The global beauty market is predicted to grow to $750 billion by 2024, but not without a lift from experiential marketing. Be it in the form of virtual reality (VR) makeup try-on apps, influencer-led trips across the globe or striking pop-ups—beauty brands rule the queendom that is immersive marketing. Beauty brands are also taking advantage of the added pressure younger audiences feel to maintain a certain standard of appearance or present a curated lifestyle on social media. Here we’re exploring what fuels the beauty sector’s vigorous experiential marketing efforts and which brands are doing a beautiful job of engaging consumers.

Pop-ups takeover malls and museums 

Brick-and-mortar brands and direct-to-consumer (DTC) beauty brands alike are staunch advocates of the pop-up strategy. Last month, to celebrate the first-ever reformulation of its 10-year-old Advanced Génifique Serum, Lancôme debuted an experiential pop-up in Hong Kong’s duty-free shopping center called T Galleria by DFS. The “Microbiome Hub,” was meant to educate consumers on the benefits of microbiome science in an environment that married physical and digital—phygital. To start, guests were invited to test out the serum’s new formula and play with an interactive digital table. What pop-up would be complete without a photo booth? Lancôme cleverly displayed visitors’ photos on the eight-foot-high life-size LED-lit bottle of Advanced Génifique. Adding personalized touches to each guest’s experience was the engraving services offered to anyone who purchased the serum, which has sold over 25 million bottles worldwide since its launch.

Taking pop-ups to the next level, skincare brand Murad launched an experiential activation, “The Wellness Vault” this past summer to offer visitors a one-on-one skin consultation with the founder Dr. Murad himself. Additional vault perks included meditative sound baths, mini facials and an Instagrammable selfie wall. The pop-up, which was meant to celebrate Murad’s 30th anniversary, formed a tour, which debuted in Los Angeles, San Francisco and lastly, San Diego.

This month, the CEO of beauty research company Poshly Inc., Doreen Bloch, took the pop-up concept to another level when she debuted the Makeup Museum, the first museum in the US that brings the history of beauty to life through large-scale exhibits, events and interactive and shoppable programming. The flagship opening will begin with an immersive exhibit called, “Pink Jungle: 1950’s Makeup In America,” which explores entrepreneurs, icons and artifacts of the decade. Founding sponsors of the exhibition include Erno Lazlo and Alcone Company. Tickets to the exhibit will go on sale in March 2020.

Authenticity is key

“One of the key challenges facing beauty brands in experiential marketing is engaging in a truly authentic way that is free of gimmicks. It is so important for brands to not simply place their logo on a step-and-repeat backdrop for a quick photo opp, but rather, to really understand their audience and the story they are trying to tell through an experience. The right balance of product-led immersion experiences with vivid storytelling is what truly resonates with consumers and helps the brand to develop an ongoing relationship with them,” executive director and co-founder of the Makeup Museum, Bloch told AList

Beauty brands go on holiday

Beyond pop-ups, if there’s one strategy that beauty brands have the firmest grasp on, it’s experiential vacations that strengthen the connection between brand and consumer on a deeper level. This month, e.l.f. Cosmetics’ annual “Beautyscape” took place in Nassau, Bahamas. The event matches beauty industry professionals with fans of the brand looking to grow professionally. But not just anyone can attend. Consumers must apply for a chance to escape, and this year’s four-day Beautyscape received over 1,400 submissions. Leveraging its grassroots digital engagement strategy, e.l.f. selected finalists who were then challenged to work in teams to create a tropical-inspired collection with help from e.l.f. mentors. Members of the winning team received a $10,000 cash prize, as well as the opportunity to create their own palette with the e.l.f., set to launch in summer 2020.

Makeup tries on new VR technology

Beauty brands are also among the earliest adopters of VR and augmented reality (AR) technology. Smashbox was the first beauty company to test eye-tracking technology that would identify eye movement patterns to determine whether or not a consumer was reacting positively to a makeup product as they tried the product on. The company has seen a 27 percent increase in overall conversions since implementing the feature. 

As part of its revamp of customer experience, Sally Beauty recently expanded its ColorView artificial intelligence (AI) technology to the Sally Beauty app and kiosks in 500 Sally Beauty stores nationwide. The app lets shoppers virtually try on hair color and makeup before purchasing. If that’s not enough to produce a confident shopping experience, when a customer tries a product using the app, it’s automatically added to her shopping list with options to “add to cart” or “save for later.” The app is available in both iOS and Android. 

Similarly, L’Oréal’s Modiface app uses AI-powered skin diagnostic technology that provides treatment advice based on customers’ uploaded selfies.

Experiential marketing leaves a lasting impact and yields user-generated content (UGC), but to sustain brand awareness, beauty brands leverage YouTube influencer marketing. According to research from Pixability, makeup tutorials accounted for 68.5 percent of the views accounted for the top 200 beauty videos. Speaking of videos, YouTube’s six-second bumper ads have become significant in beauty brands’ growth. Clinique, for instance, replaced traditional ads for bumper ads and has since seen a 70 percent increase in ad recall, and a 26 percent rise in product awareness. Thirty-two percent of Gen Z and millennials say that without YouTube tutorials, their final look wouldn’t be nearly as good.

This summer, Google introduced an AR feature that allows users to see what they’d look like wearing the product being discussed by the influencer in the tutorial. During its testing, YouTube found that 30 percent of users activated the AR experience, and spent an average of 80 seconds trying on virtual lipstick.

“The very essence of makeup is meant to be an experience. Whether it be through color, transformation, expression, or downright playfulness…done in a rushed minute or an indulgent hour, the usage of makeup is immersive and powerful. In order for a brand to introduce something new or even breathe life into an existing product, it is key to show, rather than tell, what kind of unique, individualized experience can be expected,” notes Caitlin Collins, content director and co-founder of the Makeup Museum.