How Legacy Beauty Brands are Losing a Big Slice of the $500 Billion Pie to Small Brands — and How They can get it Back

This is not your parents’ beauty industry. Transformed by both the steady wave of ecommerce and the sudden shock of the pandemic — two forces that chipped away at brick-and-mortar’s dominance in the space — sales of beauty products are moving away from storefronts to websites. In fact, by 2023, online sales are projected to make up nearly half of all sales in the industry.

So as the battle for control of the beauty market moves online, the industry is approaching a watershed moment, when the market share of traditional, established beauty brands is being seriously threatened by innovative publishers and content creators. This is evidenced by a recent SEO report that shows beauty publishers like Allure and Byrdie (a company that doesn’t even sell beauty products) now own the majority of organic beauty search market share, beating out traditional brands such as Sephora and Ulta Beauty.

This could be a pivotal tipping point in the space. If traditional brands do not quickly adjust their online search strategies, the industry’s landscape could be realigned to one where direct-to-consumer brands and publishers surpass traditional brands and retailers not only in online search market share but in actual market share and sales as well. 

Why is the industry transforming in favor of publishers and direct-to-consumer brands?


There are a few key factors driving a shift in consumer demand, and subsequently a shift in the industry landscape:

There is growing demand for highly personal and relevant content.

Content is still king, and the brands crowned kings of digital content today are those that go beyond traditional product promotion to provide relevant content to consumers and educate them on the products that best suit their unique needs. Users are looking for personalization, like model diversity and products in different shades and sizes, that helps them be their most authentic selves, especially in the areas of inclusivity. Publishers such as Byrdie have shown themselves to be most adept at satisfying this growing demand by offering highly personalized content that educates users on beauty products and links them to the ones that help them be their most authentic selves.

Online shoppers still miss the engaging, in-store shopping experience.

Many consumers are longing for the pre-pandemic experience of sampling products and chatting with in-store customer service associates to receive personalized product suggestions and recommendations. Publishers and direct-to-consumer brands have helped fill this void with interactive content that replicates the in-store experience of trying on a product and receiving comparisons to others, through virtual try-on technology and helpful product guides and comparisons.

Google’s algorithm has recognized the shift in consumer demand to prioritize the most sought-out content.

Google has pivoted to deliver consumers what they are most often searching for by updating its search algorithm to favor informational content over both product-related content and transactional websites in search engine results pages.

How can traditional brands up-level their content to preserve their market share, increase search visibility and capture more clicks online?

The name of the game is no longer creating robust in-store experiences or out of home ads inside of malls, but doing the equivalent of that online via smart content and user-focused digital experiences that replicate in-store experiences.

In order to grow search visibility, traditional brands should try to contribute to this industry transformation instead of fighting it. They could do this by taking a page from the book of publishers and prioritizing strategic content that allows them to build a connection with consumers instead of merely selling them a product. Offering high-quality content that understands what consumers are searching for and links them to it will help brands rank higher and capture valuable web traffic.

Some examples of this type of online beauty content include this roundup of the best makeup brushes authored by Byrdie, Pinterest’s virtual try-on feature, or Instagram’s skin-tone-matching makeup filters. Other engaging pieces of content include visual beauty product guides, tips, tutorials, how-to videos and long-form Q&As that dive deep and offer customized consumer advice. There is also loads of educational content targeted toward unique demographics that promotes concepts like body positivity or solutions for aging skin.

However, the above are somewhat generic examples. To truly understand what a specific audience needs, brands should study the search intent of their target demographics and conduct an analysis of existing content. This will help provide a clear view into what their consumers are looking for and how current content is failing to deliver what they want. Marketers will then be able to use this gap analysis to implement a marketing strategy that prioritizes consumer education and personalization over product promotion.

By shifting from traditional product-based online marketing to a model that offers more personalized, education-focused and experience-rich content for consumers, brands will be able to maximize their search market share and ensure they are best positioned to reach their target audiences, especially in a cookie-less future where authenticity will be key to building the relationship between brand and customer. In turn, they will also satisfy the needs of some very hungry shoppers who have been craving this experience since the beginning of the pandemic.

On the other hand, if they fail to modernize their content marketing strategies, they will keep losing search market share as personalization continues to drive the industry transformation that to this point has benefited small brands and publishers.

Supriya Venkatesan serves as Senior Director of Content at Terakeet, where she provides strategic leadership and operational management for the Terakeet content team, supports cross-discipline integration and drives team development. Previously Director of Content Strategy at Critical Mass, Venkatesan built enterprise-level content strategies and supported customers like Apple and Dropbox across digital transformation projects. She also co-founded Critical Mass’s Diversity & Inclusion Board and was recognized for her contribution with an ADCOLOR award by ADWEEK. Prior to Critical Mass, she served as a Communications Consultant for the United Nations and Washington Post Brand Studio and worked as a journalist for publications including The New York Times, CNN and Forbes.

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