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More Than Skin Deep: 8 DTC Beauty Brands That Stand Out

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder: learn from some of the leaders.

Jan 26, 2022 | 14 minute read

More Than Skin Deep: 8 DTC Beauty Brands That Stand Out

Lindsay Kolinsky

Director of Marketing

Beauty is big business. The industry saw a global rise from $483 billion in 2020 to $511 billion in 2021, and an annual compounded growth rate of 4.75%. What’s fanning the flames? Rapid expansion into new digital sales channels, allowing access to new audiences and fresh revenue streams. Leading the charge comes a vibrant cohort of savvy direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands.

Responsive, highly attuned to the needs of their customers, quick to market and endlessly adaptive, DTC brands are excelling within the beauty vertical. And with health and beauty accounting for 32% of the global share of product-related social media actions (second only to apparel and accessories), it’s easy to see why the rise of social shopping, in particular, has helped propel them towards success.

Couple all this with the global pandemic’s accelerating impact — which motivated consumers to shift their preferences to online shopping — and you get a strong sense of the potential, power, and momentum that the sector is currently enjoying. One report suggests that “as it stands, more than half of US internet users have already purchased from DTC personal care and beauty brands.”

This is not to say that the DTC beauty space is without its challenges. Opportunity breeds competition, and the space is undoubtedly crowded — meaning that brands need to rise above the noise with an offering that resonates perfectly with their target audience.

In this article, we’ll explore some of the brands nominated by a trusty panel of leading ecommerce experts as those who are truly excelling within the DTC beauty space.

Beautifully Healthy

Beautifully Healthy is an online-only shopping destination offering great brands at great prices. They represent a wide range of high-quality hair care, health, and beauty lines, aiding new product discovery and streamlining purchases. They also place a strong focus on wellness, supporting their customers to look and feel their best by accessing the products best suited to their individual needs and lifestyles.

Why They Stand Out in the DTC Space

Expertise is essential within the DTC market. As ecommerce brands tend to focus on very particular niches, it’s important to ensure that your online presence conveys a clear understanding of the subject you specialize in — both across social media channels and within the content presented on your online store. Kelly Brown, Co-Founder at The Working Party, notes that Beautifully Healthy does an exceptionally good job here, with plenty of high-quality, insightful content across a range of channels, from their blog and magazine to social accounts, informative online store and popular podcast.

Beautifully Healthy also offers a comprehensive loyalty program for returning customers, integrating Okendo, Loyaltylion, Klaviyo, and Shopify Plus. These partners ensure a wide customer group enjoys a positive shopping experience. Brown advocates;

“DTC beauty brands should focus on customer lifetime value, as well as acquisition. For example, setting up integrated systems by linking reviews, loyalty, and email to create a better experience for the customer and likely increase customer spend.”

Kelly Brown

Co-Founder

The Working Party

By creating these well-integrated, interdependent systems to support customer experience and engagement, Beautifully Healthy helps sustain a thriving online community. This practice, in turn, helps keep customers informed and educated through a wide range of reliably-generated UGC.

FlutterHabit

They say necessity is the mother of invention, which was certainly the case for FlutterHabit, a brand born out of the need to solve a problem: a better eyelash. Unsatisfied with both traditional false lashes and costly eyelash extensions, Kasey Jackson and her husband set out to find a solution that combined the benefits of each. They needed a product that ticked all of the boxes: long wear times, affordable prices, and a comfortable application that could be achieved at home. The rest is ecommerce history.

Why They Stand Out in the DTC Space

FlutterHabit, as the name suggests, deploys a successful subscription model. This practice allows customers to renew their depleted products at an optimized frequency, concentrating not only on an elegant purchase experience but also generating a solid customer portal that allows post-purchase customers to manage their subscriptions with ease.

The brand has coupled these systems with best-practice customer service and marketing tools that include traditional email and SMS messaging, influencers across social channels, affiliate programs, reviews, and UGC. Knowing it was not enough to simply repeat a successful process, FlutterHabit leverages metrics and analytics to make data-driven decisions that guide their various teams toward measurable and achievable goals.

They’re also in pursuit of web accessibility compliance and best-practice standards to ensure their site is accessible to all visitors. The results of this cumulative approach? FlutterHabit has seen an impressive 271% YTD Growth, with a staggering 1,040% increase in sales attributed to marketing.

DTC brands have so much to gain from the convenience, community, and connection that a well-structured subscription model can offer. As a vertical, beauty is especially well suited for it because all beauty products are fully consumable, and require periodic replacement. Wes Buckwalter, CEO of SeaMonster Studios, has seen beauty subscriptions increase five fold over the last year and doesn’t believe the trend is going anywhere but up. He had this advice for brands looking to optimize their subscription programs in 2022:

“Customers are very open to the convenience of subscriptions for renewable products, and most of the brands that we work with have enjoyed growth in this segment of their business. We've seen a lot of brands focus on gaining subscribers (the first step) — and this concept proved itself well during 2021 and throughout the pandemic. In 2022, seek refinement to this process, especially in what happens beyond the initial subscription. Focus heavily on customer loyalty, seeking out intelligent reviews and systems that allow users to leave their honest feedback.”

Wes Buckwalter

CEO

Seamonster Studios

Wes also recommends that brands improve their tech stack around subscriptions. He suggests expanding the basic “subscribe and save” model by creating custom solutions that allow the customer to build their own subscription (build-a-box) of their favorite products. Custom management portals are becoming more common, letting subscribers easily manipulate their orders after purchase to ensure they are receiving exactly what they need at all the right times.

r.e.m beauty

r.e.m beauty represents one of the most notable trends within the DTC beauty brand space – the celebrity founder. Spearheaded by singer Ariana Grande, this brand places a strong emphasis on creativity, playfulness and individual exploration. Although known for her signature cat-eye look, Grande’s beauty line takes things far beyond eyeliner and is known for a broad range of blendable shades that promote exploration and self-expression.

Why They Stand Out in the DTC Space

It would be easy to write r.e.m beauty off as yet another celebrity beauty brand, but the level of finesse and polish evident within their online presence is staggering. Running a very lean, efficient ship, their site makes smart use of little technology. As a result? It’s lightning-fast. With sky-high Google Lighthouse scores on both speed and accessibility, the outcome for customers is a sleek, seamless shopping experience.

According to Mac King, Managing Director of Half Helix, shoppers can quickly locate, compare, select, and purchase the perfect products on a fuss and frustration-free pathway that ensures fantastic conversion and future custom. While site speed has always mattered, it’s never been more important to DTC brands that are targeting younger demographics.

Gen Z — the first natively-digital generation — don’t just favor a flawless online retail experience, they expect it. Spending an average of eight hours a day online and making 32% of their transactions on mobile devices62% of Gen Z-ers won’t use an app or website that is too slow to load. r.e.m beauty clearly understands this reality, and as a result, they’ve invested in ensuring flawless performance.

Additionally, r.e.m beauty makes excellent use of creative content with shoppable looks modeled by their creator. King also predicts that an uptick in this and other kinds of immersive and personalized content will continue to determine DTC success in the year to come:

“In terms of what’s coming, the beauty industry will move toward the use of more try-on technology and personalization. Layering on top quiz tech which delivers not only the shade or color that someone is looking for — but also relevant reviews that help apply more context to the purchasing decision — will also be important.”

Mac King

Managing Director

HalfHelix

Viori Beauty

Viori Beauty is a prime example of a mission-led beauty brand that balances high-performing products with a sustainable and socially conscious origin story. They manufacture shampoo, conditioner, and body wash using traditional, natural ingredients sourced from the Red Yao tribe in Longsheng, China. The team at Viori sources Longsheng rice directly from the Red Yao women at a 100% markup, and gives back a minimum of 5% of company profits directly to the tribe.

Why They Stand Out in the DTC Space

Viori are masters when it comes to clearly communicating a compelling origin story and brand values. They understand their customers’ desire for natural, safe products, and go above and beyond when it comes to delivering a personalized experience for their fans. Their attention to detail is immaculate, from their products’ formulation to their packaging’s intricate design. The outcome of these efforts is a dedicated and highly engaged online community. Brendhain Reid, Manager, Strategic Account Management at Recharge, notes;

“Viori Beauty stands out in a competitive industry because their product is unique, truly beautiful, and mission-oriented. They’ve built a wonderful community of customers and advocates, and that community is reflected in their thousands of five- star reviews. Their packaging alone is a testament to how passionate they are about their products.”

Brendhain Reid

Manager, Strategic Account Management

Recharge

Reid predicts that with the increased competition and product variety we are seeing in the beauty space, we’ll continue to observe trends shifting toward more natural products that promote personalization. This progression will be visible in the add-to-cart journey for many brands in the form of customer questionnaires and style quizzes, as well as in tailored subscription management portals with intelligent supplemental products. Viroi Beauty does an excellent job of implementing this strategy with their prominently featured “Recommended Products” quiz.

Viori fosters loyalty and encourages repeat customers through their own successful subscription program, run through Recharge — a fantastic fit given the consumable nature of their products. Brand membership clubs can also be a great way to keep customers engaged, leveraging exclusive content, products, and discounts. Merchants who implement this strategy can reduce churn and build brand loyalty by creating natural customer touchpoints through their membership programs. Within the beauty realm, these touchpoints could include tutorials on how to use new or existing products or a call to customers to share their own product tips and applications. Reid suggests allowing customers to apply their membership credit towards future purchases to encourage brand engagement, even if the customer isn’t immediately looking to purchase again. Couple this practice with exclusive first access to products or periodic membership sales, and you’ve got another tool in your belt to help keep customers engaged and coming back…

NCLA Beauty

With a strong focus on clean beauty, NCLA Beauty specializes in a multisensory approach. With a great eye for branding, it’s clear they know their audience inside out, and every aspect of their online presence reflects this. With an entirely vegan and cruelty-free product selection, the brand promotes an ethical approach to looking and feeling great.

Why They Stand Out in the DTC Space

NCLA Beauty is doing an amazing job of engaging with their audience and staying hyper-relevant to Gen Z trends as they emerge, according to Madena Ghani, Business Development Executive at Hawke Media.

“Content truly is king for this DTC brand, and with the iOS14 update, they have been pumping it out beautifully. Their social media output is perfectly curated, engaging, and published at a high cadence to maintain interest.”

Madena Ghani

Business Development Executive

Hawke Media

What’s more, the brand is excellent at leveraging shoppable UGC, pulling in customer images to a shoppable Instagram gallery, housed and heavily promoted on their website. By championing their customers, NCLA ensures greater authenticity and builds trust within the crowded DTC beauty marketplace.

When looking to showcase and build a loyal community in an increasingly crowded vertical, UGC can play a key role. NCLA’s approach here certainly meets the approval of Ghani;

“UGC and reviews are going to be a pillar in marketing for all beauty brands. The industry is, unfortunately, growing to be so cluttered. The consumers need the credibility that influencers and reviews bring to be able to sort through the ‘bad actors.’ Newer brands need to invest here because the education is impactful and going to inspire change in their routines.”

Madena Ghani

Business Development Executive

Hawke Media

Divatress

After more than a decade of selling in physical retail shops, Divatress went all-in with ecommerce in 2012. Leaving brick-and-mortar behind, they began selling their inventory of wigs, braids, ponytails, skincare, and other beauty products entirely online. Today, they’re leading the pack within the DTC space.

Why They Stand Out in the DTC Space

One of the reasons Divatress has been able to leap ahead of their competitors is a willingness to test newer marketing techniques. Ecommerce businesses have widely adopted email as a way to promote products and contact visitors, but many merchants have been hesitant to adopt SMS as a marketing channel. According to Richard White, Content Marketing Manager at Omnisend, Divatress has embraced it wholeheartedly. As a result, SMS subscribers are growing faster than email subscribers: the company collected almost 70,000 numbers in just eight months.

Interestingly, of these 70,000 SMS subscribers, 13,000 did not sign-up for email updates. Had Divatress not requested phone numbers, 13,000 people would have been omitted from their contact list, with a knock-on effect of lower revenues — clear proof of SMS’s effectiveness in your DTC beauty brand’s marketing efforts!

In addition, Divatress triggers automated email campaigns, all of which they manage through Omnisend. Combined, these activities are responsible for about 20% of total revenue.

With Divatress’ results in mind, White believes that automation will be essential for beauty brands in 2022:

“Email, SMS, and automated workflows serve multiple purposes. In addition to allowing businesses to send specific messages at designated times, they also empower small and busy teams. Automation means that the brand can stay prominent in the minds of customers and visitors easily, without requiring ongoing work from members of staff. Best of all, the automations only need to be set up once and then run silently in the background to generate awareness and revenue through scheduled messaging. As they need no further input except when the business wants to make changes, they are the perfect addition for teams with limited resources.”

Richard White

Content Marketing Manager

Omnisend

Sculpted by Aimee

Founded in 2016 by make-up artist Aimee Connolly, Sculpted by Aimee has grown into an award-winning Irish makeup brand, stocked in over 400 stores in Ireland and in a number of Boots pharmacies across the UK. Inspired by years of experience within the beauty industry, Aimee wanted to create multipurpose and innovative products that proved easy and effective for professional artists and makeup aficionados alike. The brand has seen impressive growth during its early years — launching more than 40 SKUs to date and beginning its expansion into new markets with the help of their Shopify Plus agency, Velstar.

Why They Stand Out in the DTC Space

According to Charlotte Davies, Velstar’s Internal Marketing Manager, Sculpted by Aimee stands out because they are a brand that is truly driven by its customers. When the physical and digital world blurred during the pandemic, Sculpted by Aimee rapidly innovated in order to better meet their customers’ demands. From virtual makeup try-ons, how-to tutorials, and virtual zoom consultations, Sculpted by Aimee worked to give their customers the same personalized experience online as they’d grown to expect in-store. What’s more, they’ve successfully cultivated a community of loyal fans by continually engaging with their customers, requesting feedback, and asking them to share UGC on social media using hashtags such as #filterfreefaces.

Sculpted by Aimee’s loyalty program enforces its customer-centric approach, Sculpted Rewards, and their latest social media campaign: ‘Sculpted by You’ which asks customers what products they’d like the brand to create. At the end of the campaign, the most popular product will be named, designed, and produced in collaboration with their customers. This extra touch goes a long way in showing how much the brand values its customer base.

Sculpted by Aimee also offers customers an opportunity to engage in their sustainable movement, Re-sculpted, by asking customers to recycle bottles, tubes, and palettes. This further helps create a sense of community with customers and shows that the brand is about more than just sales. Davies recognizes this camaraderie as an important part of modern DTC brand strategy.

“Now more than ever, consumers are increasingly conscious of their impact on the environment and the beauty industry is no different. Customers demand that brands be more transparent when it comes to the ingredients in their products, and want more clarity over beauty brands' eco-conscious claims. Ultimately, brands need to show customers just how sustainable they actually are or what they’re doing to be more sustainable, from packaging to product beauty brands must be more eco-friendly. This is particularly true when targeting Generation Z — who want to take a stand against global issues such as climate change.”

Charlotte Davies

Internal Marketing Manager

Velstar

Glow Recipe

Glow Recipe places a strong emphasis on effective formulas derived from natural ingredients — and this isn’t the only way that they strive to keep things real. Steering away from promises of perfection, they sell the brand upon an authentic, honest message of enhancing the beauty of “real” skin. They give customers plenty of opportunity to experiment and educate themselves with their Skin Quiz and a range of minis and trial kits.

Why They Stand Out in the DTC Space

Glow Recipe does a great job of educating customers and prospects on the science behind their products while still being approachable and fun, helping people curate the right routine to address their skin concerns. Ellie Carroll, Enterprise Account Executive at Postscript, also recognizes the aptitude Glow Recipe has for canny positioning;

“They have all of the great elements of a successful brand: stunning creative assets, a user-friendly site, an engaging social presence, cohesive branding, tons of social proof, smooth operations, and most importantly, fantastic products.”

Ellie Carroll

Enterprise Account Executive

Postscript

Beyond their flawless branding, Glow Recipe also leverages some stellar marketing and data strategies. By promoting early access to exclusive offers via SMS, they continuously grow their mobile marketing list, unlocking a powerful (and profitable) new channel of communication.

“If SMS Marketing isn't a top community-building channel for you, it should be. Many brands have seen the crazy ROI that SMS can drive, so they focus on promoting sales and product launches and then wonder why their unsubscribe rate is high or why performance plateaus. While the revenue is great, you can get valuable feedback from your audience and really connect with them through text.”

Ellie Carroll

Enterprise Account Executive

Postscript

Her recommendation? Use SMS to ask your customers and prospects what they’d like to see from you this year and use that information to guide your product roadmap. Thinking about launching your first product with SPF? Previously sold eye and lip products, but now want to launch a foundation? Ask your subscribers what they think. Carroll describes it as achieving the impact of “a $10k focus group for a couple hundred dollars in spend on your SMS platform.” People love to give feedback and they love to feel involved, so you can count on customers becoming diehard brand advocates if they feel like they’ve had a say in your next big launch.

2022: Beauty and Beyond

From headless architecture enabling innovative development opportunities, a strong focus on customer experience, access to increasing levels of personalization, to the cultivation of communities that foster loyalty and generate high-quality UGC, the future of the DTC beauty space looks bright. Although the space is becoming increasingly crowded, it’s clear that this competitive playing field is fostering real innovation, with young, hungry brands rising to the challenge to go above and beyond consumer expectations.

Excited to see what 2022 could bring in terms of the top trends for DTC beauty brands, and keen to get ahead of the curve? Check out Okendo’s webinar on-demand featuring Attentive, Gorgias, Justuno, and more ecommerce experts: Beauty Tutorials: Top Trends for DTC Beauty Brands in 2022.

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