The cult of cult beauty products

The little pink zip bag made my heart flutter just a little. A colleague was back from New York with a Glossier haul.

As is the case for many women of a certain age going to the US, she’d been a mule for her beauty obsessed co-workers, bringing back things like Boy Brow, Cloud Paint and Jelly Cleanser in her suitcase.

Zoe Foster Blake’s brand Go-To just launched into Mecca.

Glossier is the brainchild of Emily Weiss. It's a millennial skewed beauty brand which last month became a bonafide “unicorn” (that is, valued at more than a billion dollars). And her Instagram-friendly products and branding have reached something of a cult status.

Glossier isn't alone in the zeal with which its fans follow, buy and review its products.

Brands such as Drunk Elephant, Tatcha, Dr Dennis Gross, Sand & Sky and the Vintner's Daughter have a rabid following and in some cases, waitlists.

Marita Burke, Creative Director at MECCA Brands, is familiar with the "frenzies" some products create.

"We’ve had quite a few frenzies recently. In December we launched Summer Fridays, an indie skincare brand founded by two US beauty influencers. The brand’s Jet Lag Maskwas the #1 skincare product at MECCA during the first two weeks of launch and, during launch week, the brand outperformed 85 per cent of our skincare brands (all of whom had much wider ranges). A truly incredible result for a one-product brand," she says.

Burke lists Elle Effect, the brand created by Australian fashion and lifestyle blogger Elle Ferguson, and Zoe Foster-Blake's range, Go-To Skincare (which launched into MECCA stores this month) as two examples of new-ish brands with a cult following.

She says the buzz is in part because of their Instagram-friendly packaging, but also the women behind the brands.

She says of Go-To, "[it's] a great product, great packaging, a highly engaging tone of voice and [an] incredibly popular founder".

This aligns with what Anastasia Lloyd-Wallis, general manager consumer insights and projects at retail consultancy group Retail Doctor, says is the psychology behind cult products: consumers are either drawn in by the scarcity of the product and thus its specialness, or because they want to align themselves with a community or tribe.

And a happy, dewy tribe with glowing skin and great #shelfies? Of course we want in.

Lloyd-Wallis says cult products can create an "emotional connection" between the consumer and the retailer, which in turn drives loyalty.

This is something particularly relevant to the millennial consumer who, as research suggests, are more likely to buy into a product when they feel an alignment with the brand.

"Millennials are looking to connect in higher rates than other demographic, they want to feel that they brand they're supporting is one they identify with and they put more thought into where they spend their money," she says.

This also speaks to a shift away from purely transactional purchases into experiental ones, the cute selfie mirrors in the Glossier stores, say, or a relatable founder who speaks your language on social media.

A cult product can be tricky to manage, though, and Lloyd-Wallis warns brands should continue to evolve their offering – and most importantly, listen to their customers to understand what they want – beyond the data.

Lisa Claycomb, founder and president of GENIE beauty created a hit with her Genie Instant Line Smoother. The brand has now sold nearly six million bottles of it.

Claycomb says, in the early days, the success took her by surprise.

"One of the difficult things about having a cult product is scaling our business and managing inventory to meet demand," she says.

"We were so naïve in the beginning that we didn’t know what a giant hit the product was… We were so busy we didn’t even celebrate when we hit the first million mark. We should have known but we just had our heads down working and trying to figure out what was next for us."

The best part for Claycomb has been the feedback – in person, and via email and social media – from her customers.

"It sounds strange to think you can change someone’s life with a cosmetic but now I know you can," she says.

So what's the next big thing?

Marita Burke is betting on beauty devices and the rise of natural beauty.

"[T]here is a big push towards skincare as an overall category and in particular those that fit within the natural, mindful space, who are ingredient-conscious and naturally derived. Fragrance is definitely having a moment and we have witnessed this first-hand with the launch of Buly into our stores in February. It’s a great time in beauty right now," she says.


    Your weekly recommendation for a late-night shopping trip …

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    One product I'm finding brightens my skin is Dermalogica's Rapid Reveal Peel. It comes in a 10-pack for weekly use (but you can also do a three day kickstart, which I did because time is precious!). It's got AHA extracts, lactic acid, fruit enzyme and rice brain extract, all good things for getting rid of dull skin and also fine lines. $128,

    Skin Deep, our weekly beauty column, is not sponsored. All product recommendations are genuine endorsements.

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