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Expanding Your Cosmetic & Beauty Marketing Efforts Internationally

Phil Forbes
Phil Forbes | 5 min read

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Cosmetics, an industry that embodies beauty, skincare, personal care, fragrances and male-specific products, is strong and only getting stronger. Beauty marketing and the brands behind them are getting innovative as consumers crave creativity in their cosmetic and personal care products. 

As domestic markets get harder to get control of, many cosmetic brands start to take their presence overseas

In 2018, McKinsey estimated that the global cross-border payments revenue was $230 billion, a 4 per cent increase from 2017.

Similarly, Forrester calculates that cross-border transactions will outperform domestic transactions at a compound rate of 17% between 2017 and 2022.

Simply put, more brands are, and will continue to grow their businesses abroad.

And, with relatively small, lightweight products, cosmetic brands are on the front foot with international expansion

In 2018, Australian skincare brand Jurlique announced plans for a $30 production facility to help assist their international expansion, mostly into Asia.

sober berlin packaging

After years of begging from fans, Glossier flew across the pond in late 2019 and started to sell in the UK and France.

Other brands like Rhianna’s Fenty launched into the UK by only selling in a handful of retail stores adding to the sense of exclusivity. 

So the statistics and proof are there - cosmetic brands grow into foreign markets as a way to expand their customer base.

But for a brand of almost any size, the risk is quite large.

Using industry data and the experiences of brands that have gone before you, you can help minimise the risk and investment for expanding your cosmetics brand internationally

Here are some important things to consider:

Beauty marketing - Know your goals.

Without a clear plan on the best way to expand your beauty brand internationally, you’re going to be burning money and heading in all but the best direction.

As success won’t come overnight, it’s important to keep your long term goals in mind, while working toward short term goals

goals & objective pyramid

If you’re a D2C brand, your priority won’t be getting products on shelves, but rather getting people talking and engaged with your brand. Similarly, if you’re selling to retailers, your goals will be different. 

Numerical goals like ‘500 social media mentions by the end of June’ or ‘in 1500 retail stores by Christmas’ can help you break down your expansion and beauty marketing into smaller achievable goals, making the ultimate goal easier to achieve. 

Take, for example, getting 500 social media mentions.

This can be done by working with local influencers, as Glossier did when expanding into the French and British markets

The Glossier team got initial traction in the UK by taking engaged members of the UK community out for lunch, helping them fall in love with (and therefore advocate) the brand.

This created more talk of Glossier on social media, the brand’s most effective marketing channel.

These clear and defined goals helped Glossier minimise risk during their international launch, while also making their goals easier to achieve. 

And also know your markets.

The first step to mitigating risk in your international expansion is to know the market you’re expanding into, and what the market trends of that region are.

Asia

China is the second biggest cosmetics market in the world and is the biggest market in the world for skincare.

asia cosmetic industry

In 2016, the Asian/Pacific beauty and personal care market was worth approximately USD 141b.

Popular beauty products include:

  • Skin lightening products (South East Asia)
  • Non-scented products (Hong Kong)
  • Subtle makeup colours (Japan)
  • Cosmetic Supplements. 

North America

The North American cosmetics market was worth just under USD 50b in 2019. Such a large market is obviously very dynamic, with trends changing regularly.

One consistency though is the demand for natural, eco-friendly and organic cosmetics in just as eco-friendly packaging

Popular cosmetics products include:

  • Certified products, specifically eco, organic and ethical certifications
  • Health-conscious products
  • Niche-products - damaged skin, tattooed skin
  • Exclusive, limited edition products

Europe

The UK, Germany and France make up the majority of the European cosmetics market, with their ecommerce industries ranking 3rd, 5th and 6th largest in the world respectively.

Popular products are similar to the US, but the sales channels are different. 

Popular beauty products include:

  • Protective products
  • ‘Spa’ and treatment products
  • Cutting edge technology & innovation

Latin America

Men’s skincare is growing in popularity globally, but the market in Latin American can’t be stopped.

mens beauty marketing

Brazilians, both men and women, have a penchant for top-of-the-line European cosmetics.

Popular cosmetic products include:

  • Men’s skincare & grooming products
  • Haircare, for a wide variety of hair types in Latin America.
  • Products developed specifically for their market.
  • Cosmetic Supplements.

Middle East

With 6% of the international cosmetic market and the highest per-capita spending in the world, the Middle East isn’t a region to ignore. 

Popular beauty products include:

  • Customizability in fragrances
  • A variety of colours to suit expats as well as locals
  • Men’s grooming & beard care products

But be aware that there’s more to knowing a market than simply what’s popular.

Understand your target market’s culture

To increase the chances of your brand being taken up in a new market, it’s crucial to understand buying patterns, social norms and other cultural nuisances. 

Asian markets, while being the biggest cosmetics market in the world, still demand top-shelf quality in the cosmetics that they buy.

Average transaction values continue to increase in both the online and retail cosmetics market.

Foreign brands already have an advantage in China, as overseas companies are seen as superior to domestic products.

G&M Cosmetics are considered as being one of the most trusted cosmetics brands in China. On the other side of the coin, Sephora couldn’t make in-roads into the Hong Kong market

North American markets have a growing desire for more ‘eco’ and ‘natural products. 

US cosmetic market size

Image source

However, North American consumers are also more switched-on to inaccurate marketing and greenwashing, so certifications will help a foreign brand establish itself.

A social media presence is a must, as is a good community-based reputation that matches buyer sentiment, such as sustainability.

Subscription boxes and the D2C business model are also well-received, benefitting both business and consumer. 

In Europe, things aren’t overly easy.

Multiple countries create multiple problems in the form of language barriers and buying habits.

The UK, like the US, have no problem shopping and buying cosmetics online; however, the French prefer to try their cosmetics before committing to a purchase.

Many Germans are wary of new brands that rely too heavily on the internet as a marketing tool.

All over Europe, though, consumers like to buy multiple products and then return what they don’t like. 

The Middle Eastern cosmetics market is a little different, as the retail cosmetics market dominates. Customers prefer to go in-store and try before they buy.

Adapt your marketing imagery

What’s important to people, not just from a purchasing point of view, but from a cultural point of view, is different all over the world.

Adapting your beauty marketing message to the target audience is critical to get that product-market fit. 

For example, custom cosmetic packaging that's bright and in-your-face may resonate with the younger generation in the North American market.

Still, in Asia, where quality is paramount, a stepped-back, minimalist look may appeal to more customers. 

Without a doubt, the product is the most important part here.

In 2013, Nike launched a range of Pacific-Island inspired activewear.

nike cultural mistakes

The problem being that the design on the women's one-piece was in the shape of a Pe'a - a tattoo design that's specifically for men and men only.

To the Pacific Islanders that the product was marketed to, this was not well received and Nike pulled the product not long after.

Knowing as much about your audience as you can before deciding to launch internationally is going to help your beauty marketing efforts, as well as the general reception and popularity of your product.

Spend time researching the market and speaking to locals, as well as assessing how your potential competitors are presenting themselves to local audiences. 

Trial before committing

Depending on your business model, it mightn’t be feasible nor practical to launch every product in a new foreign market at the same time.

Similarly, you can’t be sure that you’ve tailored your brand’s message and beauty marketing for that market adequately. 

However, market research can only do so much. 

Rather than go all-in with every product line, you’ll minimise risk by launching a single range of products, or just a select few products.

Of course, which lines and which products you launch are going to be dependent on your market research, but the risk will be minimised by taking a conservative approach.

If your products aren’t as popular as you anticipated, then you’ve not invested too much capital in the venture.

It’s also better to be in the position of too much demand and not enough supply, should your international expansion efforts take well to the new market. 

Beauty marketing case study

A fine example of 'testing the waters' is the Australian brand, The Groomed Man Co

the groomed man co mint

In 2017, the brand focussed heavily on international expansion.

The ecommerce model was perfect for them, but shipping products all over the world from their Australian warehouse was starting to add up.

Knowing that the US market was perfect for their high-end beard oils, they decided to use the Urban Outfitters’ marketplace to test the American market a little more

the groomed man co morning wood

To the joy and almost shock of the team, the first delivery of products was sold in a matter of hours.

Once sold out, their stand-alone website was flooded with enquiries from Americans asking where they can buy the product in stores.

This set the ball in motion for finding American retail stockists to penetrate the US market further. 

Build a local community

‘Community’ marketing is one of the most effective ways to get a product consumed by a millennial audience. 

For companies like Glossier, it’s the community of engaged brand advocates that’s responsible for a large percentage of the brand’s marketing.

User-generated content, word of mouth marketing and the active social media presence of the brand mean that millennials are more likely to engage with the product as a result of engaging with the brand. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter management tools are in abundance and are effective at improving your ROI on social media marketing.

To use generation-specific language, Elf cosmetics are slaying it on TikTok.

@madeleinemuaaan absolute game changer thank me later #trend #makeup #selflove #elfcosmetics #foryoupage #viral #cinematics♬ original sound - madeleinemua

Elf CMO Kory Marchisotto says that the data was crucial to knowing the role TikTok played for the brand.

Videos tagged #elfcosmetics had a collective 3.5 million views even before Elf Cosmetics joined TikTok.

Building a community in a domestic market can be difficult, let alone building one in a foreign market.

A great way to get started is to build relationships with partner brands.

If an established, well-known brand in that local market can trust you, then the consumer can, too. 

Hotels, day spas and other luxury treatment centres are an ideal partner to work with if high-quality and luxury are your top-selling points.

Sponsorship of other events can be beneficial when launching into a new market. Expos, lectures or presentations that are focussed on entrepreneurial women can help you engage with a wider audience, but be sure that a cosmetics brand is a right fit for said audience. 

Optimise your production

The production location of your products is going to have a massive effect on the financial cost of your international expansion, as is how you will get your product to your international customers. 

If your products are made domestically, then international shipping will be a hurdle for you to conquer.

Customs fees, import tariffs and the high cost of international shipping are problems that you’ll need to solve.

best cbd packaging

However, manufacturing your products in a foreign market creates a range of entirely different problems, too. 

Getting packaging supplies and other raw materials to a warehouse or manufacturing facility in a foreign market can be cumbersome.

When manufacturing abroad, there’s always the question of quality control, too.

While manufacturing abroad may be cheaper, it doesn’t mesh well if you’re trying to market a high-end product. Many markets associate ‘quality’ with where it's produced - mainly abroad.

Finding the best solution, manufacturing local or internationally, is a crucial decision to make in order to keep operational costs manageable. 

Content marketing

Social media is the biggest beauty marketing channel for many of the faster growing cosmetic brands on the market. Their mastery of social media marketing is a testament to the power of these mediums. 

Therefore, the content that you produce and share is important to get traction in your desired market. 

Fenti beauty, owned by Rhiana, does a fantastic job at showcasing how their 40 shades can be used in the makeup routines of women from all walks of life.

Rimmel was quick to offer assistance when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and we all had to wear masks outside.

They created a series of Instagram stories on mask-proof makeup.

And today, they’re still sharing fine examples of a makeup routine that works with a mask. 

Evonik, a company that produces ingredients for cosmetic brands, shows how they grow and harvest the plants that are used to create their products.

Like having an automated Welcome email workflow, this not only is great for transparency, but it shows curious minds more about the brand. 

Content like you seen above can be used to build a rapport with a new market, while also showing the inner workings of your business.

It’s easier for your potential customer to build trust in your brand and your products when they know where you’re coming from. 

Offline beauty marketing

In a world where online marketing seems to be the only form of marketing, don’t forget that there’s a world away from online. 

Arguably, the biggest benefit of print media and offline marketing is the fact that your competitors don’t use it

This leaves you to maximise on the advertising channels that your competitors simple aren't using. 

Pop up stores, pamphlets, TV, radio and print media are all viable, potent, and often overlooked ways of getting your brand’s name out there. 

Teams

The adage ‘we’re not a team, we’re a family’ is easy for consumers to see through and just as cheesy as 'business team' stock photos.

beauty marketing team

Your beauty marketing efforts may be better spent elsewhere, rather than pumping how 'important your team is', as a foreign market probably doesn't care about what's happening behind the scenes just yet. 

But it is important that as you do expand into new markets, your entire team is onboard and 100% behind the initiative.

When everyone knows your ‘why’, it’s much easier for everyone to head in the same direction even on a subconscious level.

If you’re hiring a virtual assistant or physical people to assist with your international expansion, they should obviously have the relevant industry experience, but as well as the values that align with your brand. 

A quality team of people that are committed to the cause (and compensated accordingly) is an integral part of your expansion.

They’ll go above and beyond, and have the initiative to solve problems on the fly - many of which will undoubtedly come up during your expansion. 

Over to you

In the highly competitive and flooded cosmetic industry, simply being the new brand on the block isn’t enough to be successful.

Proactive marketing, effective customer service and a solid team are going to help your beauty marketing efforts bear fruit, wherever you decide to launch your brand. 

Decor

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