Expanding your cosmetics brand into a new region is an exciting step with some unique challenges. As well as the tasks involved in launching any brand in a new market, you’ll be navigating the quirks of the cosmetics industry, with its high market saturation, exacting compliance requirements and brand-led, aspirational patterns of success and failure.

Having helped brands successfully navigate these waters in the past, we decided to share some of experience and strategies that have worked well thus far. From regulatory checks and marketing conventions to finding your brand niche in a different culture, here are 6 points to help you start a successful new chapter for your brand in new areas and territories.

1. Get to know the compliance requirements

Generally speaking, the cosmetics industry has stringent restrictions on the claims you can make about a product. Words like ‘heal’ ‘cure’ and even ‘treat’ are a no-no for most markets. Avoiding this type of claim is common sense, but different regions have their particular quirks. For example in South Africa, the word ‘waterproof’ is prohibited in cosmetics advertising. In Australia, antibacterial skincare products can’t be described ‘antiseptic’ or ‘medicated’.

Every territory is a little different when it comes to procedural legalities, too. For example in European countries, there’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), which governs how you collect and use customer data. To comply, you’ll need to collect opt-in permission from everyone in your marketing database, and be ready to package and transfer their data on demand. If you’re currently outside Europe and plan to work within in, having your compliance plan in place is a critical part of being able to market your brand effectively. And then we have China’s controversial safety testing laws which mean that some (but not all) cosmetic products sold within the Chinese mainland area must be tested on animals beforehand. Some brands, especially those with an eco-friendly or cruelty-free ethic, avoid the lucrative Chinese market for this reason.

Cosmetics industry regulations are evolving all the time. In the US, over-the-counter sales of antibacterial products containing Triclosan were banned in 2017. And in the UK, as of January 2018 it’s illegal to sell products containing plastic micro-beads, which can harm marine life.

The takeaway? Do your homework, and then keep doing it to make sure you maintain a good knowledge of the regulatory environment.

Get in touch if you need support in this area, working with global brands such as Nelson's (the parent company behind RESCUE Remedy®, Spatone® and more) and Frezyderm means our network of experts are well versed in making sure your marketing efforts stay on the right side of compliance. 


2. Get into the beauty consumer mentality

In the world of cosmetics, the appeal of a product or brand is often hard to pin down, derived from a complex mix of psychological and social factors. Unlike more straightforward, benefit-driven markets like technology or automotive, cosmetics success isn’t so much about what the product can do, but how your customer feels about it. Practical product features often come low down on the list of sales drivers.

A beauty purchase could be an indulgence, a small way to splash out and treat yourself without breaking the bank. Interestingly, this ‘small splurge’ factor is actually tracked by the UK’s Lipstick Index, a log of lipstick sales that has been shown to correlate with periods of economic depression. When times are tough, the British buy lipstick.

Escapism, creativity, aesthetic appreciation of packaging and the idea of re-inventing or pampering yourself all play a role in consumer motivation. Beauty enthusiasts may be collectors, acquiring each shade in a product range or coveting limited-edition packaging. So, launching in a new territory may be an opportunity to put together a region-exclusive collection, which recognises beauty collectors internationally as well as showing your appreciation for your new market.

Knowing what motivates someone to buy a beauty product means you can tailor your campaigns, advertising and even packaging to maximise success. When you’re assessing a new market, it’s well worth checking in with the target consumer via a survey panel or other market research tool to make sure their prevailing mindset matches up well with your existing customer base.


3. Put your products in the right context for your new audience

The culture of your new target market will differ from your home turf, even if it’s in very subtle ways. Cultural differences can play a big role in the success or failure of a beauty product, particularly when there’s a mismatch around high-emotion areas like personal appearance. The way you present your brand may need to be finely calibrated so you avoid cultural pitfalls.

For example, your existing customers may be happy to acknowledge that they have blemishes to banish, while the consumers in your new market may view this type of language as negative or even insulting, preferring a more subtle approach leading on ideas like purity and freshness.

And when it comes to packaging and ingredients, there’s a fine cultural line between cute and bizarre – the snail slime skincare that was all the rage in Asia a few years ago didn’t sound so appealing to Western audiences. And the name of Korean brand Holika Holika’s ‘Pig Nose’ blackhead treatment isn’t exactly flattering to its target users. Products like these can still succeed in new territories, but they may not be the best choice for an introductory campaign.

When you’re selecting products for launch, bear in mind the geographical and demographic factors in your new territory. For example, a humid area like Hong Kong or Seoul is likely to have a high demand for waterproof, smudge-proof eye makeup. Ethnically diverse areas may warrant a broader range of foundation shades. And of course, in hot and sunny areas SPF is an important success factor.


4. Keep your ear to the ground on and offline

Competitor review is essential for understanding what makes your target audience tick. Take careful note of the brands that are already present in the market space, observing who they appeal to and how they approach considerations like packaging, tone of voice, influencer relationships, digital interaction and traditional advertising.

The idea isn’t to copy what works, but to notice where the gaps are and how you can take advantage of them. You can also trace successful competitor strategies back to underlying consumer needs, which can act as a springboard for your own fresh ideas.

Digital interaction is a huge part of any successful market research strategy, with the big advantage of being able to do it from anywhere on earth. Social listening and analytics mean you can automate a lot of your effort, boiling down broad trends in consumer sentiment to easily digestible insights you can act on. Beyond that, online interactions can help you forge relationships within your target market ahead of any launches. Use your digital network to reach out to influencers, consumers, and even potential partners such as regional department stores or cosmetic specialist retailers. Even a tweet or two could be the foundation of something great.


5. Find the influencers who fit your brand

There’s no doubt about it, the beauty industry is head-over-heels in love with influencers. While mainstream advertising and media still play an important role, cult products, trends and must-haves frequently emerge from YouTube, blogger websites and Instagram, often taking the market in surprising directions. 

Beauty consumers are generally partial to novelty and exclusivity, and products from overseas can become popular among bloggers thanks to their exotic and hard-to-get status. The explosion in popularity of Korean cosmetics in the USA and UK is a great example of this phenomenon in action.

The appetite for disruptive overseas products is great news for your potential expansion. In fact, you may be pleasantly surprised by the level of familiarity your brand already has among influencers in your target market, even if you don’t sell there yet. If your brand is a ‘beauty insider secret’ that’s huge in its home territory, this could be a great boost to its appeal.
If you’re new to the influencer-brand dynamic, take a look at our 5 questions to ask before working with beauty influencers


6. Create campaigns that win hearts and minds

First impressions are everything, so set up your launch strategy so it hits home on as many levels as possible, both emotionally level and practically.

When we launched Greek-based cosmetics brand Frezyderm in London, our introductory campaign showcased its award-winning sun care range, a strong product line with a practical appeal to the UK holiday-goer. We built on this by tapping into the emotional appeal of summer memories and holiday adventures with a #summermoments theme.

Showing and telling is valuable, but getting consumers actively involved with the brand can be even more powerful. For #summermoments, we used competitions and user-generated content that invited participants to share their best summer memories. Sharing experiences and participating in a social event like a contest is an effective way for consumers to embrace the brand with some positive associations – setting the scene for long-term brand loyalty in the future.

Want to find outhow we can help you start your brand's next international adventure? Get in touch.