It's easy to imagine someone on your morning coffee run giving a specific order like "I’ll take a soy-cappuccino with an extra shot and chocolate sprinkles." This is a perfectly ordinary request. With the world as it is, tailoring daily essentials like coffee to suit personal tastes is a function of everyday life. However, this isn't the case with all daily essentials.
"No two people are the same, so why should their products be?" questions Zahir Dossa, Co-Founder and CEO of personalized haircare brand Function of Beauty. However, the beauty industry has until recently had a fairly doomed relationship with personalization. Early endeavours from brands like Prescriptives required you to physically go in store to have your shade blended, making it difficult to scale, and subsequently led to many of them closing.
What remained was the desire for unique solutions which is now more prevalent than ever. Mass brands bucketing consumers into ‘typical concerns’ and providing one-size-fits-all solutions have left people crying out for something tailored. Dossa explains, "It’s not a coincidence why we see this rise in beauty companies like Birchbox, and mailer companies that are offering subscriptions to introduce you to more and more products. It’s because people and increasingly dissatisfied with what’s available."
The issue of beauty companies segregating popular concerns and creating ranges based on sales figures has largely disappointed consumers who don’t feel their personal needs are met. Dr. David Lortscher, Founder of Curology (a prescription-based acne treatment brand) relays: "You could take the smartest person in the world and have them guess what these typical concerns should be, and they’d be wrong. That level of personalization can’t be predicted. Which is why customized brands like Curology find out ahead of time what the customer wants before creating the product." This leads to higher customer satisfaction than the industry has ever seen before.
The reason why this has only just begun to be an attainable goal can be pared down to one very key component; Tech. Data driven companies such as SkinInc, Curology, MatchCo and Function of Beauty have begun to use digital platforms to generate unique solutions. They don’t just print a name on a bottle or tweak the colour, but instead create chemically different formulations. Function of Beauty have over 12 billion possible variations (that’s more than people on earth,) and have never made the same formula twice. SkinInc, who specialize in creating personalized serums, have captured over 1 million skin profiles from their customers, which are necessary to address skin concerns and further develop new accommodations for them.
And the response has been unparalleled. Curology has grown 200% in the past year, doubling in size. They invite consumers to fill out an online consultation form, and are then paired with a licensed medical professional in order to develop a perfect blend. Dr. Lortscher, explains: "with acne in particular, there are so many different types. What a teenage boy with oily blackheads has compared to middle aged woman with cysts around her chin are [not the same.] You can’t lump them in the same category with one product, as the cause, result and subsequent treatment are and should be completely different."
Similarly, the success of MatchCo, a personalized foundation app, saw them partnering with beauty giant BareMinerals early this year to produce their Made-2-Fit Custom Foundation. Advanced algorithms and technology are able to color match through pictures and other data in order to create a bespoke foundation that’s 100% matched to your skin tone.
Where all of these companies have succeeded where others haven’t is their direct to consumer model. "We have employed all the medical professionals working for us and have built an in-house pharmaceutical lab which means we can deliver hyper-personalized formulas for $20 per month in subscription," explains Dr. Lortscher. Similarly, Function of Beauty are "pretty much as lean as you can get," says Dossa. "We eliminate as many middle men as possible (which is basically everyone), source ingredients from manufacturers, do everything in house and then sell it direct to customers’ which helps to keep the cost of a bespoke product as low as possible.
However, like every success story, the unprecedented success and desire for personalisation has led to what Dossa calls ‘fake solutions’. Popular quizzes used by many mass brands where you are matched with an existing product already in the range are simply another marketing tool–albeit a very effective one. "It’s just a smarter, more efficient way to sell people products and that’s fine, but we shouldn’t mistake that as customisation," warns Dossa.
What is apparent is the shift of customisation from being a luxury to a readily accessible essential. More importantly, it's not something only the privileged can afford, but opens up the beauty industry to be more inclusive. Just like tailoring coffee, it’s not only becoming the ordinary, but it's what's appropriate.