Since time immortal, the beauty industry seems to have worked to an informal mantra of helping younger women look good, and older women look younger.
A combination of wet-behind-the-ears store staff, products plastered with anti-ageing claims and ads featuring striking young models and celebrities has served many brands well. However, it has also perpetuated the notion that the ageing process is something to be counteracted at every turn.
In years gone by, this was the largely accepted view. But now there is mounting evidence that consumer attitudes are changing. The term ‘middle-age’ is no longer recognised by women in their forties and fifties. They feel more confident, optimistic and outgoing than ever before. And crucially, less than 3% of women aged 40-89 wear make-up to look younger.
Their priorities are keeping their skin healthy and looking good. And they want brands to recognise this and cater for it. Yet despite women over 50 being the biggest buyers of beauty products in the UK, the vast majority of them feel largely ignored by an Instagram and Snapchat-obsessed industry preoccupied with youth.
Women aged between 45 and 54 increased their year-on-year spending on beauty products by 4.1% in 2016. So they are clearly no less active in the marketplace, despite feeling that their needs are not being met. This points to huge opportunities for brands to fill what seems to be a gaping hole. But how?
DEVELOP THE RIGHT PRODUCTS…
No longer are older women prepared to put up with what they see as unrealistic and unachievable claims of anti-ageing and anti-wrinkle products. They want to celebrate what it means to be their age, not deny or avoid it.
Products that treat post-menopausal dry skin, or that make grey hair look great, feel uncomfortably out of touch within the current beauty industry. Yet there is huge and largely untapped demand for them from an audience that wants to look and feel good just as much as their children or even grandchildren do.
So far, it is largely just niche brands like White Hot and Forme Laboratories that have stepped up to the plate. Whilst there’s no doubt that this is a step in the right direction, it would still be of great benefit to the market and its consumers to have more choice from more brands available.
…BACKED BY THE RIGHT MESSAGE
Relevant, effective products are one thing. But it is how they are communicated to the world that will really change attitudes. Currently, 91% of older women feel they are “represented inaccurately, insufficiently or ignored by advertisers”. This is a huge statement of consumer dissatisfaction, and one which should act as a huge wake-up call to the whole industry.
As with the product side, there have been tentative steps in the right direction. L’Oréal and NARS have used older celebrities in recent campaigns, whilst the model agency Grey, which has 300 older men and women on its books, has reported a large increase in bookings from brands in several sectors, including beauty.
Yet there remains a gulf between how older women see their lives, and how the industry depicts them.
DON’T ASSUME YOUTUBE IS A YOUNG PERSON’S GAME
In recent years, YouTube and beauty content have become the ultimate bedfellows, irreversibly intertwined. Between 2014 and 2015, the number of beauty-related searches on YouTube increased by 50%. Today, 95% of people searching for beauty content head for YouTube.
So, on its own, the fact that 50% of YouTube users are aged 35 and over should prick the ears of beauty brands looking to target this audience. Yet there’s even better news. During the same 2014-2015 period mentioned above, views of ‘mature’ beauty content increased by a staggering 81%.
What’s behind this shift in behaviour? Essentially, there’s not much difference in comparison to younger audiences. Women simply want advice on the best products and how to use them. YouTube offers viewers the chance to visualise how beauty products are applied, and the end result. And with the rise in content aimed at specific audiences, older women no longer need to rely on unrelatable advertising content for product information.
EMBRACE THE RISE OF THE MATURE INFLUENCER
91% of women over 40 trust word of mouth for recommendations of beauty products and treatments. Friends and family play a big role here. But here is growing evidence that this includes a vibrant community of older vloggers and Instagrammers.
With over-40s currently the fastest growing segment of users on Instagram, a host of influencers have sprung up on the platform – and YouTube too – offering beauty tips and advice for older women.
Professional make-up artist Lisa Eldridge is one. With over 1.6m YouTube subscribers and 770,000 followers on Instagram, she has a huge captive audience. As a result, some of her how-to videos aimed at mature viewers have garnered views into the millions.
Meanwhile, Angie is the creator of YouTube channel Hot & Flashy. The channel’s content is described as “style, makeup, hair, & health for women in their hot-flash years”. Her videos have clocked up over 400,000 views to date.
With brand-owned beauty content on YouTube accounting for just 5% of total video views, influencers like this offer a powerful route into older consumers.
SERVE OLDER WOMEN BETTER IN-STORE
Women over 45 overwhelmingly prefer shopping in-store for beauty products to other methods such as buying online. Yet many of them report feeling that store assistants don’t understand their needs. Staff are often young, and subsequently lack knowledge of products aimed at older women.
This is clearly a major issue. Every major retailer with a beauty counter must have staff that both represent and recognise the needs of all their customers. Better training, effective diversity practices and closer cooperation with brands are all essential to driving improvement here.
In addition, brands should consider how technology can improve the in-store experience for this audience. 34-55 year-olds report being open to innovation such as touchscreens, smart mirrors and apps that enhance their shopping experience.
One example comes from over in the States. Here, Walgreens announced recently that more than 20% of their app users are aged 55 and over. Customers use the app to shop, earn points and collect coupons.
Clearly these are benefits that customers of all ages value highly.
SO WHAT’S THE NEXT STEP?
Older women spend more of their hard-earned money on beauty products than any other generation. Not only that, but they are more brand loyal, and are willing to spend extra on products that meet their needs. Meaning attractive margins for brands that earn their trust and keep it.
But as we’ve seen, a large proportion of them feel underserved, under-represented, under-appreciated and undervalued by an industry that they feel only caters to young women.
Questions are definitely beginning to be both asked and answered within the sector around diversity. However, the majority of these appear to focus on skin colour and sexuality/gender fluidity.
This is most definitely a step in the right direction. But we must ensure that the term ‘diversity’ is code for celebrating and including everybody. That means every colour, race, gender, sexuality…and age.
This is a snippet of the findings in Ready’s comprehensive new report entitled BEAUTY AND PERSONAL CARE: PURCHASING HABITS ACROSS THE GENERATIONS.