This is thanks, in part, to the rise in consumer interest toward ingredient intelligence. In China, this growing “skintelligence” has led to an increase in demand for skin care and personal care products that have transparent branding toward their ingredients, utilize high-quality ingredients, and aim to educate the user rather than convince them that product will garner a specific result.
Defining skintelligence and skintillectualism
Skintelligence—or, “skintillectualism”—has led to a change in the way global consumers find new products, and companies are having to adjust to that change in order to gain consumer trust. Where skin care companies used to advertise and market their products according to function (anti-aging, moisturizing, or brightening, for example), they now have to focus on marketing to consumers that know exactly what they’re looking for.
Part of this is due to the ease of access to information that the internet provides. Consumers are now able to find virtually any information they want online, and they know that they don’t have to look too far to find out how they can compare a silicone-based hydrator to a natural hyaluronic acid. This rise in ingredient awareness has helped convince consumers that splurging on a more expensive product will often pay off in different ways, especially if it means that skin care companies with cheaper products cut corners on ingredient quality in order to offer the product at a lower price.
At one point, a consumer was more likely to purchase a product that advertised using buzzwords like “elixir.” Now, however, those same consumers are less likely to purchase a product that does not use transparency in its advertising, particularly in China. Today, companies such as Deciem, makers of the affordable but transparent skin care line “The Ordinary,” have been able to profit off of those ingredient-savvy consumers in ways they were never able to before.
This is all, of course, targeting a younger demographic. Deciem, which is also owned by the same umbrella company that owns consumer-facing brands such as Estée Lauder and Clinique, is one of the corporation’s more affordable lines. The brand caters specifically to young skintillectuals that want to feel as if they’re in control of the skin care ingredients they put on their face and body. This allows consumers to custom create a skin care routine based on their needs, rather than buying a couple of products from one company that promises to address a lot of issues without explaining how.
Modern consumer trends in personal care
The modern consumer, instead, might have two cleansers, an anti-aging toner, a couple of different serums, a moisturizer, a hydrator, something to address blemishes, a brightening product, a primer, and an SPF. This means that skin care companies may have to invest in higher quality ingredients and the creation of multiple products, but have the advantage of being able to sell a variety of products to the same consumer—often for high price tags.
The French luxury skin care company L’Occitane, for example, has a couple of different product lines that use the traditional strategy of using words like “anti-aging” and “perfecting” to describe its product uses. Each product line features a handful of products that range from eye creams to moisturizers, but all address essentially the same concern within each line. Herbivore, on the other hand, might attract a young consumer in the same price range looking for products that contain specific ingredients. Both brands offer similar products, but skintelligent consumers are more likely to buy an anti-aging facial oil from Herbivore that advertises its active ingredient (bakuchiol, in this case), than an anti-aging facial oil from L’Occitane simply because L’Occitane is less transparent about its active ingredients, regardless of the price.
In China, skintillectualism has created a major shift
Recent studies have shown that Chinese consumers are more likely to invest in more expensive beauty products after educating themselves heavily on the ingredients in them. Beyond simply educating themselves, the social circle that comes with the very notion of “skintillectualism” provides a sense of belonging among the skin care-obsessed in China and all throughout Asia. The “chengfendang” or 成分党 is the name of the skin care ingredient club that essentially translates to “ingredients party.”
Members of the chengfendang are able to swap information and insider knowledge on ingredients and their uses, turning the skin care industry into an entire social circle on top of being a consumer good. Online, apps and social networks dedicated specifically to ingredient information let consumers share reviews and suggestions on products based on their ingredients. In the United States, skin care influencers generally take care of that, but in China, the role is given to apps like RED (also called “Little Red Book”) and Beauty Evolution that index information about beauty products available on the Chinese market and make it available for review.
The rise in skintelligent Chinese consumers is not new, as beauty ideals around China and all throughout Asia have fueled a concern and hyper-awareness for the products that they put on their skin. In China, the main focus of skin care is to help it make you look young and blemish-free. Consumers are interested in ingredients that will help them maintain a youthful complexion, but are willing to spend extra time researching which product is best for them to avoid over-spending on products that will not work.
Key elements of the Chinese consumer market
Consumer trends around Mainland China—particularly in skin care—are influenced by a couple of socioeconomic factors. To start, many consumers located outside of major cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou don’t have direct access to in-store shopping in the same way that urban Chinese consumers would. E-commerce is available to them, but it means that they’re more likely to spend more time researching a product before they buy.
On that note, very few consumers in any international market are going to be likely to buy a product that they don’t trust—and for this reason, branding is one of the most important factors in succeeding in the Chinese consumer market. Branding helps create consumer trust, and transparent branding that markets specific active ingredients helps Chinese consumers filter through products that they may not otherwise look at or buy.
Many consumers are also willing to purchase western-based brands if they think the product is of a luxury quality. Chinese—as well as Korean and Japanese consumers love western brands, particularly in the luxury market. Brands like Erno Laszlo, L’Oreal, and products within the Procter & Gamble family of brands are just some of the few that have successfully broken into the Chinese market based on the perception of luxury alone.
Keep in mind, however, that the control of information in China plays a major role on how successful e-commerce ventures are able to take off. Consumers are likely to buy into trends they get exposed to through media like magazines and e-commerce platforms as well as through Baidu, the Chinese equivalent of Google that is virtually unparalleled when it comes to success in online marketing. Brands wanting to break into Chinese consumer markets should strategize based on which platforms are most successful in the area, as well as focusing on how branding and consumer awareness of ingredients can contribute to a successful product line.
There is no question of whether or not the rising trend of skintillectualism among millennial and generation z demographics around the world is contributing to a major shift in how products are marketed. This, combined with the increasing popularity and success rate of influencer and social media-based marketing campaigns, means that brands can create cost-effective social media marketing strategies based on the science of their products. In China, it just means understanding and taking care of entirely different platforms than the ones consumers would flock to in the western world.
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