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WWD Digital Beauty 2023: Event Walkthrough

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The intersection of personal care and digital-first customer journeys gets busier every year. Online sales are a key driver of the beauty and wellness sector's growth, so events that gather experts and leaders from the field are inevitably a popular ticket.

The annual WWD Digital Beauty Forum continues to lead this category and push the envelope on topics that define beauty brands in the digital age. Its latest iteration was held at CONVENE in New York City on January 24th, with Team Capacity in attendance.

Here's a quick recap of what we saw and heard during a hectic day of expert speakers and panel discussions.

WWD Digital Beauty 2023: What We Saw

First things first: you know a show is going to resonate when your clients' products are putting in work as you set foot in the building. Touchland hand sanitizer (left) in the lobby and MALIN + GOETZ toiletries (right) in the restroom reiterated that we work with some of the best brands in the business!

The first talk we caught was from Angelica Munson, Global Chief Digital Officer at Shiseido.

Japanese beauty brand Shiseido anchors itself in the intricacies of the microbiome. Specifically, the microbiome of healthy Japanese women, from which the brand creates skincare products that nourish the skin as a diverse ecosystem. Shiseido aims to cater its products to a wide variety of skin types, while rooting its mission in the Japanese drive for continuous improvement and innovation.

According to Tokyo-based Munson, this considered, holistic approach extends to everything from employee engagement to customer experience. It stems from the deep respect that Japanese culture affords beauty.

"There is nothing quite like the ritual and reverence of beauty in Japan. There is always space for respect and reflection."

Angelica Munson, Shiseido

As a digitally-focused executive, Munson also sees enormous opportunities as beauty brands continue to embrace and explore the next wave of technology that connects them to consumers.

The ability to encounter brands both online and in-store emphasizes the need to have consistent experiences across multiple channels. We believe the same applies to operations, which must track interest and orders across online and B2B retail channels with the same commitment to visibility, presentation, and exceptional service levels.

Shiseido has committed to deeply understanding its customers and picking up on the nuances of what they need from interactions with the brands, not unlike the attention to detail it puts into creating its products. What a perfect overlap to set the stage for a day exploring Digital Beauty.

Appropriately enough, next up in our day trip across the varied terrain of cosmetics and personal care in the digital space was Function of Beauty. These graduates of MIT focus on empowering customers to create their own beauty journeys, . The watchword here is "customizable" -- beauty products that are crafted for you (and only you, as the brand emphasizes across its digital platforms).

Extending that sentiment to its digital channels, one of the first things that visitors experience on the brand's website is a call to "Take the Hair Quiz". Across four pages exploring hair types and individual goals, Function of Beauty prompts visitors to consider their requirements and helps them zero in on the right product to meet those needs.

CEO Alexandria Papazian has been committed to this mission of unique formulation and customization since her appointment in 2021. The brand delivers these custom-formulated offerings from its own production facility in Pennsylvania, at which the filling equipment itself was customized, created and coded in-house.

"With unparalleled, state-of-the-art technology and an extremely talented team, our mission is to make personalization the new norm."

Alexandria Papazian, Function of Beauty

Once again, we find the roots of an exceptional digital beauty experience in physical operations that have been painstakingly aligned with the brand's overall mission.

A natural extension (pun partially intended) of a customer's journey with hair products, our next session introduced HairCode.

A complimentary resource offered by P&G Beauty, under the umbrella of which popular haircare brands such as Aussie and Pantene reside, HairCode guides visitors through a series of questions about their haircare regimen, preferences, and challenges. Upon completion, a complete report is emailed to the visitor, with conclusions and recommendations for their hair type.

Although this resource isn't backed by the same dedicated production facility as detailed in our previous segment, having the resources of Procter & Gamble on hand delivers another form of personalization: broad choices across diverse brands and product segments. So once P&G Beauty's platform is equipped with the customer's individual preferences, the depth of the company's roster means it can offer them a suitable solution.

Importantly, P&G recognizes that the interaction extends far beyond product recommendations. Initiatives like HairCode need to dive deep into the topic and give customers something that they otherwise would not have known. Beyond simply gathering data, there needs to be a genuine exchange that adds value to the customer's personal care decision making, even if that doesn't translate to an immediate purchase.

Next up, we listened to Brent Mitchell, Sephora's VP of Marketing, Social, and Influencers, talk about the beauty retailers objectives for its Sephora Squad initiative. Or, more accurately and in keeping with the digital beauty theme: #SephoraSquad.

Launched back in 2019, Sephora Squad gathers together artists, raconteurs, and beauty enthusiasts with diverse perspectives and passions. The aim is to develop a community with deep bonds, pushing the boundaries of creativity in a fun-loving way.

In 2021, Sephora Squad influencers posted audience growth of 32%, attracting more attention to the program. Requests to join rose by 40% in 2022 and further growth is expected when applications reopen for 2023 this spring.

The initiative also touches on the progression from paid influencers to more equal brand partners that we highlighted last year. Sephora has gradually adopted a more hands-off relationship with Sephora Squad members, encouraging them to lean on their own unique perspective and style, rather than defining how creators should act or communicate.

The Sephora Squad emphasizes how brands are moving on from traditional promotional channels. One-way, carefully crafted brand messaging is no longer the order of the day. Symbiotic partnerships with dynamic and flexible terms feel far more authentic, while also creating a feedback loop for brands to hear from the prominent creators who enjoy their products and the customers who listen to those influential voices.

WWD Digital Beauty Summary

The WWD Digital Beauty Forum is always an eye-opener and 2023 was no exception. From driving ground-up digital transformation to opening up new frontiers in the Metaverse and emerging social media platforms, many of the year's key topics were addressed here in NYC.

What struck us as a theme underpinning the various agenda items was the need for an interconnected approach to digital progress, anchored by the physical realities of retail, operations, and real-world customer outcomes.

When it comes to beauty and personal care products, the ultimate delight lies in how a product makes the customer look and feel. Interactions with a brand and its associated retail channels augment that, with digital channels offering seemingly endless new ways to enhance the experience and connect with customers.

As many of the speakers at WWD Digital Beauty highlighted in different ways, elevating the unique needs of your customer and crafting personalized touch points that cater to them develops the kind of brand loyalty that traditional, one-way promotions simply cannot buy. The digital side of the beauty and personal care sector opens up new and exciting ways to learn more about your customers every year.

What is your beauty brand planning in 2023 to make the most of this opportunity?