CATEGORY DISRUPTION: The Rise of Indie Beauty Brands

What we can learn from agile brands in the indie beauty space

Today, indie beauty brands are stealing the limelight - these new, glossy, direct to consumer brands are taking over and showing up the stalwarts of the beauty industry.

The global beauty market is growing, valued at $532 billion in 2019 and forecast to exceed $800 billion by 2025. Indie beauty brands are attributed with much of this growth, claimed to be growing 4x faster than the legacy companies. We can see that heritage brands are trying to adapt to this changing market by snapping up indie brands fast - in 2019 alone Drunk Elephant, Olaplex, Kylie Cosmetics and Dr Jart were all acquired.

But what are these independent beauty brands doing differently? How do they compare to the legacy brands and who is it they are appealing to?


Today’s beauty consumer

Before we dive in, we must consider today’s beauty consumer.

Technology has totally changed our relationship with brands. We now have vast amounts of data at our fingertips, enabling a ‘research and review’ approach before we buy anything. Mobile searches for ‘best’ have grown 80% in past two years and this access to knowledge is breeding extremely diligent consumers. 

These consumers are savvy, not easily fooled and have a whole new idea of what it means to be ‘beautiful’. A study by Olapic learned that 7 x more people trust images of other consumers on social media over advertising – today, consumers aspire to real people and real beauty, complete with imperfections just like them. 

Today’s beauty consumers also want to buy into brands that act as a force for good - whether it be championing real beauty or working towards being more sustainable, 72% of people want brands to be positive contributors to society.

Building awareness

By contrast to the legacy brands, indie beauty brands are digital-first and rely heavily on social media to build brand awareness. A visual platform, Instagram is particularly vital for success and a natural fit for beauty.

Traditional vs digital advertising

The key difference in the way indie beauty brands build awareness has been from the shift to digital. Our access to beauty used to only be aspirational images found in glossy magazines. Now we have digital ads, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube…and people are incredibly active. In 2018, 1.1mil beauty videos were watched daily on YouTube and beauty Instagrammers averaged 33 sessions a day (it should also be noted that to be classified as a ‘beauty Instagrammer’ you have to actively use the hashtags – it doesn’t even take into account the everyday person just having a look).

Quite simply, advertising used to be something we see, but now through social media it’s something we interact with. This has greatly benefitted start-up brands with small budgets, allowing them to reach their audience much more easily and provide digestible ways to get to know a brand. This is particularly useful in targeting millennial shoppers. A McKinsey report stated that millennials are 3 x more likely than baby boomers to say they learn about new products or brands from social media. We can see that traditional marketing is influencing millennials less, explaining the success of indie beauty brands amongst this audience.


The supermodel vs The influencer

Traditional beauty brands used to use fashion models to build awareness, but indie brands today are opting for influencers, ambassadors and even the consumer themselves.

Glossier, the disruptive indie beauty brand has used this to great effect. By reposting images of its consumers, Glossier has filled its social media feeds with images of regular people that consumers recognise – giving the impression of a brand made for the everyday person, not a perfect supermodel.

This is hugely powerful for today’s consumer – in a 2019 survey of 4k female teens, 89% said they look to online influencers for beauty trends. The supermodel is no longer considered aspirational and consumers want to see real people and real beauty. 


The beauty counter vs The pop up

Traditional beauty brands used to rely on permanent beauty counters for their physical presence, often in selective department stores or boutiques; however, today’s digital first brands don’t rely on retail sales in the same way.Instead, pop-ups are used to drive hype and create an opportunity to experience the brand. This in turn, provides excellent social media content. 

Glossier is another example of a brand that has done this to great effect. The brand’s Covent Garden pop up in November 2019 was Glossier Heaven, complete with bespoke wallpaper and double-sided mirrors to encourage conversation amongst the Glossier community. The pop-up saw 100,000 visitors over 2 months and was so successful, it has now become permanent for the rest of 2020.

The way indie beauty brands build awareness is very different to the old ways of legacy brands. There has been a shift from something we just see, to something we interact with, experience and feel a part of.


Selling products

Digitally native, indie beauty brands sell products very differently to the legacy brands. Often start up brands that are unable to launch into stores straight away, indie brands build up their consumer base using social media and sell through e-commerce. Tech has totally changed the shopping journey here, making the shopping experience convenient and reassuring.


Instore vs Online

Beauty brands used to only be found in store with the high-end brands found in department stores or select boutiques. While great for creating an air of prestige, purchase relied on consumers hearing about a brand, going into the store and not being distracted along the way.

Today’s indie beauty brands sell direct to consumer, using their own e-commerce platforms or other channels such as the Amazon Indie Beauty Shop and Instagram Checkout. With 59% of 18-34 year old shoppers discovering products online (Accenture) we can see that this ability to discover, learn and buy in one experience is very powerful. It gives shoppers confidence when purchasing online, satisfies today’s consumers need for trust and allows us to browse anywhere – whether bored on the sofa or on the train to work.


Perceived luxury vs Real value

What’s exciting about the direct to consumer model that indie brands are operating, is that by cutting out the middleman they are able to charge the real prices of products without the markup of retail.

By offering real value to consumers, indie beauty brands are undermining the high prices that legacy brands charge and are changing the idea of ‘luxury’. The disruptive subscription brand Beauty Pie have made transparent pricing a key part of their proposition - by shining a light on the hidden costs, they appeal to today’s savvy shoppers and act like they are with the consumer, not against them.


Slow to react vs Agile behaviour

Indie brands are agile and can create and sell relevant products quickly, unlike legacy brands which are much slower to react. LA based Colourpop, a brand known for its fun, brightly coloured, and affordable make up is a great example of an agile brand. At their factory in LA, they closely observe trends through social media and If there is a new colour they want to create, they have the ability to create that shade in just one day - unlike heritage beauty brands which typically have a lead time of up to two years.

By being so agile, indie beauty brands are able to keep their finger on the pulse and sell truly in demand products - this in turn gives them trendsetter status and relevance amongst consumers.


Wide range vs Limited range

Traditional beauty brands typically achieve growth by increasing their range and selling more products, whereas a lot of Indie brands work with having a limited range. Two brands that are using this to great effect are Kylie Cosmetics and Glossier.

Glossier defiantly have a small range – they have one mascara, ‘lash slick’ in black, going against the grain of traditional brands that offer many different mascaras with many different benefits. Emily Weiss, Glossier CEO says this is because “Glossier aims to produce “hero” or “best in kind” products that are easy to use and become timeless essentials”.

Kylie Cosmetics use limited runs in a very different way - to make their products sell out quickly and drive excitement. The seasonal launches are always hugely successful with her fans, who now expect new collections at Christmas and Valentine’s day, to name a few. The most successful launch was in February 2016; Jenner released six limited edition lip shades inspired by Valentine’s day which sold out in just 10 minutes. This method of inducing urgency is hugely effective and creates real hype around the brand.

For everyone vs For me

Being a digital first brand and having direct access to your consumers data means that indie brands can easily offer personalised services. Birchbox, the monthly subscription service has based their entire business model around personalisation; they get to know their consumer, their needs and deliver 5 products every month that are uniquely tailored to them.

By delivering consumers products and regimes that are unique to them, indie brands are improving on the one-size-fits-all approach of traditional beauty. A Google Think survey stated that 46% of UK consumers are interested in tailored products because they feel it is especially for them – through selling personalised products, indie brands are making consumers feel valued and understood, which in turn will create advocates for the brand. 

What we are seeing in terms of selling products is a shift towards total convenience - consumers can discover, learn and buy beauty all through the comfort of their phones, creating a reassuring, seamless and pleasurable experience.

Building loyalty

By using social media effectively, brands today can be in constant conversation with their customers, making them feel valued and like an individual. This ongoing narrative combined with more positive ideas of beauty, builds a strong community and drives loyalty.

Passive outsider vs Active force for good

Historically, traditional brands have been more passive and wouldn’t be seen to be taking an active role in social issues. However today, 72% of consumers want brands to be positive contributors to society and a lot of indie beauty brands (and young brands in general) are taking a bolder stance in being a force for good.

Take skincare brand UpCircle. After discovering that one third of all food produced is wasted, UpCircle decided to elevate leftover natural ingredients (such as old coffee grounds) and repurpose them into natural and sustainable beauty products. Brands that can deliver on great products but also contribute positively to society are a win-win and will triumph with today’s consumer. 

Exclusive vs Inclusive

Traditional beauty brands have generally pitched to a ‘typical’ beauty consumer (the young, white, heterosexual woman) but indie brands today are focusing on inclusivity, through using images of real people and in some cases, explicitly focusing their brand on providing for the underserved communities.

Half of Gen Z today say society isn't accepting enough to those who identify as non-binary (Pew Research Centre) and there are many non-gender specific make up brands now gaining traction. Fluide is a brand that has based their entire proposition around inclusivity; they create ‘make up for everyone’ and donate 5% of their profits to LGBTQ+ charities. Progressive, purpose driven brands that resonate with the world view of today’s consumers, will always drive connection and loyalty.


Corporate vs Authentic

A huge benefit of indie brands is that consumers can feel close to the founder story. According to Sprout Social, 70% of consumers feel more connected to a brand whose CEO is active on social media, which is near impossible for the heritage beauty brands to replicate. It’s much harder to feel connected with corporate and faceless brands, but by showing the human side and what’s behind the scenes, indie brands can win on authenticity.


Slow vs Reactive

By being so engaged with their consumers, indie beauty brands can be extremely reactive and act on customer feedback fast.

B for Beauty, (who own The Inkey Test), have 2/10 of their team purely focussed on interacting with customers and giving instant responses. When The Inkey Test launched their beta hydroxy acid, their customers asked the brand why they didn’t create one for acne prone skin. The brand connected with these consumers through Instagram and involved them in creating and trialling an acne friendly product. The Inkey Test now have really loyal advocates, not only because they have engaged with them but also genuinely helped their skin.


Transactional vs Building a relationship

With traditional beauty brands, the entire transaction is at the beauty counter, often characterised as the ‘student-teacher’ interaction. Today’s indie brands however are opening up the conversation with their consumers and building on relationships.

Glossier built their entire brand around consumers. Based off learnings from her beauty blog ‘Into The Gloss’, Emily Weiss created and developed products with real people, to ensure the products would answer genuine consumer desires. For one product launch, Glossier didn’t even use influencers, but 500 of their most engaged customers.

When customers feel connected to brands, 76% said they will buy from them again over a competitor. Weiss has consistently said they have fiercely loyal advocates of their brand and it is from the amazing customer experience. Glossier was valued at $1.2 billion in 2019.

There has been a shift from leaving the brand at the till, to engaging and feeling connected to brands long after purchase. By doing this, indie brands make consumers feel like a valued individual and that will always drive loyalty.

The finishing touch…

The rise of indie beauty brands have demonstrated a shift in behaviour and perceptions - what was once desirable in traditional brands no longer resonates with today’s consumers.


  • Building awareness has shifted from something we see to something we engage with.
  • The way brands sell products has changed from a broken transaction to a seamless transaction.
  • And finally, instead of telling consumers what they need, these agile and dynamic brands are now asking people what they want.


This quote from Alicia Yoon, the founder of indie beauty brand Peach and Lily sums it up perfectly:

"Picking a brand these days feels a little bit like choosing friends, and a lot of indie brands are just so great at providing that warmth and connection”

By Harriet Stansall, Cultural Trends Specialist at Kingfisher Consultancy 

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If you want to elevate your brand strategy by harnessing insights from Cultural Trends research, please contact us at and our specialist Insights, Trends and Strategy Teams will be able to help.


The emotional potency of fragrance

Decoding the complexity of consumer perception

In the body care and cosmetics category, the annual number of new product launches is at an all-time high and “acceptance of fragrance” is a critical measure for success by many sensorial-focused brands. But what makes a personal care product attractive to a consumer? 

Consumers always take into account (both consciously and subconsciously) multiple explicit and implicit product features when evaluating a new product. Beside their affinity for the brand or the perceived product performance at an efficacy level, the emotional, associative and sensory characteristics of the product (i.e. what it projects) is just as important to consumers' evaluation of personal relevance and perceived quality. 

Fragrance is a key aspect amongst sensory cues, especially in the area of body care and home care products. This is because...

  • smell (more than any other sense), triggers intense memories and emotions (As shown in this 2004 fMRI study)
  • and fragrance can have a positive influence on consumer mood (and emotional availability)
  • it can trigger positive associative thoughts that influence product perception
  • and can have a positive influence on the perception of the provider brand
  • fragrance can also trigger more spontaneous and impulsive purchasing behaviour

Unfortunately, very often, fragrances are rejected by consumers because of an implicit cultural disconnect which influences their perception that the product concept is not in line with the intended purpose, brand or conceptual positioning. This issue can be complexified when needing to find the right fragrance to fit different audiences, across multiple countries and diverse cultures. 

Based on many years of global consumer research for fragrance houses and manufacturers of cosmetic products, it is possible to identify both atypical and normative patterns for consumer preferences, deep dive associated fragrance beliefs, and explain related cultural perceptions and their attributable behaviour triggers. 

Here are some foundational insights we’ve identified along the way…

1. Fragrance expectation and propensity to “like” a fragrance is always influenced by perceived positioning and product type 

Consumers have clearly differentiated fragrance expectations when it comes to experiencing different cosmetic types and formats. Further to inherited and culturally-driven associations, expectations for product scent is also dictated by the perceived function and benefit that product offers. For example, an ideal fragrance for a shampoo may be articulated as markedly different from the ideal scent for a shower product as expectations about each product’s performance and perceived benefits for skin versus hair will significantly differ. Our research has shown that a shower product with a “caring” positioning and a creamy texture indicated on its packaging triggers a notably different cognitive response and fragrance expectation compared to a shower product with a colored gel texture and “freshness” positioning on pack. Furthermore, a shampoo with an anti-dandruff positioning evokes entirely different fragrance expectations compared to the reception of a caring shampoo for dry hair. Language used in specific ingredient claims on pack also plays a notable role in triggering specific fragrance expectations… 

2. There are clear cultural differences when it comes to the perception and the ‘liking’ of a fragrance

Many manufacturers and fragrance houses are interested to learn that the perception and potential ‘liking’ of a fragrance will depend enormously on the consumers’ cultural identity and their unique scent-association with where they have lived and where they grew up. The reason for this is because positive and negative associations are evoked by fragrance themes and these sensory and cognitive triggers are always culture-born and culture-specific. Here are some examples of how this ‘culture-factor’ has manifested in our fragrance research engaging consumers across a wide variety of different countries and regions…   

  • In Europe a fragrance with a clear herbal and green character was linked to palliative natural remedy, while in China it was associated with curative medical treatment. Both interpretations were determined by the disparate experience of associated medical products in the two regions.
  • In a multi-country research project on fabric softeners, a pine fragrance theme was mostly disliked by consumers from Northern European countries who associated this fragrance with harshness and functional cleanliness (seemingly too unnatural and artificial and not reminiscent enough of familiar pine tree-studded landscapes) while it was very attractive for most consumers from Southern European countries who imagined the freshness of forests (despite never having lived near pine trees).
  • Sometimes consumers tend to perceive a product as not perfumed at all when they are familiar with it since early childhood. For example, German consumers tended not to be able to detect a distinct fragrance when they smelt classic NIVEA cream.

3. The set-up can strongly influence the results of a fragrance test

Another important topic to consider when it comes to fragrance research and understanding consumer perception is that the timing of the product test can have a strong influence on test results if not considered carefully. Here’s an example: 

  • A product test in Germany for a female perfume with an oriental character was conducted in the middle of the summer during a heat wave. It achieved very bad test results. The repetition of the same test in autumn showed much better results yet the fragrance had not changed. Notably by our careful repeat-methodology design and deep dive analysis of all sample responses, we were able to prove that strong oriental fragrances were seen by their target audience as too heavy and not appropriate for hot summers thereby informing a campaign launch for later in the year to great success.


When it comes to conducting fragrance research, these 3 starting insights into the typical patterns to be found in local consumer beliefs, culture-born fragrance perception and multi-market in-test behaviour helpfully points us to the following 3 top tips for your fragrance research…

  1. Whenever possible, fragrance research or fragrance testing should be done in the countries where the product with its respective scent will be launched. i.e. no market should be considered a proxy for another.
  2. When defining ideal time and test conditions, parallel exploratory research into flavour, format and packaging semiotics in the context of the target consumers’ culture should be carefully taken into account.
  3. In addition to “fragrance liking” as a quantitative metric, a fragrance test should always include attribute selection as a follow-up question and where possible a qualitative engagement to analyse why a fragrance is more or less liked to get to deeper and more actionable insights that can specifically inform fragrance development and scent theme rework. 

By Anke Pelmer, Consumer Insights Specialist at Kingfisher Consultancy in Germany

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For more information on fragrance research and how we do scent testing at Kingfisher, or to ask us to provide you with specific flavour or packaging semiotic analysis for your brand, please click on the button below or email quoting FRAGRANCE in your title. We look forward to hearing from you. 


The Changing State of Chinese Luxury

So what's new in the world of Chinese luxury?

Whilst many analysts focused on the seesaw-like ups and downs, results of economic fluctuations and anti-corruption measures seen in recent years, the story of Chinese luxury is that of a continuous structural shift of taste and expectations, which is not entirely hinged to what the economy and even the government does. 

As in many other evolving economies, e.g. neighboring Japan, increased exposure to fashion, luxury and foreign travel have brought about a more mature and discerning Chinese consumer. But because China is so vast, and development has been uneven, China’s luxury market has quickly become tiered and fragmented, with the wealthiest (commonly referred to as “tier 1”) cities Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou/ Shenzhen racing ahead of less developed localities. 

A Carat & Jing-daily study distinguishes five different typologies of luxury consumers, from aficionados at one end, sophisticated consumers who are now turning their noses up at the logo-heavy ‘secretary’s brands’, e.g. Louis Vuitton, to bling kings on the other end, typically nouveaux riche from the interior provinces, still very much into showy status symbols. Value retail, the company behind Luxury Outlet Bicester Village in the UK and a number of outlets in China, says it continuously introduces new brands in the “premium and super-premium“ luxury segments e.g. Hermes, Alexander Mc. Queen and Bottega Veneta, in an effort to accommodate one part of their Chinese HNV shoppers, while briskly selling Gucci wallets to Chinese tour groupers. 

Looking to the future, China’s millennials and Gen Z’s harbor different aspirations altogether. They are individualistic, environmentally conscious and spiritual. According to Angelica Cheung, editor-in-chief of Vogue China, “they have their own opinion about what they like, instead of rushing out to buy anything that the fashion authorities tell them without thinking.” And often, what suits them is not the luxury products of their elders but a much more street-inspired, relaxed and sporty style. Part luxury fatigue, part rise of a fitness craze; sports and athleisure wear has been rising in popularity in China, outstripping luxury in growth figures. 

Finally, a notable trend sees Chinese consumers pay more attention to home-grown luxury as part of a search for Chinese cultural identity and distinct expression. In a 2014 study among 600 Chinese luxury targets, Added Value, a marketing firm, found that 84% of those surveyed believe that in the future, Chinese luxury brands will be "just as good" as Western luxury brands. 

China’s newest Luxury hotel chain, NUO, defines itself as a representative of “modern Ming style“ and stands for a pursuit of inspired sophistication in the Chinese tradition. Its Yuan tea-house offers exclusive tea from NUO’s five tea plantations around China, and the SPA provides a unique “Tea Journey” treatment. The hotel associated with a number of rising lifestyle brands such as furniture maker Nanmu Studio to fashion its interiors. 

While Hospitality and Lifestyle top the sectors of expected Chinese luxury growth, fashion is not far behind. Andrew Keith, president of Lane Crawford and Joyce department stores says that some local luxury consumers now “view Chinese designer collections as being more tailored to their preferences and body types”. Kathrin Von Rechenberg, a Beijing based designer, explains the growth her brand enjoys is a result of her clients’ appreciation for traditional materials and techniques. Von Rechenberg uses manually colored tea-silks in her garments. 

The international success of China’s rising fashion pack; the likes of Zhang Huishan, Angel Chen, Shu Shu/Tong, or Ms Min, who recently was shortlisted for the LVMH Prize reinforces the positioning of local creators.

As seen across many other sectors, we might be witnessing the growth of a specific home-grown luxury concept with uniquely Chinese characteristics.

By Felicia Schwartz, Chinese Brand Communications Specialist, Cross-Cultural Communications Consultant at Kingfisher Consultancy China & UK

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For more information on the codes, cues and trends in Chinese Luxury email quoting 'CHINESE LUXURY'. 

We look forward to hearing from you!

Changing the Beauty conversation


How the digital age has shaped our ideals of beauty and what your brand can do now

#bodygoals #thinspiration #fitspiration

The digital age has seen the beauty industry and peer pressures of social media, cause people to chase impossible beauty ideals to devastating effects in so many cases around the world. We explore what brands should do to behave more responsibly for their consumers. 

From body-shaming beginnings to current selfie-consciousness...

The digital age has caused a monumental shift in the way we consume and are influenced by advertised beauty ideals. Now no longer reliant on reaching us via magazine print, TV commercials or newspaper advertising, beauty brands (and their standards for what beautiful means) can pop up on our computer screens and smart TVs at any given moment. Even more crucially though, they are ever-present in our social network feeds in the palms of our hands and, even when in our pockets in the background of our lives, gathering and curating targeted data to gain our attention and ‘likes’. 

In the years just preceding this proximity phenomena, Western beauty ideals were represented by repeated images of body extremes – representing exaggerations of the female form from busty corset-wearing celebrities, to self-defining “skinny” icons such as Twiggy, and latterly Kate Moss. 

Noticeably, it was the rise of the ‘skinny discourse’ and the subsequent shaming of ‘plus sizes’ that has been linked to the increase in anorexia rates that rose steeply in the late 90’s, causing the highest death rate of all mental disorders of this period, according to psychiatric reports. Conversely, global obesity rates simultaneously skyrocketed, rising by an estimated 100 million between 1990 and 2000, with the World Health Organisation labelling obesity as an ‘epidemic’.  

Notably, by the early 2000’s a dangerous binary polarisation began to form in many people’s minds, with various western cultures judging beauty through the harsh lens of an individual either being ‘too fat’ or ‘too thin’.

The early 00s ushered in the era of social media and smartphones, which gave birth to ‘selfie culture’. Suddenly everyone who wanted a public profile was on Facebook, Myspace, or similar platforms, where their photos were displayed to be judged (‘liked’) or commented on by other users.

Meanwhile, apps such as Tinder, Grindr and PoF were in development, and all based on the premise that people could like or dislike potential matches based almost solely on a person’s physical appearance. By the time online dating was normalised behaviour, we had contributed to an environment where beauty was a competition where the most attractive profile wins. 

Most recently, we see how platforms such as Twitter and Instagram have given users the ability to gain their own fan base, and like-wise as fans, ‘follow’ their own idols – subtly permissing a new form of semi-voyeurism where not only beauty is judged and commented on, but users are actively encouraged to access and engage with ‘candid’ personal life imagery.  When we consider how younger audiences are one of the most active user groups of platforms such as these, it provokes the urgent question, what are we teaching our children about self-worth? 

Distorting Real Beauty

With the practice of airbrushing becoming a routine part of the professional photo editing process, it’s now rare to come across an advertised image of a model or celebrity that hasn’t been enhanced in some way. We’re now bombarded with manipulated images of social influencers who’ve had their necks lengthened, breasts enlarged, eyes widened, or muscles bulked.The result is that these false images inform new standards of beauty in followers’ minds and people who engage with them can find it depressingly impossible to recreate these ideals in their own lives. Dove’s iconic Evolution campaign highlighted the repercussions of this movement with stark clarity.

Seemingly solving the problem of inaccessible airbrushing capabilities, social media platforms, mobile operating systems and app developers have jumped on the bandwagon and provided simplified tools to the masses. Within the last few years, we see tech giants such as Snapchat and Instagram providing photo filters that allow the user to smooth their skin, or brighten their face, or enlarge their eyes.  A recent player fast becoming popular amongst young audiences is Facetune, which offers simplistic Photoshop-style alteration features where the user can even manipulate tooth colour, lip fullness, facial structure, body shape and muscle density.

Several studies suggest that these apps and filters are damaging to people’s confidence and can lead to issues such as Body Dysmorphic Disorder, described by the NHS as ‘a mental health condition where a person becomes obsessed by flaws in their appearance, which are usually not noticeable to others – and causing self-esteem amongst young people to plummet’.

The unrealistic beauty ideals caused by photoshopped idols and the beauty industry has seen record numbers of cosmetic surgery as increasing numbers of people feel the need to become more self-confident. From 2014, all cosmetic surgery procedures grew in occurrence, and in 2015 the number of males getting cosmetic surgery doubled in comparison with the previous decade. 

Plastic surgeons are now reporting patients bringing filtered selfies to illustrate their desired appearance, in a phenomenon the Boston Medical Centre are calling ‘Snapchat Dysmorphia’.

Whilst undergoing a cosmetic procedure is not something one should be ashamed of, it’s continuing rise feeds into a “rat race culture where it feels like a constant beauty pageant.” according to Renee Engeln, Professor of Psychology at Northwestern University, and author of Beauty Sick: How the Cultural Obsession with Appearance Hurts Girls and Women


At the acute end of the problem we see young people increasingly revealing a subconscious bias in their perception of what they consider a ‘normal’ face or body, and the consequence is that more and more children are growing up believing “I could look better”. In the UK alone, evidence by the British Medical Journal suggests eating disorders between ages 10-49 years, rose from 32.3% to 37.2% in just 9 years from 2000 to 2009. 

The green shoots of body positivity

It may not all be doom and gloom. There are reasons to believe that the situation is improving.

The latter part of this decade feels as though a wave of positive change is coming.

Social media is, to a degree, a democratised space; it has given a platform for expression for all individuals and people are no longer accepting the role of a passive consumer of media. This paradigm shift within beauty discourse has resulted in an increase in the prevalence of messages of inclusivity, and most notably, body positivity. Champions of these messages, such as Harnam Kaur, the ‘bearded lady’, and Khoudia Diop, who turned her turned her story of childhood bullying for her dark skin into a modelling career, may become the new idols.

Brands are increasingly becoming aware of this cultural shift too. Some of the most widely celebrated fashion and beauty campaigns of recent times are Asos beauty’s Go play and Aerie’s Real me. In doll manufacturing, Barbie has disrupted their category by recently launching a curvier doll in response to increasing consumer demand, and Sports Illustrated are spearheading the way for other magazines to follow suit continuously celebrating their plus-sized models front and centre. Those brands not keeping up with these tides of change are risking being side-lined and overtly chastened by their audiences online (see Protein World’s recent ‘Beach Body Ready’ advert and any of the public commentary backlash that followed this body shaming campaign). 

New Rules, Ok!

Recent studies conducted by creative agency Brave, measured women’s emotional responses to beauty adverts, with stimuli ranging from conventional beauty ad tropes to the more inclusive and hyper real stories. Overall, the ‘real’ adverts scored higher in emotional impact than the conventional ‘hope in a bottle’ ones. 

The highest scores were achieved by those that fully adopted the consumer demand for celebrating diversity and challenging stereotypes (see ads by H&M and Dove), while those who adopted this cultural movement more ‘half-heartedly’ achieved little to no emotional impact. (See examples by Rimmel and L’Oréal Elvive to see what you think).

These results underline our own observations at Kingfisher Consultancy in our Beauty Cultural Trends studies around the world where we are noticing a significant cultural shift happening, where young women especially are rejecting beauty ideals citing inauthenticity and body alteration as their key reasons and by way of reaction, are increasingly embracing the semiotic codes of hyperreal body positivity.

Brand responsibility means doing more than tweeting #inclusivity

In light of this new landscape, it is worth considering how your brand can play a role in joining this positive movement for change. If your ideal world is one that celebrates beauty, no matter the size and shape and colour, then have you asked your teams, what else your brand could do beyond just featuring real bodies and real people in adverts? 

We believe that as a brand embracing ‘beauty realness’ you have a rare opportunity right now to build in authentic storytelling marketing and consumer engagement strategies by taking up the role of educating your local audiences on the positives of self-care. You might even want to consider going one step further and offering outreach and local community support for anyone dealing with body confidence or mental health issues such as low self-esteem and depression, body or social anxiety, anorexia, bulimia, or body dysmorphia (to name some of the most common illnesses and issues experienced by young people today). 

You’re not alone

Here at Kingfisher Consultancy, we work with many beauty, nutraceutical, healthcare, supplements, wellbeing and cosmetic brands and are on hand to help you lend your positive change campaigns extra credibility by introducing you to experts from the world of healthcare, nutrition, mental health, wellbeing and fitness. 

By sharpening and motivating your plans with directional local market insights and strategically relevant cultural trends data we can help you create compelling communications and brand activations that truly result in positive change for your consumer, ensuring you do your bit to ensure future conversations on beauty are body positive. 

By Nico Binns, Cultural Trends & Insights Consultant at Kingfisher Consultancy

We're here to help!

If you want to learn more about how your organisation can help change  beauty discourse for the better, email quoting reference 'BODY POSITIVE'.  We look forward to working with you.

Gender Fluidity

Gathering meaningful data in a gender fluid world

A 2016 study by J Walter Thompson found that whilst 43% of those born between 1982 and 1988 reported knowing someone who uses gender-neutral pronouns ("they", "them", or "ze") and this figure increased to 56% amongst those born after 1996.  

Notably, when purchasing, 54% of “Generation Z”, reported buying across gender lines.  

Whether private or public sector, today's brands face mounting consumer demands to recognise gender diversity.  Commercially speaking, the "pink pound" or "dorothy dollar" is valued globally at over a trillion dollars, according to Bloomberg, and so the opportunity to engage the LGBTQ+ audience is a no-brainer.

But beyond the commercial opportunity, the social reality in 2018 is that LGBTQ+ hatred is on the rise. 

As Beverly Tillery (Executive Director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project (AVP)) puts it, “NCAVP data shows that hate-driven violence often occurs in the private places we frequent, like our communities, homes, workplaces, and in shelters. By setting an expectation and standard of non-discrimination in employment, education, housing, healthcare, and all public accommodations, as a country, we will set an expectation of safety and respect for LGBTQ+ people.” 

So to create successful models of inclusivity, including anti-hate cultures for working and living, and to enable better crime prevention at the local level, we as an industry, need to provide governments, brands and local organisations with better and more meaningful data. 

The Market Research Society (MRS) has released an extensive guide recognising both the importance and the challenges of capturing data on the fluid nature of gender.  For example, the MRS guide accepts that "other" and even transgender is an umbrella term which needs unpacking to get to meaningful data.  

Several more identities within the "other" category could include, but are not limited to, polygender, intergender, nongender, agender and transsexual.  Compelled by the global movements calling on brands and corporations to be more inclusive, the urgency to get beyond the gender binary has never been stronger.  Facebook discovered this first hand in 2014, when it was adding 21 more gender options and matching pronouns to its existing 50 gender descriptors.

There needs to be caution in this rush to collect more accurate gender identity data. It is undeniable that gender identity is highly sensitive information, and researchers are obliged to protect both the data and respondents' rights according to Law.  

Making sure respondents feel safe being honest about their gender is imperative for upholding the ethics and validity of your research.  Sometimes, it may be more appropriate to exclude the capture of gender identity altogether. 

Taking the right approach in capturing gender identification when it is essential for the project, may mean in some cases, rethinking your fundamental methodology.

In the process of gathering data on gender identity, researchers are likely to encounter a number of roadblocks.  Overcoming most of these challenges is surprisingly simple, with a few requiring significant changes to our concepts and approaches.

Try to avoid statement agreement tick boxes

Gender identity, especially for those redefining theirs, is an acutely personal topic.  A simple tick in a box it may be, but the sociologist, Howard Becker, points out that there are "rules created and maintained by such labeling".  These rules help to steer behaviour and construct identity as soon as a label is chosen.  Researchers have a responsibility to not only provide terminology for participants to accurately express themselves, but also to offer a format, context, and environment in which they feel comfortable doing so.

Be mindful of cultural variation

In multi-market studies, it is critical that researchers recognise the local characteristics that might shape gender identities.  While in some cultures "third gender" specifically refers to a person identifying as neither man nor woman, others use the term more widely to contest the gender binary.  Besides cultural and linguistic factors, how anyone identifies and discusses their gender identity will be influenced by local attitudes and laws.

A need for flexibility

The convention of forcing respondents to answer a question before moving on to the next may guarantee the capture of data, but this insistence will cause some respondents to feel uncomfortable and ultimately compel some to provide inaccurate information undermining your data set.  

If a person is in the process of exploring which gender identification they are comfortable with, a question which demands answers will be forcing them to draw conclusions when they may not be ready to do so.  Furthermore, this form of surveying wrongly suggests gender identity is static.  As shown by terms like "multigender", an individual could simultaneously identify with more than one gender and may change gender identification throughout their lifetime.

A need for tailored questions

Recycling pre-tested gender identity questions will not produce data that represents a gender fluid society. Instead, researchers have a responsibility to identify the best terminology and question structure for the context being studied.  For example, as noted by Stonewall, an LGBTQ+ campaigns organisation, studies about people who have transitioned genders should not use the term "trans" because individuals may not identify as "trans" if they are in the process of transitioning or if they have transitioned to a certain gender identity that they consider to be right for them in spite of birth assignment


Kingfisher's Best Practice Top Tips

All stages of the research process from planning, to data collection, to analysis and reporting, are opportunities to better represent and respond to the evolving nature of gender identification.  In what follows, we share a few top tips from Kingfisher's toolkit for gender identity research.

Top Tip #1: Identify the real priorities in your planning phase

Your clients, and their priorities, hold the key to how your research will engage respondents on the topic of gender identification.  This is your chance to work closely with clients and ask them: 

  1. What specifically do you want to learn from this research?
  2. How will the insights from this research help your organisation? 

Their answers to these two critical questions will help you decide whether gender identification is necessarily in scope.  For example, if a client wants to understand their customers' experience of one of their food retail outlets so to identify opportunities for improving staff service, they are unlikely to need a gender breakdown in the sample set.  It may be meaningful enough to analyse customers’ experiences against their travel time to the store, or whether they got food to go or stayed in the venue.  

If however, your client wants to understand how their local patients feel about their staff’s care and support, then including questions on gender may well help to identify otherwise unforeseen staff prejudice or discrimination issues.

Top Tip #2: Design culturally-appropriate questions and flexible engagement methodologies

Gender identity, being non-static, is an area in which respondents may answer in ways researchers may not expect, and questionnaire design (whether for recruitment or research purposes) should allow room for this.  A self-description box, in addition to a "prefer to not say" option, gives respondents the freedom to express the nuances of their gender identity whereas an online survey- with fixed parameters- will not. Consider how certain methods enable honest exchange where others might do the opposite and actively encourage facetious or dishonest responses. 

Notably, some methodologies so empower respondents to open up honestly on the topic of gender that they end up answering questions you may not know how to ask. For example, an online moderated community can create a controlled and safe environment for respondents to share their ideas without fears of judgement so to fully elaborate on their personal points of view and experiences.

In foreign markets, researchers will benefit hugely from working with local translators, local LGBTQ+ NGOs and local legal teams in the design phase of their research project.  These collaborations can help reveal what is culturally-appropriate and lawful, in terms of language, data protection and handling, and research participation best practice.  Research agencies which have local teams in these markets will be well placed to help ensure research design is culturally appropriate.

Based on learning from these helpful partners, researchers can include clearer definitions of key terms in their questionnaire, so that all respondents are clear on what is meant and intended. Guidance from Stonewall notes that labels of all kinds, even if defined, may not mean the same thing to everyone, and so in addition to clear descriptions, it can be helpful to ask participants to provide their own definitions.

Top Tip #3: Collect data with a sharpened sensitivity to gender variation

Amongst the various techniques and approaches available, a critical element to your research project is to not overlook making your researchers, recruiters, and facilitators sensitive to the fluid nature of gender identification.  Apart from ensuring best practice at your organisation, there are both legal and ethical reasons for making sure everyone on your project is trained up on the subject.

With increased sensitivity, anyone involved in collecting data would know, for instance, that certain research methods in the context of gender identification may be unethical.  Observational research such as ethnography or some forms of mystery shopping by themselves, for example, should not be used to determine a respondent’s gender.

As one commentator, Natasha Devon, puts it in The Guardian, "gender bias becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, if we continue to decide someone's gender based on stereotypes, namely assuming that sport and muscles means boys and curves and baking means girls.”   

So, if (during your retail ethnography research fieldwork) you spot someone trying on make-up in a store, consider doing a follow-up interview where you ask them to describe their gender and explain their product choices, so to gain more reliable evidence rather than relying on your own assumption-based observational bias.

Clarity is not only vital in the data researchers collect, but also in how we communicate with respondents during that collection.  Participants should always be informed as to why the research is being conducted and how their data will be analysed, used and stored.  This is to ensure that they do not feel under pressure to share personal information, and are aware that they have the option to withdraw and change answers at any point during your project.

Top Tip #4: Practice conscientious analysis and respectful reporting

This is your opportunity to demonstrate how you handle data with both clients' and respondents' interests in mind.  As many researchers know, to maintain respondents' security, access to their information should be restricted and answers should be anonymised. When it comes to gender studies, reporting should focus on aggregated data results to protect individual’s privacy rights.  

If a small sample of respondents’ data needs to be scrutinised in greater depth to fully understand an individual’s personal experience, attitude or opinion, it is our advice to first let these individual participants know the purpose and method of your analysis so to obtain their free consent before you begin.

A good example of this is highlighted by Stonewall in its guidance to Barclays bank.  Employees experiencing gender variance were asked to provide personal data on the subject of gender in light of their experience working for the bank. 

By reassuring respondents on how their data was going to be handled, researchers enabled their respondents to answer honestly on the subject of gender.

As accurate data was gathered sensitively, the results of this research helped inform targeted professional development initiatives, and paved the way for Barclays to ensure their company culture became much more inclusive.

Evidently, researchers who reassure respondents on how their data is going to be handled enable their respondents to answer honestly on the subject of gender. With meaningful data gathered, those researchers are then better equipped to help their clients develop positive initiatives that actually solve problems of discrimination and prejudice. 

Just as the world outside the research world progresses, so should researchers continually strive to  improve their standards of practice. 

After all, to ensure we deliver meaningful data to our clients, we must first respect the rights of our respondents.

By Crystal Evans, CEO of Kingfisher Consultancy


A Necessary Mindset: The Stoic Marketeer


The cost of early AI CRM

Across many different disciplines, commercial and otherwise, the term 'AI' is being bandied about like the word 'email' was back in the early 90s. It's likely to impact human society at every level, and for good or ill, it is coming. In fact, it has, in various degrees of complexity, been around for some while. Remember 'fuzzy logic'? Admittedly without a PhD in mathematics and computing, I cannot claim any deep understanding of the mechanics or the form AI will likely take when it finally reaches the majority of us on a day-to-day basis. I too have watched Will Smith and company reveal an all too frightening future of AI, a portent originally written by Asimov, himself influenced by science fiction writers of the 1930s and 40s. But, nevertheless, it comes, and I think far from being swept up and owned by tomorrow's coders, there are opportunities for us now, even without those PhDs.

Impeccable iterative learning

Upon reflection, the inevitability of advanced AI taking over the time-consuming, highly repetitive and weighty data analysis to achieve better product targeting appeals. With our heads already having to grapple with Big Data, and spreadsheets (and spreadsheets and spreadsheets....) being the fundamental tools of the marketer's work more and more, dropping an AI in to handle this and spit out the optimised data-driven direction we should take seems an extremely attractive prospect.

The only downside is, when it becomes available, harnessed for the marketer through some cleverly designed, user friendly interface (HAL?), it will become available for all. And so you and your competitors will still remain at loggerheads. 

The way that AI differs from current computing can be simplified as this; it learns iteratively. It does not return an error or crash; it returns a best guess, and it does not need to be programmed to take every specific step. It observes available phenomena, and then acts in anticipation of the same set of circumstances. When the results are suprising, it learns more, and changes its future decisions accordingly.

So far, humans have been the only machines capable of storing the learnings from broad, complex, changing landscapes over time (fairly well, but often, unfortunately, with errors from cognitive bias (see our Perspective piece on this at the bottom of this page). Yet, we're given to believe that AI will serve this particular function, impeccably.

The truth is...

We remain some way off. Don't believe all the hype. Granted, some phenomenal leaps have been made with a recently developed AI now (arguably) being the global 'Go' champion (a game far more complex than Chess, and a journey admirably portrayed in this year's Netflix cult classic  'AlphaGo', about Google's DeepMind AI). But given that your AI will only perform as well as the data you give it, it turns out, there is work for us to do right now. 

Consider this: a child with 3 GCSE qualifications will, more than likely, be able to function at the same level as a child that has 10 GCSE qualifications in the long run. We are all pluripotential. But the premise here is that the child with 10 GCSEs will most likely get there faster. 

So what now, right now?

4 Lessons to prepare you for the Future of Data-driven Marketing

When it comes to optimising marketing spend, there are a series of factors that are needed for input. Spend, for one. Specifically, how much customers spend. Obviously. And the other factors are also pretty obvious. When, where, how (often), what. Then there is communication- what channels? And to tie this all together, there is who. Which of your customers spend how much. 

Lesson 1: Clean up, throw out and fortify your data architecture for exponential growth 

This lesson, in various forms, has kicked off thousands of articles on CRM for some years now, and so should be taken with great comfort. These data are also those which will be needed for our future AI to learn from. 

So, what's the learning? Build your information architecture to accommodate these (growing) data as well as concomitant data that you can also gather (e.g. the less important, but often interesting socio-demographic data). Remove silos; if you can't cross map it, you need to bin it; it's worthless. And finally... Review your data collection points. Are your postcodes being entered in free-text boxes? Are your customer emails being validated in real time, or at least every day or just before send? Are your opt in lists watertight? 

As all good CRM strategists will inform you, your data also needs to be clean, de-duped- and- current. If your product ranges have changed within the last 2 years, data from 3 or more years ago is simply a distraction. And finally, is your system able to handle new parameters easily? Can you flag groups of transactions easily for follow up analyses? Or does your agency charge you every time?

Lesson 2: Conduct marketing experiments; and track the results

Once your data is coming in cleanly, and mapping across to relevant historical transactions for each customer, to get insight that will serve the purposes of self-learning automation, marketing scenarios need to be played out, and results tracked. This largely involves executing campaigns to varying groups of customers over time with different messages or offers, tracking new product adoption and end-of-line behaviours; i.e. all normal marketing activities that currently go on. But add some housekeeping (record the dates of executions, the purposes of the campaigns and the thinking behind the audiences chosen), and deploy with iterative learning in mind; ideally, flagging, with a unique campaign code, every audience reached. 

Beyond offer value and price point testing, there is time of day, channel, creative, weather impact as well as product combination testing for upsell and cross sell insight. And different customer responses to all of these will help build a deeply complex and ROI savvy marketing strategy. Remember; your opt-outs are your control population.

Lesson 3: Be prepared to take the rough with the smooth 

It is a fallacy to believe the adage that "Man didn't get to the moon by analysing failed launches". Quite the opposite, in fact. And this is to be borne in mind when approaching the marketing test design and execution. When paving the way for the future of data driven marketing, campaigns that do not result in bottom line uplift are equally as insightful. In principle, this is an easy concept to grapple with, but when the finance team is waving sales data at the board meeting, this storm needs to be weathered. It is a really tough scenario, and I'm sorry to have to pass this on. But the beauty of data is that there is always another insight. There are two main goals with marketing; increase sales and increase awareness. Keep in mind that when a campaign did not increase the overall sales that month, concomitant factors may reveal very exciting, positive trends with customer lifetime value implications; did footfall increase? Did you recall more lapsed customers than previously? 

Lesson 4: Remember, ultimately it is a team effort - collaboration is critical to you future-proofing your business.

The advent of AI in marketing will no doubt result in significant movement towards lean marketing teams. And already, CRM job descriptors are requiring coding alongside marketing strategy. But the groundwork can be done now, and is being led by diligent marketers already adopting the iterative, data driven approach to their day-to-day. But, as with the data itself, it cannot be done in silos. Make sure marketing has a seat at the table in information architecture conversations between IT and data warehousing providers. Ensure that sales review teams at the highest levels are aware of the multi-faceted goals you seek and prepare them for the peaks and troughs. 

Collaboration and ideation working groups need to be set up at the development stages between Web, e-Commerce, app, marketing, data warehousing and mobile marketing teams. Otherwise, you may find a non-native POS software agency that cannot provide your internal teams with product level data kiboshing any real chance of succeeding in the targeted marketing game. 

By Dr Louisa Evans, Customer Loyalty and CRM Strategy Director at Kingfisher Consultancy

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Customer Segmentation: Value is Always Right


Flipchart fatigue

It was one of those meetings. You know, all the agencies are there, all the various client teams are there, and everyone had something to add, to prove why the way they had always done it was so great.

In various guises, we've all attended these meetings. You're gathered to shake up the marketing spend. To refocus on the customer; to develop a new path that is going to be the final ad infinitum customer targeting map that maximises every marketing pound spent. 

Often, the rooms we are in have 4 walls. Against each wall is a flip chart, where we are grouped into 4 teams to ideate around 1 or 2 personas, resulting in 4 to 8 different customer types. Obviously if you've only got 3 flip charts, then you get a range of customer personas that turn out to be a multiple of 3. Yeah. Flip chart availability becoming the most important determining factor of ongoing marketing strategy.

So anyway, in this meeting, we had 4 different agencies, each with 4 different segmentations. The agencies were responsible for direct marketing, email marketing, SMS marketing and data warehousing and analysis. 

Understandably, the client felt the need to coalesce or at least converge upon one segmentation, one model to keep one language they could move forward with for all of their customer service teams.

Direct marketing agency had rich geo-demographic data. All the postcodes. Grouped against all their local supply hubs.

Email marketing agency had rich email interaction data. Everyone listed in order of willingness to open emails.

SMS marketing agency knew exactly which of their contacts could be reached by SMS.

The data warehousing agency had all the sales data, and all the opted-in individuals details. So they knew who bought what when.

Before the sales data had been organised and distributed, there was no tie in, at the customer level, of who bought what

The segment personas were simply conceptions, each beautifully described (with the maximum number of characteristics afforded by the maximum number of bullet points on a PowerPoint slide in font size 18) from their available data. 

Value is always right

Turned out, people that live in big houses don't spend the most on the client's products.

Turned out, people that open their emails the most or have opted in for SMS communications don't spend the most on the client's products either.

Turned out, every single non-value segmentation resulted in customer segments with identical average spend over lifetime.

A shame really, when the client had access to all sales data for every transaction for all consumers, and a simple K means clustering analysis would have given them a list of their most valuable customers, and cross mapping those with opt in across email and SMS would result in fewer marketing pounds wasted on those that won't respond to SMS, email or pamphlet drops. 

In total, their optimal CRM strategy would have been to prioritise just 20% of those that they were in contact with, saving the rest of their marketing budget for national campaigns to increase their overall reach.

But there were 4 whiteboards and 4 walls and 4 agencies. So they ended up spending on 80% more marketing than they needed to. If only they'd spoken to us first.

By the CRM Strategy Team at Kingfisher Consultancy

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Exciting the Senses


Unleashing Immersive Brand Experiences

Diageo, Asda, and Dove are just some of the brands waking to the realisation that stimulating consumers' senses, and if possible all five, would be earning entry to purchasers' hearts and their wallets. Why would this multi-sensory marketing need a cross-sensory mindset? Well, ask yourself: would you trust, or even notice, a store's "Gourmet Fresh Food" logo if it smelled like a disused garage? As brand strategists and creatives tasked with steering audiences' perceptions, you'll need to ask whether what they hear, touch, smell, and sometimes taste will make them see as you're intending them to.

The rise of the experience economy is epitomised by consumer demand for the personalised, immersive experiences produced by multi-sensory marketing. Appealing to more senses can increase the areas of the brain being stimulated, maximising the engagement with the brand and the emotional impact caused. It is no surprise then that investing in sensory branding brings significant financial returns. For example, research commissioned on Unilever's Dove brand revealed that the soap's smell contributes $63m (£39m) of annual US revenues, touch yields $34m, and sight accounts for $14m. Researchers found that smell made users feel calm and valued, all emotions that would make the product stick in buyers' memories and persuade them to come back.

Sensory Consistency is Key to Success

Smell, it appears, seems to be the best sensory mode for helping Dove's success, and this explains why the business makes it a focus, clinging close to the recipe for generating this scent. However, relying on smell without considering how other senses are being affected can backfire, as was found by scholars (Morrin & Chebat 2005). They discovered that featuring background music in shopping centres helped to increase sales, but adding ambient scent to the music did not have any impact. This leads us to wonder: did the scent and music in this context complement each other as well as they could have for maximum impact?

The importance of sensory consistency was made clear in a study by Oxford university and sensory architects, Condinment Junkie, who revealed that drinkers in a room with a red colour scheme and fruits found Scotch whisky- the Singleton- up to 13 per cent sweeter by comparison. Meanwhile, drinkers in a wood-panelled room listening to the sound of a crackling fire enjoyed the whisky up to 15 per cent more than in the other two rooms. Charles Spence, Professor of Experimental Psychology and a member of the research team, explains this result by drawing on the rules of sensory dominance, where brains prioritise information from one sense over another. Therefore, awareness of how multiple senses will be processed when received together is crucial to prevent conflicts between sensory cues and hence more effective multi-sensory marketing. Charles speculates how brands will come under growing pressure to make sensory alignment central to their strategy. Speaking to The Guardian, he said: "In five years' time, when you go into a wine store ... you'll be able to scan the label on the bottle and get the matching music for your wine."

Diageo has thought about sensory consistency already. Take a look at its Tasting Rooms, opened in August 2013, which welcomes visitors to chambers nestled in its brewery designed by food architects Bompas and Parr, who collaborated with flavour scientists to identify the environmental characteristics that would heighten taste perception. For instance, the offer included "flavour fountains" from which arise vapours of beer, malt, roasted barley and hops, all notable flavours in Guinness. Catherine Keegan, Manager at the Guinness Storehouse, told Marketing Week: "It's to get your sense of smell ready, so that you're tasting with your sense of smell". Diageo has made the most of this opportunity to control drinkers' physical environments, understanding that achieving their end goal of delicious beer can depend on an equally arousing aroma.

A Weapon in the Retailer’s Arsenal

With even beverage brands jumping at the chance to have a physical space they can control, it is clear that retailers have a golden opportunity, not available to E-commerce. Stores arguably have the best shot at sensory alignment, because they can mould a buyers' entire physical experience step-by-step, not merely the on-screen experience. For example, Tigerlily, the Australian swimwear brand, is well-known for its iconic coconut and lime scented candles, which are meant to evoke summer by the sea, and less known for the other sensory nudges that complement and enhance this effect. Amelia Mather, Creative Director at Tigerlily, points out in a interview that smell is not the only sense her creative team thought of: "Visually the stores represented what we stand for, but we wanted them to smell and sound like the beach". Without honing those sounds and sights hinting the seaside, it's doubtable that all consumers would have always thought about beaches, just by sniffing coconut and lime.

Even supermarkets who showcase various brands, can aim to provide shoppers with a coherent, sensorially-aligned brand experience. Take Asda, for instance, which in 2015 worked with Google, YouTube, and Carat UK during Halloween to provide a fully immersive and interactive 360 YouTube video that was shoppable. This capacity to cohesively blend virtual experiences with direct contact could give retailers the upper hand on both maximising and smoothly synthesising users' sensory engagement with a brand. The luxury department store, Neiman Marcus, went further to install a physical and digital smart fitting room, allowing customers to view themselves in clothing from different angles and side-by-side with alternatives. In what is being called "total retail", customers' visual perceptions whilst trialing clothes online should echo what they would see in-store, as well as complementing what they would feel, hear, and smell.

What is a Cross-Sensory Mindset?

Multi-sensory marketing has taught us the importance of targeting more of consumers' senses and in complementary ways. In that case, a visual identity, for instance, is not simply what users perceive through their eyes, but it is shaped by what they feel, hear, taste, and smell.

Let's briefly immerse ourselves in this challenge: imagine you've joined the creative team behind Skittles's "Taste The Rainbow!" maxim. How do you think tasting the rainbow would sound? Are you thinking symphony, or mingling of several outdoor spring jam sessions, or the simulation of languages from around the world?

Would it feel like British weather- cold, warm, wet, dry, and cold again?

Would it smell like a chaos of Skittles flavours or an open food festival?

How would it look- a theme park, a street party, or firework display?

Incorporating this kind of cross-sensory thinking in marketing requires active collaboration between creatives. So if Skittles needed a visual rebrand, it's a call for sound, touch, smell, and taste experts to combine forces with colleagues in the vision department to push out a robust visual identity.

By Harsha Balasubramanian, Cultural Anthropologist at Kingfisher Consultancy 

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A Brand Provocation

Emojis and Emotions

Emojis and Emotions: The questions brands don't ask

Since the rise of emojis, brand strategists have sought to answer one question: what do these small graphics tell us about the state of consumer emotions today? A question not echoing so loudly around the brainstorming table is: are emojis actually transforming emotions? Though the answers to the above may be different across cultures, both questions are vital in any market where emojis are involved.  

Emojis for communicating emotions

Certainly, analysing emojis for what they reveal about emotion has worked well for many campaigns. Let's turn to 'Say it with Pepsi', for instance. This 2016 campaign by PepsiCo understood that emojis indicated a change in how consumers communicated their emotions, and hence, something that should be appropriated in its own communication strategy. First, those behind the social media campaign knew that launching customised emojis would help fit seamlessly into the current digital vernacular, that is, short but expressive messages. One Microsoft statistic claims that humans have fallen behind goldfish with their attention span at eight seconds, and if so, an emoji might be, as the phrase goes, useful for saying a thousand words in one picture. PepsiCo had also grasped that consumers shared emojis with a view to displaying their own sentiments and were moved by others doing the same. That explains why this campaign dropped a former decision to feature emojis of different Pepsi cans and instead focused on producing various mood emojis. A new willingness to feel out loud may have become almost universal, but Pepsi campaigners were quick to recognise that emojis did not hold equal significance for everyone around the world. In order for consumers to reflect their cultural and regional influences online, PepsiCo introduced country-specific emojis to the mix. Therefore, in this campaign, emojis are a response to consumers who like to communicate emotions through means that seem transparent, personal, and entertaining.  

Emojis for projecting identities

Media tagged on to the long line of sectors trying to grapple with emojis. When the 'tears of joy' emoji was crowned word of 2015 by Oxford Dictionary, BBC Newsbeat marked the popularity of emojis with a feature entitled 'What your most frequently used emoji says about you'? Here, emojis are not only a medium through which individuals seem to open up their real feelings at a given moment. The article also suggests that emojis are tools which people use to fashion and project long-standing identities and, by the same token, identify connections with others.   No matter what critics thought of the Emoji Movie released in 2017, it clearly indicates that audiences are looking for character and narratives in emojis which they can adopt to enrich their own communication. An emoji choice is less often thought to be random but increasingly seen as a considered decision made after identifying closely with it. This perhaps explains why a seventeen year old New Yorker was arrested in January 2015 for terror threat suspicions when he posted the emoji of a gun pointing at a police officer. Emojis are almost being treated as windows to people's souls, revealing what they feel, how they like to express feelings, and their intentions and allegiances. They also hint the place that emotions are starting to occupy online- at the forefront of interaction, personal identity, and relationships.  

Interrogating emojis

However, is it safe to assume that emojis simply show us what's happening to emotions- how people think about, feel, and express them? If under this assumption, brands are missing out on a crucial detail. This is because emojis, like any other language, put restrictions on what can and cannot be expressed. Just as translators struggle to find exact equivalents for words across different languages, an emoji user may not always stumble on a graphic that accurately reflects their feelings.   Only three varieties of emojis dominate digital communication throughout the world. According to the BBC Newsbeat piece cited above, it appears that 45%, or almost half, of the emojis shared globally are happy faces. Sad faces, meanwhile, make up 14% of worldwide emoji circulation and 12% consists of various hearts. Of course, it's encouraging to see that today's internet users are full of positive vibes! Even if this reflected reality, what happened to all the other types of emotions we could feel, besides the three species noted here?   Simplifying emotional expression is not a new phenomenon. In her 'The Book of Human Emotions', Tiffany Watt Smith highlights that we have lost words like the Japanese Amae- which described the need to be comforted by a loved one- and the Portuguese saudade- which referred to a yearning for someone or somewhere far away or lost. Though consumers may still identify with these feelings, they are harder to distinctly express and so it becomes harder for brands to decipher them.   By being unexpressed, it may be that certain feelings are marginalised by a so-called 'normal'. In this sense, emojis seem to work like a normalising mechanism, disciplining users to express their feelings in approved ways. Consumers are also punished if their feelings don't correspond to the emoji options available, as they are then unable to reap the promised rewards of sharing their emotions online.  

Lessons for brands

Two things could happen when brand strategists ask what emojis are doing to emotions: First, you will discover that analysing the emojis people use is not a substitute for in-depth study of actual emotions. This could refine your brand's understanding and targeting of consumer sentiment. The insights may also lead you to stories that people want to but cannot tell and how your brand emoji could help them do that.   Second, more light will be shed on the consequences of emojis. How do they shape people's interpretations of feelings? Does their impact extend offline? 

Without answering these questions, any emoji strategy risks being incomplete.  

By Harsha Balasubramanian, Cultural Anthropologist at Kingfisher Consultancy 

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Thinking Allowed


Reducing Cognitive Bias

 Most people like to think of themselves as objective and rational, capable of evaluating all of the information available in order to make the right decision at the right time. In reality, the basis of human decision making is often influenced by biases. Biases emerge from a diversity of mental processes that include heuristics (problem solving mental shortcuts), framing (presentation), mental noise, moral and emotional motivators, and social influences.   A cognitive bias is an error in information processing or decision making.  These biases are most often a result of the shortcuts that we use to speed up or simplify everyday decision making.  

Anchoring & Framing

Anchoring is the tendency to rely too heavily on one piece of information when making decisions. Once the initial anchor is set, future responses are made by trying to adjust away from that anchor. 

The Framing Effect is “reacting to a particular choice in different ways depending on whether it is presented as a loss or a gain.”   

Consumers routinely come to different conclusions about the same problem, depending on how it’s presented. 

Perception of loss or gain drives human decision making in every aspect of our existence. Naturally we avoid risk (risk aversion) when a negative frame is presented, but seek risk (risk seeking) when a positive frame is presented. 

Language plays a key role in framing and can evoke completely different reactions to something.   

Why does this matter? 

Because this cognitive bias is particularly related to the persistence of irrational scepticism, social prejudice and reticence towards non-intuitive scientific knowledge.  

Outsmarting your own biases

It can be dangerous to rely too heavily on what experts call System 1 shortcut thinking—automatic judgments that stem from associations stored in memory—instead of logically working through the information that’s available.  As many psychologists have shown, system 1 response to stimuli is a common source of bias that can result in poor decision making, because our intuitions frequently lead us astray.  

Other sources of bias involve flawed System 2 thinking—essentially, deliberate reasoning gone awry.  

Cognitive limitations or laziness, for example, might cause people to focus intently on the wrong things or fail to seek out relevant information. We are all susceptible to such biases, especially when we’re fatigued, stressed, or multitasking. In situations like this, we’re far from decision-ready—we’re mentally, emotionally, and physically spent.    

We cope by relying even more heavily on intuitive, System 1 judgments and less on careful reasoning. Decision making becomes faster and simpler, but quality and ability to evaluate properly often suffers. Some of the most stubborn biases include tunnel vision about future scenarios, inflexibility about objectives, and seeing options in isolation.    

Why are these biases most stubborn? Because, we’re cognitive misers—we don’t like to spend our mental energy entertaining uncertainties. It’s easier to seek closure, so we do. This hems in our thinking, leading us to focus on one possible future, one objective, and one option in isolation.    

When this narrow thinking weaves a compelling story, System 1 kicks in: Intuition tells us, prematurely, that we’re ready to decide, and we venture forth with great, unfounded confidence.    

You can outsmart your own biases. To start, it’s helpful to understand where they’re coming from: excessive reliance on intuition, defective reasoning, or both.  

 Here are some strategies for overcoming biases, gleaned from the latest research on the psychology of judgment and decision making:  

Strategies for overcoming biases

Remember: the goal is not to completely remove your biases, but to become aware and adjust for them.  By recognizing that you’re thinking is subject to influence, you can work towards a higher level of control.  You can simultaneously correct and broaden your perspective. 

  • To “debias” our decisions, it’s essential to broaden our perspective  ie try not to focus on just one possible future, or one inflexible objective, or one option in isolation 
  • Strive for higher objectivity. Be aware of your own personal and corporate biases. 
  • Recognize that bias can inject itself into your interpretation of research and your own analysis of the data presented at any time. 
  • Try to avoid the temptation to default to that bias-ridden comfort zone. That’s the first step in getting clarity of understanding when watching effective qualitative research  

Remember: Cognitive rigidity gets amplified by time pressure, negative emotions, exhaustion, and other stressors.  

By Crystal Evans, CEO of Kingfisher Consultancy

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Know Your Cognitive Bias!

Recency Bias

Selective Retention

Selective Retention


Tendency to weight recent events more than earlier events. When we ask people about their past behavior, their answers are more likely to reflect their latest actions, the ones they remember best. Careful structured interviewing techniques help reduce this effect.

Selective Retention

Selective Retention

Selective Retention


The process whereby people more accurately remember messages that are closer to their interests, values and beliefs, than those that are in contrast with their values and beliefs, selecting what to keep in the memory, narrowing the information flow.

Confirmation Bias

Selective Retention

Social Desirability Bias


Tendency to interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions.  Internal politics, personal goals or simply lack of knowledge can turn insight users into cherry pickers. They will consider certain results and ignore others.

Social Desirability Bias

Social Desirability Bias

Social Desirability Bias


Tendency to over-report socially desirable behaviors and under-report socially undesirable ones. If you ask questions in a way people feel they can be judged they will give you socially desirable answers. Good questionnaire design is critical to avoid this bias.

Interaction Bias

Social Desirability Bias

Irrational Escalation


Group particiapnts’ proximity to each other often leads to what is known as interaction bias. A group member may respond differently to a question after hearing the comments of several others. Careful moderation can help avoid this happening.

Irrational Escalation

Social Desirability Bias

Irrational Escalation


Tendency to justify increased investment in a decision, based on the cumulative prior investment, despite new evidence suggesting that the decision is wrong. It is often triggered by looking back to what has been invested, rather than forward to what can be saved by cutting losses.

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