Beauty’s Rising Gen X Opportunity, AI as a Pathway to Human Touch and Nine Other Key Takeaways From Day Two of WWD’s 2024 Beauty CEO Summit

Day Two of WWD’s 2024 Beauty CEO Summit at the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne in Miami saw visionary founders and executives — from Dermalogica’s Aurelian Lis to Commence’s Brooke Shields to MAC Cosmetics’ Drew Elliott and Aïda Moudachirou-Rebois and more — take the stage.

Topics included navigating a turbulent global retail landscape, harnessing AI to its full — and ethical — potential, what the rise of Ozempic means for adjacent supplement categories, prestige beauty’s untapped Gen X opportunity and more.

More from WWD

Here, 11 key takeaways from Day Two of the conference.

1. Experiential retail is integral to the winning omnichannel strategies of tomorrow. 

“Experiential retail is the future — if retail becomes transactional, we’re going to be in trouble,” said Sylvie Moreau, president of Europe and Middle East at Sephora, adding that in China and globally the retailer is “launching classes, services and beauty events to create that need to come to stores.”

In North America, the retailer is embarking on a more than five-year journey to refurbish each of its stores in the region. “We’re going to be giving them new fixtures, new layouts; this is not a store design project, it’s a store merchandising-driven project. It’s very much about how does the consumer shop, how do they navigate the products laid out, where do we put the beauty studio? We’re taking our ‘perfect footprint’ and rolling it out to every store,” said Artemis Patrick, chief executive officer of Sephora North America.

2. Much is said about beauty’s low barrier to entry, but success relies on differentiation. 

“At the heart of it lies understanding unmet consumer needs,” said Piyush Jain, CEO of Maesa. “Consumers don’t need new brands…that don’t really serve a unique, differentiated purpose.…It boils down to does the brand have a right to exist? Why is the brand needed in the consumer’s journey?”

3. Ozempic isn’t going anywhere — and it’s creating opportunity across adjacent categories. 

One in eight Americans have used a GLP-1 in the past year, and with that some adjacent wellness categories are seeing a boost.

“Many consumers who are beginning to use GLP-1 medications are not necessarily eating healthier, they’re eating less….There’s a tremendous amount of side effects and that’s where we come in,” said The Vitamin Shoppe president Muriel Gonzalez, pointing to complimentary supplement products that address these needs, including protein, probiotics, multivitamins and more.

In addition, the Ozempic market is only expected to grow with new telehealth services, including The Vitamin Shoppe’s new Whole Health Rx platform, where users can receive GLP-1 prescriptions.

4. Your community is also your most valuable data source. 

Trinny Woodall, founder of skin care brand Trinny London, routinely seeks to understand the behaviors and preferences of her community — or the “Trinny Tribe” — in order to inform the brand’s storytelling.

“We have an eight-minute average watch time on YouTube; we also have a 35 percent U.S. audience, so for us, that’s a really interesting platform to think about, how do we tell stories that women feel emotionally connected to, which then allows them to discover the brand,” Woodall said.

Added Summer Fridays cofounder Marianna Hewitt: “We always want to say that we create products that work, and part of that is community engagement around product development — by having our community be a part of our [that process] they feel like they have a sense of ownership when the products come out.”

5. AI is only as good as its training — done right, it can strengthen the human touch and connection of your brand.

“The biggest risk of AI is that we don’t adopt and lean into it as an industry,” said Aurelian Lis, CEO of Dermalogica, cautioning that specificity is key in wielding the tool most effectively, and without bias.  “The company approach that makes me quite fearful is just, ‘let’s get all this data and create a massive data lake.’ You should start with a question — you don’t start with the answer.”

“AI is intelligence, and intelligence is predicated on learning and questions — it is not an answer,” said Nick Howard, director of global strategy at EveLab Insight.

“The magic of AI is inspiring for creating value chain optimization in the workplace, but if you discover a new [AI] model, you should be taking the time to train it because the dataset it’s [built on] is key,” said Elsa Jungman, CEO and founder, HelloBiome.

“The differentiating factor of pure luxury is, I think, going to come back to human touch — how to make that human element exciting with AI is where we should be spending our time,” added Lis.

6. Be more than a beauty brand — be a culture brand. 

“I’ve never considered MAC a makeup brand — it’s a culture brand,” said Elliott, the brand’s global creative director, who took the stage with MAC’s newly minted senior vice president and general manager Aïda Moudachirou-Rebois. “Culture has always been at the center of MAC and that’s what allows us to be ahead of trends and build our own trends.”

Added Moudachirou-Rebois: “Culture is in everything we do — from our product to our Viva Glam [campaign] — everything is linked to being in the moment and being connected to our culture.”

7. Embrace Gen X — beauty’s forgotten opportunity. 

“Gen X is 70 million strong, representing 20 percent of the population,” said Larissa Jensen, vice president and beauty industry adviser at Circana, adding that the cohort spends $173 billion on general merchandise annually and accounts for 20 percent of beauty spend. “They are practically begging us to help them embrace their beauty, celebrate their age because aging is a privilege.”

It’s this Gen X experience and opportunity that led actress and entrepreneur Brooke Shields to start her platform Beginning Is Now, which has now rebranded as Commence with the launch of her hair care range of the same name.

“Women over 40 have already done a lot of things and their lives are so complex. They’ve done so much, and it’s more their time. I found myself in that position,” Shields said. “There was so much white space in regards to hair care, specifically for women over 40 but not in the geriatric realm or the medicinal realm.”

8. The most effective global expansion strategies exalt brand heritage while harnessing localization tactics. 

This holds true across markets, but for Sephora has become especially key in China — a market which beauty as an industry is increasingly trying to crack and adapt to. “Localizing is the first stage for Chinese consumers to understand what the brand stands for, then the next stage will be the products,” said Alia Gogi, president of Sephora Asia, who recently brought Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty to the region. “Fenty, for example, is still holding true to their inclusivity, but they’re speaking to Chinese skin tone matching.”

9. Tap into loyalty programs to drive customer retention and connection. 

According to Ulta Beauty president and chief operating officer Kecia Steelman and Space NK CEO Andy Lightfoot, effective loyalty programs are essential for understanding customers and providing them with a personalized experience.

“Having that [loyalty program] data is critical and it’s going to separate the retailers that are successful from those that are struggling. You’ve really got to be able to connect with that consumer, especially in this category,” Steelman said.

10. Medical aesthetics are rapidly integrating into the typical beauty regimen.  

“[Treatments] aren’t a one-solve, they’re a part of something broader,” said David Moatazedi, president and CEO of Evolus, adding that the aging-down of the category’s core consumer is propelling its evolution. “The point of care is evolving; it’s more of an experience now, consumers are booking their treatments the day of or the day before, and generally getting in and out of an office within a half hour. That experience has transformed from what was a medical procedure, to what today is a beauty treatment.”

11. Employ technology to personalize each stage of the customer journey. 

“It’s all about the personalization….It’s not just personalization at one point in time; it’s personalization at the upper funnel all the way to checkout,” said Melis del Rey, general manager, U.S. stores, beauty, baby and beauty technology at Amazon. “We spend a lot of time building machine models so that we can model what’s a replenisher behavior, what’s a behavior for a brand loyalist or explorer — those models help us at scale to navigate the shopping experience and create unique opportunities for customers.” 

Best of WWD