Instagram Brands: Redefining the Beauty Industry

The beauty industry has experienced a radical shift in the past five years. We can thank Instagram for that.


Some of the first Glossier in the U.K 🖖 Greetings, @dessafontebassi

A post shared by Glossier (@glossier) on

The launch of Glossier was a major catalyst for independent brands, legitimizing photogenic packaging and opening the door for direct-to-consumer beauty.


The Winds of Change

There's no escaping the fact that the millennial generation's coming of age has had a ripple effect on consumer habits as we once knew them. No industry was spared, and all businesses had to adjust the way they market to people. Established norms were rendered obsolete once social media invaded every single facet of our lives. Millennials were leading the charge with fresh perspectives, ideas, values, and ambitions.

The beauty industry took a particularly huge hit, as the rise of influencers and digital mediums began encroaching on age-old conventions. Social media's sudden preponderance threw a wrench in well-oiled engines, and famous beauty behemoths —beloved by this generation's mothers— found themselves in a precarious position. The category was shifting and adapting was vital to survival, but getting a colossal machine in gear can be, um, challenging.

Switching directions after life in one lane is not an obvious task in corporate America. This resulted in giants losing ground to burgeoning independents answering the call of millennial consumer demands. The newbs were not only starting in a position that made more sense in today's market, but they also proved effectively nimble and reactive — a major advantage in our fast-paced, ever evolving social environment.

Morphed ideologies emerged from the late the aughts' digital revolution, culminating in business practice reforms in the cosmetics sector. Visual social channels like YouTube and Instagram were the primary conduits for change by giving a voice to unlikely experts. For the first time ever, anyone could rise to stardom and become an authority on a specific topic with the mere click of a button. Which was the logical outcome considering the category's entire focus revolves around aesthetics and peer recommendations.

Fenty Beauty: something for everyone. Not your average celebrity brand.

A New Dawn

So here we were in the throes of a cultural transformation, with social media in the lead and visionaries in the front seat. The beliefs and values with which purchase decisions were approached were changing the marketing MO. Traditional forms of advertising were beginning to be (rightfully) considered opaque and out of touch, and there was an increasing disconnect from the messaging.

Young people wanted something different they could relate to, and platforms like YouTube and Insta provided a podium to be heard. These young consumers were able to take back some power from the companies thanks to having a new stage for communication and self-expression. By default, they changed how the world operates.

Indeed, the customer's role today is dramatically different from what it was before Instagram came into our lives. The platform has been instrumental in breaking the boundaries between brands and people, allowing for outside voices to be heard. It created a dialogue and empowered young entrepreneurs to fill newly discovered voids in what had previously seemed like an oversaturated segment.

Innovative, modern-day cosmetics brands have sprouted in the past few years to fill the previously untapped gap. One where transparency rules, authenticity is a core principle, and communities are not only formed, but are also highly valued and constantly interacted with. This new media era has essentially forced older companies to reevaluate their center of gravity while allowing new ones to blaze a trail with relevant messaging that resonates with this generation.

Pretty in pink 💖🌸💕🌺 @sortofobsessed #brightenmask #rosehibiscus

A post shared by Herbivore Botanicals (@herbivorebotanicals) on

As read in Herbivore Botanicals' Instagram bio: "Truly Natural Skincare. Synthetic Free. Cruelty Free." Could also add: "Packaging on point. Skincare that caters to what people actually care about. Gained traction thanks to the 'Gram."

It's a Social World After All

In a social media world, consumers are savvy, demanding, and have a lot of leverage. Brands are conscious, honest, serving, clever, and innovative. The beauty industry has developed an ecosystem where a social campaign and the best content marketing strategy can elevate a business to cult status. This once unorthodox way of operating has become the only course of action for today's top makeup brands and skincare super players.

A sector that was once deemed overcrowded has now been invaded by a new crop of independent brands that isn't adhering to the defunct rules of yore. Rebelling has driven their success, with social as a primary propaganda platform. Nouveau beauty businesses are using Instagram as a launching pad as well as an ongoing brand vehicle — a strategy that has proven to be quite effective for growth and hype. It's a channel on which they can share their values and story, build a brand world, create a journey, and, more importantly, establish a dialogue with their community.

While the millennial consumer is averse to traditional advertising, to the power of good marketing she is not. Read: beautiful packaging and aesthetics are more important than ever if you're going to create a whole visual brand world on Instagram (point proven by Suave earlier this year). And we're not talking generic creative assets churned out by clueless ad execs at excruciatingly expensive agencies. No sir, no ma'am.

The beauty brands making waves today are talking with their audience, not at them. That translates to branded photos and videos that portray a lifestyle, that feel organic, and that embody the message. They use user-generated content to populate their photo galleries because their customers are part of the journey. These companies have designed photogenic packaging for maximal social shareability potential.

Your lips deserve a metal. Take 'em to the next level with our new vegan #LipMetals ✨ @sashaco_ wears Angel

A post shared by Milk Makeup (@milkmakeup) on

Milk Makeup: propelled by Instagram, speaks the language of this generation.

Move It or Lose It

This mega (and still rather new) podium that now exists for modern brands to launch and thrive could never have been predicted in a million years. While all sectors were affected by the invasion of social, the beauty category actually experienced a full 180. The game is completely different than what it was in a pre-Insta life.

New beauty brands disrupted an ingrained status quo by taking to the 'Gram for inception, amplification, and distribution. Their rise to popularity has left the giants with no other choice but to rethink their methods to remain relevant in a very competitive market. The ascent of social visual touchpoints like Instagram redefined our collective psyche and the general approach to retail practices.

Entrepreneurs of this generation wanted to reach their peers in a way that finally felt relevant to them and solve the problems stemming from established sets of rules. They likely didn't predict they would ruffle that many feathers. Social media strategy for beauty brands born before the world went digital wasn't even on their radar until those doing things their own way starting creeping up on them.

Which begs the question: without channels like Instagram enabling the congregation of communities, the birth of fresh ideas, and the proliferation of philosophies, could this revolution have happened? Maybe, but probably not.


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