Alessia Vettese is a second-year MBA student with a background in consulting and social impact. Alessia enjoys discovering innovative skincare products and hopes to pursue a career at the intersection of business and beauty. After a summer internship at Glamsquad, she returned to campus and completed an Independent Project under the guidance of a professor.  

In recent years, the beauty industry has fundamentally changed – incumbents are being disrupted by direct-to-consumer brands, customer data is being used to deliver a higher degree of customization and personalization, and influencer marketing has become an important part of the overall strategy that beauty companies employ.  

As an avid beauty consumer with a desire to work in the industry, I sought a better understanding of where consumers obtain information, who they trust to provide information, and how beauty influencers deliver information. Through primary research – over 500 customer surveys and in-depth interviews with industry professionals – I examined the topic of “disruption of information channels in the beauty industry” as an Independent Project.  

At HBS, I had studied cases of successful direct-to-consumer brands that were disrupting the current landscape and had noticed a similar shift away from major beauty brands. The data showed that established beauty brands face loss of credibility, requiring them to think about partnerships with trusted sources and new ways of attracting and retaining customers. In seeking information on beauty products prior to purchase over the last year, 67% of respondents consulted social media influencers and 59% consulted third-party product reviews. However, company advertisements and public figures/celebrities, the least consulted, were listed by only 44% and 34% of respondents, respectively. This was consistent with findings that, among information sources, third-party product reviews are most trusted and company advertisements are least trusted. I learned that beauty brands must be deliberate about sharing content on multiple platforms simultaneously and regularly, understand that different mediums attract different audiences across demographics and age groups, and engage brand partners who are able to elevate their status and help them reach new audiences.  

I had also taken an interest in the growing role of influencers after getting a glimpse of what partnerships with them entail during my internship at Glamsquad. The data confirmed that beauty brands should seek partnerships with influencers who are perceived as trustworthy and work with them directly, providing brand guidelines and support in order to deliver richer content, products, and experiences. Successful influencers are authentic, have a consistent voice and specific point of view, converse with followers directly, and promote products that work. They build relationships with brands and followers over time and tell stories about products in new and compelling ways. While many consumers assume that influencers are being compensated in some form, most value transparency – both in disclosing whether they are paid to review products and with respect to whether they actually use the products they promote. Ultimately, those who fulfill these criteria are just as trusted, even if they are paid to promote specific products.  

Beauty communities are emerging in new places, online and in person, and brands must go where their customers are. With the emergence of technology, there has been a democratization of influence and consumers face greater choice with respect to which people and narratives they wish to trust. Most will gather multiple inputs and consult multiple sources before making decisions on beauty products. In looking for brand and product recommendations, they are no longer turning to celebrities and magazines, but instead are looking for personal recommendations. They tend to seek information from influencers who share their look or make an effort to acknowledge the diversity of their audience through different applications and product recommendations. I will incorporate these takeaways into my work with and for beauty brands and look forward to following which sources retain influence and which new ones emerge.  

Pursuing an Independent Project offered the opportunity to customize my learning objectives and explore an industry of interest. I would highly recommend the experience to students hoping to explore a professional interest not covered in course offerings.