Greta Thunberg learnings: Beauty can target conscious consumerism with ‘cathedral thinking’ led innovation

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

The beauty sector needs to 'rekindle its meaning, purpose and values' in light of a rapidly changing world (Getty Images)
The beauty sector needs to 'rekindle its meaning, purpose and values' in light of a rapidly changing world (Getty Images)

Related tags COVID-19 Sustainability green beauty Climate change sustainable beauty conscious consumerism Marketing Consumer trends

The beauty industry can draw inspiration from climate change activist Greta Thunberg to develop purpose-led and sustainable brand strategies that will thrive in a post-pandemic world, says a retail design expert.

At the end of last year, CosmeticsDesign-Europe highlighted ‘A green uprising’​ as one of five important 2020 beauty trends to watch across the EMEA region​. With the European Commission’s Green Deal on the table – targeting climate neutrality, circular business and clean tech by 2050​ – and Western Europe holding the highest number of ‘vocal’ environmental advocates worldwide​, this green trend would undoubtedly remain at the forefront of the beauty category this year.

Sustainable beauty – ‘meaning, purpose and values’ gain importance

And as the world continued to grapple with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many experts and brand owners believed consumer-driven sustainability focus had been accelerated and become even more relevant for beauty brands today​.

Howard Sullivan, founder and executive creative director at beauty and retail design firm YourStudio, absolutely agreed, noting that COVID-19 had spurred “major changes”​ in how consumers related to products.

“From overt, outside looks to inward zoom-facing fresh faces, beauty is elevating more and more into a hybrid between wellness, health and a tool for us to be our best,”​ Sullivan told CosmeticsDesign-Europe.

“…The biggest opportunity that now exists for the beauty sector is to rekindle its meaning, purpose and values in light of a rapidly changing world,”​ he said.

COVID-19 has accelerated ‘conscious consumerism’ in 2020

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sullivan said 2020 was predicted to be a “significant year” ​for beauty in the EMEA region.

Clean, green and sustainability had all been high on the consumer agenda – fuelled by young activists like Greta Thunberg, he said, and many consumers had started to take a “bottom up approach to environmental challenges”.​ COVID-19 had merely accelerated this trend, he said.

Howard Sullivan, founder and executive creative director at YourStudio
Howard Sullivan, founder and executive creative director at YourStudio

“Conscious consumerism is continuing to grow within the beauty world, with consumers turning into brand strategies that are purpose led and sustainable.”

And beauty brands and retailers could look to activists, like Greta Thunberg, when developing strategies to align with these consumer needs, he said.

“Greta Thunberg’s far thinking approach to climate change – cathedral thinking – is a strategy that all brands should take inspiration from in order to build successful and sustainable brands that will thrive post-pandemic and also align with new, conscious consumer values.”

Sullivan said Thunberg’s 2019 speech to the European Parliament talking about the need for a “far-reaching vision”,“courage”​ and “fierce determination”​ to tackle climate change was a highlight that could be drawn upon by beauty brands.

Spotlighting brand values in ‘truthful and engaging ways’

Fluff Casual Cosmetics and Milk Makeup were two strong new-to-market brands championing sustainability and current causes, Sullivan said – presenting their brand values “in truthful and engaging ways”​. Fluff Casual Cosmetics, for example, had a section on its website entitled ‘Read Issues’ that provided content on a range of world matters under sections like ‘feelings’, ‘the future of beauty’ and ‘the planet’.

“I think that’s a narrative that seems a world away from traditional beauty brands a decade ago, but now it’s really important to align your values with customers; not just on the side lines but actively engaging in change,”​ he said.

“…For me, these brands signal the future of beauty branding – conversational, aligning with people’s beliefs and not being afraid to stand for the big and important things in life. As we know, 78% of Gen Z consumers will turn their back on a brand that doesn’t align with their values, so it is key that brands understand what resonates with them.”

‘Touch emotions and fill human desire and values’

Sullivan said COVID-19, much like a recession, offered up valuable time to consider new brand opportunities and work on ways to resonate better among consumers.

“The world’s smartest brands are realising the potential in using this time to focus on R&D. The world isn’t changing, the evolution and shifts we’d already been seeing are just happening a lot quicker.

“…Use this time and this rapid period of acceleration to push your brand harder than ever before – cathedral thinking! Use insight to create imaginative and benchmark-setting experiences across every part of your brand ecosystem, from online to in-real-life. Touch emotions and fill human desire and values; don’t lead simply with product. Leverage the evolution of beauty and new consumer mindsets to create unforgettable human interactions and prepare for 2021’s experience boom,” ​Sullivan said.

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