon find upon launching a cosmetic venture, credence is the essential ingredient to success in today’s market.
Research indicates that millennials are the ones driving this change. For this generation, beauty is intertwined with the concept of wellness, and as a result, they demand clean products more than older cohorts. And this demographic is not only the biggest and most powerful buying group today but also one that’s made up largely of digital natives.
For natural beauty products, the positional needs are clear. Your target audience is also the one most likely to do a lot of research and blow the whistle on social media if anything goes wrong. Your biggest opportunities lie in increasing consumer education and offering transparency into your products’ sourcing, manufacturing, and testing.
As the natural cosmetics segment increases its market share, with a projected CAGR of over 12% to 2024, product diversity will only expand. New ingredients and unique formulations will proliferate. Many companies will seek to differentiate themselves through innovation in this area.
Yet in the information age, there’s often too much information and too little reliable expert verification. For example, dermatologists have disputed the widespread removal of parabens and SLS from products, as they aren’t universal irritants. The poison is in the dose, they argue, and each individual reacts differently. But consumers act more on sentiment and less on critical thinking, and manufacturers respond to that instead of science.
One company’s bad practices can taint your reputation, and misinformation can affect you simply because you use an ingredient or testing process that’s suddenly acquired a bad rap. More than ever, you have to be proactive in clarifying what’s involved in your process.
Obtain more certifications than your competitors. Aim for controlled clinical studies rather than just consumer testing. Vet your suppliers for any ethical or environmental concerns. Credence is a precious commodity in the emerging natural beauty market, and in this area, you can really leapfrog the rest.