Marketing Matters: Why She Won’t Buy Naturals ...

Editor’s Note: This article originally was published in the March 2008 issue of Global Cosmetic Industry (GCI) magazine and is being reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

With all the hype about natural makeup and organic skin care and all of the alarms sounding daily about cosmetic ingredients now found to harm instead of help, why aren’t all women jumping on the natural/organic bandwagon? Simply put: They’re not ready yet—but just wait.

Just who are these brash women, still loyal to their science-based cosmetics brands, still daring to slather parabens and artificial fragrances on their faces and refusing to take heed of the headlines or their inner holistic beauty goddesses?

They’re about half the U.S. population of regular female beauty buyers, those who have bought beauty products in the past 12 months—or, to be more precise, 51% of beauty-buying women, according to The Benchmarking Company’s The Age of Naturals Pink Report (January 2008). The differences between how women who’ve so far shunned the natural/organic beauty-buying trend and those who embrace it are intriguing both demographically and psychologically.

Demographic and socioeconomic breakdown

>The Age of Naturals posed numerous questions to women about themselves and their families. Among other facts, it showed 52% of traditional beauty-buying women are employed either full- or part-time, compared to 58% of natural beauty buyers. Traditional beauty buyers claim to hold slightly less stressful jobs, with 44% of traditional buyers indicating they experience “moderate to high” levels of on-the-job stress, compared with 51% of natural beauty buyers. Sixty-four percent of traditional beauty buyers have a household income of less than $50,000 per year, compared to the 54% of their natural beauty-buying sisters.

Traditional beauty buyers are also slightly less educated than those who claim to buy natural/organic beauty products, with 33% of traditional buyers holding at least an associate’s degree, compared to 44% of the natural buyers. Only 56% of traditional beauty buyers say they exercise regularly, compared with 78% of natural beauty buyers. Consequently, traditional beauty buyers tend to wear larger dress sizes than natural beauty buyers, with 41% of traditional buyers wearing a size 16+ dress, compared to 28% of natural beauty buyers.

Psychological breakdown

The natural beauty buyer’s attitudes toward personal wellness mirror her consumer behavior. In The Benchmarking Company’s standard 17-question personal wellness catalog, natural/organic beauty buyers ranked every statement higher, sometimes twice as high, as traditional beauty buyers. For instance, 84% of natural beauty buyers believe the mind and body are connected for overall wellness, compared to 70% of traditional beauty buyers. Only 7% of traditional beauty buyers meditate regularly versus 19% of natural beauty buyers. Also, natural beauty buyers are 23% more likely to believe in the concept of inside/out beauty than traditional buyers, and nearly twice as many natural beauty buyers believe in holistic medicine.

Furthermore, 74% of consumers of traditional beauty products admit they don’t know the difference between a natural product and an organic product, and, of those, 54% don’t care to know. It’s not a high priority for them as they haven’t embraced the concept of “all-natural” or inside/out beauty as a lifestyle choice.

Women who normally buy natural/organic beauty products have much higher makeup and skin care aspirations than traditional beauty brand users, and they have higher expectations for natural or organic beauty product efficacy. Eighty-two percent of natural/organic beauty buyers want to look beautiful yet natural, compared with 64% of their traditional buying counterparts. Natural beauty buyers want both makeup (84%) and skin care products (84%) to be free of harmful chemicals, compared to 56% of traditional beauty buyers for makeup and 54% for skin care products.

When asked to rank how much they agree or disagree with natural/organic lifestyle questions on a 1–5 scale, those who normally buy natural beauty products tended to post a higher agreement level to the questions. While 83% of natural buyers agreed that natural beauty products were more expensive than synthetic ones, compared to 69% of traditional beauty buyers, 54% of natural buyers also agreed that they perform as well as traditionally made brands, compared with 19% of those who predominantly buy traditional beauty products.

Traditional beauty consumers are skeptical that a product called natural or organic will work as well as traditional beauty brands, but later sections of the report revealed they are also curious and willing to give natural beauty brands a try. For instance, when asked which type of cosmetic brand—from the choices of a mass, prestige or natural brand—is best for a woman’s skin, 50% of traditional beauty buyers said natural brands are best, with 28% believing mass were best for skin and 22% saying prestige brands were best. Still, a slight majority of traditional beauty buyers feel that mass-market brands make them look their best at 35%, with 33% believing prestige brands do the trick, and 32% believing natural brands are the most successful.

Why not?

The Age of Naturals report also asked traditional beauty-buying women why they don’t usually buy natural or organic beauty brands, allowing them to pick all that apply from a list of possible reasons. The number one reason they gave is that it just hasn’t occurred to them to give naturals a try. With the thousands of brands on the market clamoring for both attention and disposable income, 50% of traditional beauty buyers just haven’t given it a thought yet, and 49% don’t know enough about them to make a decision. Another third aren’t automatically jumping on the natural/organic bandwagon because their current brands work just fine for them.

And while these women say that natural/organic beauty brands are “too expensive” to try them (45%), surveys and focus groups show expense will always take a backseat to the emotional reasons behind a purchase.

Giving natural beauty a try

The four pillars of non-natural beauty use—complacency, expense, ignorance and skepticism—are often swept away by simple curiosity or the desire to try what’s new and popular. No matter how many times the questions are asked—Why did you switch brands? What made you first try a certain brand?—the answer that is usually first and foremost is curiosity. That was also true in The Age of Naturals, with curiosity ranking as the number one reason why women who normally buy natural beauty first did so.

However, fear ranks a close second for reasons to try natural beauty brands. This year’s cosmetics headlines have been inundated with fears about parabens, hydroquinone, lead in lipstick and other potential toxins. In the absence of U.S. government regulation on cosmetic ingredients as a whole, some watchdog groups are making it seem as though traditional cosmetic manufacturers are asking women to smear pure toxicity on their skin.

Forty-five percent of all women said the main reason they buy natural/organic beauty products is because of their fear of chemicals. When later asked to check reasons from among many why natural beauty buyers purchase natural/organic beauty products, 80% said they were better for the skin and 64% cited their desire to avoid placing chemicals on their skin. Another 27% cited the ingredients in traditional beauty products were harmful to their health.

The sense of ingredient uneasiness is felt by traditional beauty buyers as well. Seventy-two percent of traditional beauty-buying women felt the most appealing language when considering a natural beauty product is “XXX-FREE,” meaning free of harmful chemicals; 74% of natural beauty buyers felt the same way, ranking such language as the single most appealing terminology when considering a natural beauty product. Traditional beauty product-buying women also warmed to terms such as “clean” (62%), “hypoallergenic” (62%) and “pure” (57%).

These women also felt the greatest emotional attachment to beauty product claims that clearly explain nature’s benefits in soothing wording and speak to each natural ingredient’s health benefits. The Benchmarking Company tested seven actual on-the-market beauty brand product claims and wording, and found soothing wording that clearly explains nature’s benefits creates a powerful claim that 73% of all women and 59% of traditional beauty-buying women—the largest percentage of claims believability for this group—find most believable. As the claims became slightly more complex, and then more scientifically or statistically oriented rather than naturally oriented, they became more unbelievable to all women.

Perhaps most telling of all, because women wish for products containing less harmful chemicals, a full 90% of traditional beauty-buying women “might” or “would definitely” be willing to try an organic beauty brand if the brand earned the USDA Organic Seal. Even though attaining the certification is difficult, there are few real beauty brands that have earned it, and it sets them a step above the crowd. The Benchmarking Company believes the USDA seal will serve as an absolute indicator of trust and safety to consumers in the future—and as an emblem many companies will not be able to afford to be without.

Natural and organic beauty products are still in their infancy. Many women consider them a natural extension of the holistic lifestyle they are already living or want to lead. Expect greater consumer education about them, more detailed labeling that explains how or why a product will help women live a more holistic lifestyle while helping them to also look their best, and a stronger desire for proven products that help women to look better than traditionally made brands. In addition, to help sway the non-natural believers, look for greater demand for third-party independent testing to prove product efficacy; products proven to be safe and natural offering advanced technical efficacy stand to gain.

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