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What Drives the African American Beauty Market?

By Nancy Jeffries, Correspondent | June 28, 2010

Essence magazine takes a closer look at the issues surrounding the segment.

Corynne L. Corbett, the new beauty director at Essence magazine, provided a timely overview of what is new, what is next, and what you need to know about the unique attitudes of the African American market. In an Essence Smart Beauty Insiders Breakfast, held last month at New York’s Time Warner Center, Corbett provided an upbeat look at what drives the market, from spending and investing in skin care, hair, and makeup, to fragrance and cosmetic procedures.

Ultimately, this audience is looking for products that work, observed Corbett who cited statistics gleaned from recent research, which revealed that 85% of African American women believe looking good is part of life.

According to Corbett, this consumer is passionate about well being, while remaining practical and thirsty for additional information. She noted that 41% of African American women will pay more for a product consistent with her image. Moreover, 53% of Essence readers surveyed try a variety of ways to style their hair, yet, that same reader has no desire to conform to any other’s ideal. In fact, 74% believe her style is unique.

Personal Choices

This consumer wants to know what’s new, what’s hot and what’s next. She also wants to understand the context of a product or service; that is, how it will perform for her. She is interested in the latest in skin care technology and hair care innovation, and wants to visit skin care professionals who are knowledgeable about her needs.

Corbett noted, “She wants to be inspired, to be included, and to find herself. Beyond that, she wants to know how she fits in the overall beauty world, wants to be innovative, and wants beauty companies to recognize that.”

In research results of readers surveyed, 49% of African American women say they want to be the first to take a look at products on their own.
Corynne L. Corbett, beauty director, Essence Magazine (left), with Angela Burt-Murray, editor in chief, Smart Beauty Insiders Breakfast, presented by Essence Magazine.
“At Essence, we share an intimate bond with our readers and we distill many sources of inspiration for her." explained Corbett."We are acting as a clearing house for products and enabling our readers to make the best choices, as we deliver information and vital service to her, from the right laser treatment, to lipstick, makeup and nails.”

“Our reader really wants to know if the color on the lipstick will look the same on her lips. Her nails also express her style, whether she selects mattes, suedes, other finishes, or overlays,” added Corbett.

Also important, is the ability to achieve radiant skin at home, and while the discussion will address aging, enlarged pores and skin tone are more important issues than wrinkles, and plastic surgery is not high on her list.

As far as fragrance, the African American woman sees scent as an extension of her personality, and has, on average, six fragrances on her counter. These may represent classics rewound, or imagery and attributes she admires. The other category rivaling skin care for African American women is hair care, with 33% of total purchases found to be devoted to hair care.

In September, Essence will celebrate its 40th anniversary with a new design, a new dedicated hair care section. October will be the Hot Hair issue, with styles, trends, color, and getting and maintaining healthy hair as the focus.

“We are offering a 360-degree beauty experience across multiple platforms, with, makeover magic, video content, and beauty blogs, from such notables as Iman," explained Corbett. "Essence is also launching their first iPad application, offering the ability to try on styles."

In answer to an audience question about the luxury shopping experience, Corbett noted there will be as much luxury as mass, saying that the African American consumer is as much a luxury shopper as she is a mass shopper.

“For her it’s about the beauty experience. It’s the experience at the counter, how she is treated as a customer, and how the product works for her. This is most important,” she said. Corbett reiterated, “We need to cut through a little of the ‘beauty speak’ and deliver the bottom line without the flowery language. If our reader knows we are trying the product, we can give her insight into our experience. Talking about the experience and talking about the results is an important driver, more so than statistics,” she said.

Corbett, a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience, and the former executive editor of Real Simple magazine, recently joined Essence to spearhead the exciting changes that will support the magazine’s strong and clear voice for beauty. The overview emphasized not only the quantitative results of research that revealed the diverse and distinct preferences of African American consumers, but the individual and personal expressions of style that inform consumer choices for women with a wide range of skin tones, hair styles and makeup needs.

Editor in chief, Angela Burt-Murray closed the program, saying, “Our 8.3 million readers will see a bold, refreshed magazine, with new columnists, and we will take the fashion and beauty conversation much deeper. We will be debuting the 40 most fierce and fabulous African American women in the September issue, as well as emphasizing live events and new technologies.”

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