Lavish influencer trips are back in the mix. Beautycon and Sephora revived their in-person beauty conventions. Sleek mobile tours and sampling pop-ups are on fire. Oh yes, beauty events are having a renaissance—but they’re also getting a makeover as consumers increasingly challenge industry standards and stereotypes. In this new era of beauty, the community makes the rules, creators reign supreme, a robust DEI&B strategy is non-negotiable and transparency is paramount.
“It’s making sure that everybody sees themselves in beauty and that it is not a velvet-rope environment where it’s being dictated to the people by the brands,” says Michael Barclay II, evp-experiential at Essence Ventures, which owns Beautycon. “We want the people to define what beauty is for themselves.”
The evolution of the beauty business, and the events supporting it, has yielded some definitive trends and consumer insights that just might inspire a few light-bulb moments for your next event. Here, we take you through eight experiential tactics dominating the beauty scene.
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ACCESS TO CREATORS AND FOUNDERS
Beauty fans crave the opportunity to directly connect with their favorite influencers and product founders, and brands that enable access to those individuals are not only giving the people what they want, but lending an element of authority and authenticity to their events.
At SEPHORiA: House of Beauty 2023, which for the first time was presented as a hybrid event taking place in New York City and online, Sephora stacked its agenda with master classes led by iconic brand founders like Patrick Ta and Natasha Denona, surprise celebrity and influencer appearances, and interactive partner activations from more than 50 of the most popular brands sold in its stores, including a Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare booth where fans could book one-on-one skin assessments with Dr. Gross himself.
“Our clients want to connect on a personal level,” says Kate Biancamano-Brown, senior director-event and experiential marketing at Sephora. “They want to have those moments of learning opportunity and access to gain those insider tips and tricks from the best in the business.”
It was a similar approach at Beautycon 2023 in Los Angeles, where programming encompassed everything from a keynote by singer and actress Kelly Rowland, to a masterclass with performer, model and former “RuPaul’s Drag Race” contestant, Plastique, to a panel with content creators Monica Ravichandran and Laylo Qasim and beauty personality Alabama Barker, to a self-expression lesson with rapper Saucy Santana.
Even at smaller beauty events, like an Origins x Erewhon beauty influencer brunch and farmers market that popped up in West Hollywood over the summer to tout Origins’ Mega-Mushroom skincare line, longtime brand partner Dr. Andrew Weil was on hand to discuss the benefits of skincare products that count mushrooms among their ingredients.
“To have Dr. Weil on board adds another layer of authority when it comes to the ingredients and the mushroom piece,” says Melody Rault, director-consumer marketing at Origins. “And I think what [attendees] really appreciated is Dr. Weil was there to meet them. That’s something that means a lot, to have a personality or a founder or someone that’s there for them.” (Agency: NOUN)
OFF-BEAT EVENT FORMATS
A crowded landscape has prompted some brands to think outside of traditional beauty event formats to slice through a saturated market. Take Fenty Beauty by Rihanna, which over the fall took over the Full Service Coffee Co. shop in Los Angeles and created a branded drive-thru sampling experience and pop-up environment for 300 influencers to promote the new Eaze Drop Blur and Smooth Tint Stick products.
The LINE Hotel nearby served as a staging area for each session, where vintage cars transported attendees to the activation. As they arrived, they had their skin tone matched while comfortably seated in the back of the car. Next, they pulled up to an intercom where they ordered that shade and then were matched with Fenty Beauty “sides” to pair with it. And of course, all the product was delivered in what looked like fast-casual containers and handed over in a branded white to-go bag. There was also a secret menu to order from, featuring unreleased products. (Agency: Redrock Entertainment)
And then there was the Urban Decay “All Nighter Market” hosted in downtown L.A. in August touting the brand’s All Nighter Setting Spray. The nighttime pop-up featured local food vendors, a beauty bar with myriad makeup stations, product giveaways, live music performances, a dj and brand ambassadors carrying trays full of the setting sprays as if they were cocktails. (Agency: Hollywood Branded)
Like many fan types, beauty buffs are hungry to engage with one another in person after years of pandemic-induced solitude. But the conversations that modern beauty fans often have, and engage in on-site, might surprise the skeptics, according to Sophia Dennis, head of programming and brand strategy at Beautycon.
“They’re definitely looking for a community, a place in which their hobbies, their passions, their interests are taken seriously,” Dennis says. “And where they can have engaging conversations about beauty that kind of intellectualize it in a way that people who are not as familiar with the beauty industry or the beauty community might not understand or might have some hesitations toward. So I think that’s definitely a major desire for a lot of people is to be able to attend an event and be around like-minded individuals.”
Biancamano-Brown agrees: “At its core, SEPHORiA is an opportunity to come together for that shared love of beauty, of community for our clients to celebrate, to learn, to engage.”
Another opportunity: Today’s beauty communities are also defying the industry’s reputation as superficial through their keen interest in global trends and cultural discussions with one another. Dennis points to fans’ desire to explore how different ingredients or beauty rituals are being “incorporated into mass beauty consumerism,” for example, and how they originated from certain groups of people or countries.
GLOSSY MOBILE TOURS
One of the fastest ways to get a diverse set of consumers to sample your products is to take your show on the road, and that was the strategy behind a slew of experiential skincare and haircare campaigns this year. Of course, these are beauty brands we’re talking about, meaning the mobile units were as glossy as the products they housed, and touchpoints were designed to feel premium.
Consider Sunday Riley’s 29-stop fall tour across college campuses and Sephora retail locations, which was anchored by a radiant orange glass truck offering customized skincare consultations at upscale beauty stations, and tour-only product samples. The experience also included a spin-to-win wheel and an elegant, greenery-covered arch that doubled as a photo moment. (Agency: Vector Media)
Another example was KVD Beauty, which on June 23 for National Pink Day parked a hot-pink glass box truck—the “Reckless Pink Mobile Pop Up”—in New York City’s Meatpacking District to highlight its Everlasting Hyperlight Liquid Lipstick, which comes in a range of pink shades, and to bust myths about it being a “dark and moody” makeup brand through a vibrant aesthetic. Attendees could participate in lipstick try-ons, tooth gem applications and a secret photo booth, snag a Chloe’s Fruit popsicle, win beauty products and depart with a KVD Beauty-branded tote bag full of goodies. (Agency: Conversate Collective)
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Mental and physical wellness is a top priority for many consumers today, something that beauty brands took into account when planning their live experiences for 2023. A number of companies, for example, tied the natural ingredients in their products to wellness-related event touchpoints and initiatives to satisfy attendees’ craving for self-care, and tell a more cohesive story about their products and recipes.
The most prevalent example? Smoothies. No, really. You’d be hard-pressed to attend a beauty activation these days that does not offer some version of a healthy smoothie, juice or shake that maps back to the ingredients in the product being promoted.
For the launch of its Copper Peptide Pro Firming Serum, Peach & Lily commissioned a food truck for a pop-up event that served up free Peptide Bounce smoothies inspired by the product (Agency: CNC Agency). And to celebrate the launch of its Skin Lab spa, Augustinus Bader rolled into multiple cities with a truck decked out in its signature blue hue that, among touchpoints, offered the Bader Blue SKIN Smoothie, made with nutrient-dense superfoods and the brand’s Skin Supplement product. (Partner: Food Truck Promotions)
In the case of Origins, teaming up with California-based wellness brand Erewhon to co-create a cold-pressed juice was actually at the heart of its marketing strategy this year, which was aimed at attracting younger generations with a memorable, cohesive storyline around the benefits of its Mega-Mushroom skincare products, while underscoring its commitment to ingredient transparency. The co-branded farmers market featured the juice on display and available for sampling, as well as displays of fresh natural ingredients that are used in Mega-Mushroom products and the juice, like pineapple, mushroom, parsley and cucumber, which influencers could take home for free.
“The connection made so much sense around the ingredients that influencers were just drawn in to taste it and try it, and be one of the first ones to hold the [juice] bottle and so on,” says Rault. “I was not expecting to hear such good feedback from influencers who are so used to experiences. So I think that storytelling piece is really important.”
Both SEPHORiA and Beautycon were presented as hybrid events for the first time this year, something organizers of both conventions, which began as IRL affairs then moved online during the pandemic, say will be a permanent strategy moving forward. Adding a virtual component, of course, exponentially expands reach, in addition to making the experience more inclusive for those with financial or geographical barriers to attending.
In the case of SEPHORiA, the brand leveraged a 3D, video game-like platform to host a free flagship event when in-person experiences were on hold, then kept that component when it returned as a hybrid offering, even adding personalized avatars attendees could use to navigate the platform this year.
“Across both iterations of SEPHORiA, attendees received all-new, unique and exclusive content that gave them the opportunity to discover and play and learn about the latest trends and products,” says Biancamano-Brown. “It was no easy feat having an in-person event plus a digital event, but we remain strong in our commitment to crafting an overall SEPHORiA experience that can be enjoyed by as many clients as possible, no matter where they tune in from.”
Beautycon took a different approach, choosing instead to livestream content, rather than create a separate experience for digital attendees. The virtual audience had access to all main-stage presentations, from panels to performances, via livestreams that were broadcast on both days of the convention—a strategy that will become the norm going forward, given its impact: The livestreams considerably boosted attendance, with 150,000 consumers ultimately experiencing Beautycon 2023 online and IRL.
To boot, another digital component added to the show was Shop Beautycon Live, a real-time virtual shopping experience hosted during the convention that allowed fans at home to view and purchase some of the products being presented to attendees at the in-person event.
TIKTOK RULES ALL
Beauty brand executives across the board will tell you that TikTok isn’t just a place where viral trends are born; it’s a platform that has transformed the way the beauty industry operates—and one that will be a detriment to beauty brands that don’t incorporate it into their strategies.
When Origins approached Erewhon about a partnership, it wasn’t just that the two companies aligned on their values and mission, it was also because Erewhon is a beloved brand on TikTok.
“Erewhon is really the media darling of TikTok right now. The global impact and the national impact that TikTok has when you create content around [wellness] is significant,” says Rault. “My goal was to sell the product in their store, but to also create a product together that will create content, word of mouth and earned media, on TikTok, especially… We’re less relevant than they are, and this is like borrowing their equity and helps us be more desirable to a new consumer.”
At SEPHORiA, many of the partner activations found in the Brand Village had a TikTok component, particularly photo and video ops (the new version of “Instagrammable” moments) designed to be shared on the platform. LoveShackFancy’s booth, for instance, was built to mimic a floral wonderland with a vintage mirror and couch where they could sit, have a “TikTok moment” and experience the brand’s debut fragrance collection. And in the Patrick Ta booth, attendees encountered a blush beauty bar featuring dedicated TikTok vanity stations.
DEI&B AT THE CORE
Having a robust DEI&B strategy at the foundation of beauty events has become the norm. Exclusivity in all its forms is out, and all attendees are being embraced and celebrated for exactly who they are.
At Beautycon, the No. 1 priority was ensuring that everyone in the audience saw themselves reflected on stage, whether that be observing a speaker with the same hair type, accent, skin condition or any number of other characteristics. Organizers also addressed an aspect of inclusion that often gets overlooked: financial barriers. As Dennis tells us, beauty is a highly consumer-based business that revolves around spending money to achieve a certain look.
“We often forget that inclusivity should also include the people who might not be able to afford to buy products,” she says. “That person still deserves to be a part of the beauty community, still deserves access to beauty products and services.”
Beautycon addressed the issue head-on by shining a spotlight on Shirley Raines, founder of nonprofit Beauty 2 the Streetz, which provides beauty products and services to the houseless community in L.A., who took the main stage for a discussion with Dennis.
Meanwhile, smaller DEI&B initiatives make just as big of an impact. Consider the virtual portion of SEPHORiA, which was free to attend and encompassed AI-powered, ADA-approved multilanguage closed captioning, among other inclusive touchpoints.
“What we want to do when we’re creating these experiences and these activations is create not only a safe space for our clients to come to and enjoy, but also create that beauty community so everybody feels involved, everyone feels like there’s content that they can relate to,” says Biancamano.
Bottom line? Beauty today isn’t just in the eye of the beholder; it’s in the hands of the people.
Photo credit: Getty Images for Beautycon; Redrock Entertainment; Sephora; Matthew Carasella Photography; Food Truck Promotions; Origins