'Intense, personal and emotional': How beauty communities saved Indies during COVID-19

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

Independent power: 'At the heart of every single kind of indie beauty transaction is a really conscious choice by a consumer' (Getty Images)
Independent power: 'At the heart of every single kind of indie beauty transaction is a really conscious choice by a consumer' (Getty Images)

Related tags Indie beauty Indie beauty brands COVID-19 coronavirus beauty communities digital Consumers

Independent beauty brands are fiercely nimble and highly engaged with their consumers, which has given them power to face business difficulties during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, an indie expert says.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has created seismic change in the consumer and beauty landscape​, given its health, social and economic implications – the latter of which has impacted industry very differently​. Many personal care majors have weathered the storm well, leveraging global networks and strengths in everyday products like soaps and shower gels, whilst others specialised in make-up and perfumes have struggled somewhat more.

But what about the small independent beauty brands? How have they faced such significant change and unrest?

Beauty brand communities built on ‘time, energy and devotion’

The key lied in how established and nurtured their beauty communities were, according to Rachel Whittaker, founder and director of Indie Beauty Delivers – a mentoring and consultation firm working with independent brand owners.

“I don’t recall a time when the importance of community has ever been highlighted as starkly as now,”​ Whittaker told CosmeticsDesign-Europe. 

“Just a few months ago, the retail landscape changed overnight. Within hours, and with little notice, beauty businesses saw the collapse of their bricks and mortar revenue streams, online retailer sales drop and own website sales stall, as our industry and consumers paused to work out how to navigate this unimaginable new world.” 

Rachel Whittaker, founder and director of Indie Beauty Delivers
Rachel Whittaker, founder and director of Indie Beauty Delivers

And whilst indie brands faced the same plethora of challenges than the bigger guys, she said the indies that had consistently “invested time, energy and devotion”​ to their beauty communities were the ones that had managed to flourish despite all the difficulties associated with COVID-19.

“Those brands who have invested time in building out a community, and by that I mean they’ve invested time in building relationships with their customers; intense, personal, and emotional relationships with their customers, they were never in a position where they were in difficulty during this crisis because their community was there for them. And, more than ever, their community needed them. It’s such a reciprocal way of doing business.”

“…I’ve definitely seen the evidence that brands who have spent the time and built that audience and community have reaped the benefits of that over the last few months, and will continue to do so,” ​Whittaker said.

Indie beauty power during COVID-19

And the power of community had, most notably, applied to independent beauty brands, she said, and even more with those operating direct-to-consumer (D2C) models.

During this crisis, loyal consumers and communities still wanted to hear from and engage with their favourite indie brand, she said. “At the heart of every single kind of indie beauty transaction is a really conscious choice by a consumer. It’s an educated, informed choice by a consumer to support an independent brand, and that’s built on a relationship that’s come through that community.”

Importantly, during uncertain times for consumers these transactions and brand engagements felt truly “authentic and accessible”,​ Whittaker said – a sentiment bigger players had been trying to emulate for years.

And many indie brands had dived into supporting their beauty communities in new ways during this crisis, she said, with wider wellness and health initiatives like online yoga, exercise or meditation that added huge value to consumer wellbeing.

Putting beauty consumers front and centre

Whittaker said the entire crisis had really driven home “the importance of putting consumers at the front and centre of everything”.

And putting consumers first had also helped brands stay up to speed on changing needs and trends, she said. “You’ve got things like Facebook and Instagram – there are so many ways you can be asking questions and talking to them. Founders are often a little bit nervous about doing this, but that’s what community is about.”

Beauty communities gave brand owners access to a wealth of important data, she said, about shopping habits, product opinion and much more which was all hugely valuable in a time like COVID-19.

What would be important now, Whittaker said, was that indie beauty brands continued this community engagement and kept consumers in the spotlight.

“This is the start; a step-change in the way we’re running those businesses. But we have to keep those relationships up. We can’t just flick the switch and go back to the way we were. If we want to move and build on these changes and scale and grow our industry, then we all have to stay engaged and stay building our communities and stay visible and active.”

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