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Male Grooming — Beauty’s Final Frontier? (Part 2 of 3)

Changing behaviours

In this section, we look at changing behaviours within the male category and explore the underlying factors that influence how men buy—and buy into—male beautycare.

The rise of individuality

Compared with the rigid fashion uniforms of previous decades, men are increasingly adapting trends to create their own style, reflecting a diverse set of influencers and role models—from Premiership footballers and R&B artists to social media vloggers and bloggers.

The original ‘New Man’ concept has undergone many transformations since it was first coined in the early 1990s. From ‘Metrosexual’ to ‘Lumbersexual’ and ‘Spornosexual’ (with many others along the way), the male grooming industry has been desperate to nail modern male personal grooming habits. Today, UK men’s healthier lifestyles—demonstrated by lower rates of cigarette consumption, increased spend on active wear – are a key driver in the development of relevant grooming products. Like never before, men are exposed and aspire to ‘close-up’ images of perfection they pick up from high profile figures and influencers on visual social media platforms such as Instagram.

Online seekers

Kantar WorldPanel reports 5.8m UK men a week use personal care products they bought online and 1 in 5 men say that they research toiletries online. In terms of online searches, Google’s Trends Report 2017 indicates higher interest in searches for skincare products for the face, including face wash, moisturiser and branded facial brushes with searches evolving from more general terms like ‘men’s skincare’ to more specific terminology such as ‘men’s face wash’. Google’s commentators see a clear opportunity to educate men (and those who shop for them) on the different nuances for each product type. As luxury online etailer Mr Porter reports a 300 per cent uplift in men’s beauty and grooming products in 2015, this online behaviour is translating into direct sales of premium brands, mirroring the growth of ecommerce in men’s fashion.

Peer influence and social media also play an active part in driving awareness and education amongst consumers. According to Mintel, 46% of UK men aged 16-24 say they value the advice of beauty bloggers more than store staff.


Pogonophile – n. someone who is attracted to or loves beards

Twice as many men now maintain facial hair – YouGov  reports that 48% of UK adult men are shaving less (1), as the trend for beards creates a micro industry in its own right. The rise beard oils has increased threefold (2), as a new crop of niche men’s brands that address beard-related skincare issues emerge, such as Bluebeard’s Revenge, Men Rock and Murdock.

Facial hair has become the catalyst for many men under 40 to take greater interest in their appearance and incorporate more products into their daily routine. The challenge here is to change the rituals of the regular guy in the bathroom. Brands may build empathy with their audience, but persuading a man to seek out and buy a new type of product requires a level of education and insight

Barbers bloom

The traditional barbershop ritual has been revived—hot towels, men’s traditional close shave, beard trims and more, arguably competing directly with the beauty and hair salon sector. They also offer men a social space—merging coffee, clothing and grooming into an immersive retail experience and bolstering ‘Bro Culture’ where conversations around looking good, skincare and grooming come naturally. From the refined luxury of Truefitt & Hill in London’s St James’s to the more edgy attitude of Liverpool’s Voudou, the barbers’ concept is being pushed to new limits.

The rise of hgis (highly groomed individuals)

At the upscale end of the market, the growth of premium brands is being fuelled by two key groups: 1: Creative HGIs in the creative, fashion and media industries who are already fluent in product and self expression on social media; and 2: Executive HGIs—high income male consumers who have developed a polished grooming regime built around luxury brands and fragrance.

For these men, often rising and senior executives in the financial and media industries, looking good with a defined style is part of their professional profile.

Tracey Woodward, CEO of Aromatherapy Associates observes: “For many affluent men investing in good product and looking after their skin is part of their social—and business—currency.”

Mobile and on-demand grooming services, previously the domain of city salons and spas, have also thrived, with a clientele of time-poor but well-groomed men seeking a bespoke, discreet service to fit into their schedule. Charlie McCorry, founder of leading mobile beauty brand, Perfect 10, reports a rise in product knowledge from men using its premium ‘Black Label’ service. “Our high net worth clients often know more about newly released skincare products before we do. It’s all about the mindset: if someone regularly appears in the media, he’ll need to manage ‘the brand’ and look good. Grooming, fitness and premium skincare products are a given.”

New premium brand Stoer, recently launched in Harvey Nichols’ London male grooming zone, has been designed to focus on innovation and efficacy in men’s skincare. Marianne Morrison, Stoer’s founder, stresses the wider benefits of wellbeing, confidence and better informed lifestyle for men: “I’ve seen a real shift in attitudes to skincare, as younger, millennial consumers invest in their skin and older men realise that ‘you only live once’. We all have to protect skin from the outside world”

“Looking good isn’t self-importance; it’s self-respect.”

Charles Hix, 1980s author & GQ columnist

Ali Azeem, lead inventor of innovation strategists, ?What If!, sees a shift in behaviour that goes beyond maintenance and superficial preening, to denote a sense of informed personal style. “My feeling is that male grooming is about tapping into a wholly different mindset – showing a level of sophistication or even peacocking”.

Azeem also discusses the increased pressure in male culture to build a personal identity and status through ‘high maintenance’ grooming and body building. Beyond the dandy ‘peacocking’ of grooming, investing in appearance through tattoos, tanning and gym sculpting is also a means of displaying a visible manifestation of success that was previously exhibited by fast cars, material wealth and property ownership—all of which may not be accessible to Millennials and Gen Z’s.

Masculinity redefined

Recent concern and active campaigns to address male suicide, currently the leading single cause of death to males under 45 (3), also question the relevance of ‘masculine’ brands and messages to a generation of men who no longer identify with these codes.

As Grayson Perry commented in his recent series exploring modern masculinity, more emotionally literate role models such as Barack Obama and David Beckham represent alternatives: “We need to think of masculinity like a piece of equipment. Some men, like soldiers, need it all the time, others might need it at the weekend and others not at all.”

Gender – who needs it?

The demographic most likely to reject traditional gender stereotypes is males aged 18–34, who have grown up with more fluid ideas of gender identity, and this has challenged the norms of the beauty industry too. MAC Cosmetics’ partnership with Caitlin Jenner illustrates the brand’s confident diversity whilst YouTubers such as James Charles and Ingrid Nilsen actively promote gender and LGBT equality.

Gender-free—or genderless—products in beauty care are nothing new, with many generic household names such as Vaseline and Freederm having remained neutral – but the success of brands such as Kiehls, Aesop and Malin & Goetz in the premium category points to a more treatment-based strategies. “We wanted to go back to a more honest approach to skincare and create products that both genders could use” says Andrew Goetz, co founder.

As Andrea Ferrari, publisher of Esprit Australia puts it: “Every so often we hear that ‘the men’s market is poised to explode’ and then there’s a fizzle. It’s an on-going slow-burner. Yes, men are keeping clean and doing fancy things with their hair, but they are also led by the women in their lives and so are not voracious male product consumers.”

Eastern influence

Trends from other global markets shouldn’t be underestimated.

From the rise of the Yuccie in US cities to Brazil’s burgeoning male grooming market, behaviours in ‘hot spots’ such as Korea have the habit of being adopted in the UK and Europe. Datamonitor 2014 data suggests that Asian men are more image conscious than Westerners: 54% of Asian men believe their looks and appearance to be important versus 44% in Western Europe. Korean men have the most positive attitude towards cosmetics with BB and eyebrow make-up the most acceptable items.

According to Mintel: 55% of those who are positive towards cosmetics would wear BB or a foundation, 20% eyebrow products and 5% a light lip make-up, with a ‘grooming-jok’ trend that indicates men in their 20s using an average of 13 cosmetics products a month. Shifting attitudes to men’s lifestyles, physical appearance and identity have set the scene for the concept of male beauty, with an appetite for new products and solutions, such as Deciem’s ‘Ab Crew’ post-gym products.

The market may give signals of high growth, but perhaps the consumption patterns will be as diverse as the many groups of men that make up the total user audience – not to mention the influence of their partners.

Click here for part 3 of “Male Grooming – Beauty’s Final Frontier?”

(2) IRI Infoscan

The Red Tree is the UK’s leading international beauty brand consultancy and a powerhouse of ideas, insight and inspiration. For an informal discussion on how we might help you, please contact us.

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