Wemanage Observatory Interview #5: Anna Dato on Beauty Forecasting

A project by Wemanage Group

Wemanage Observatory is a project aimed at sharing insights and discoveries in key areas of contemporary discourse, such as sustainability and digitalization. The goal of this project is to activate an experimental approach, by creating new connections through interviews with experts in the field. In the fifth of a series of interviews with inspiring creatives of our times, we talked to Anna Dato, Head of Marketing Asia for Intercos — the Italian multinational world leader in the production of cosmetics for the best brands, about trend forecasting, the future of beauty and the purpose of brands in the future.

Anna Dato

How did you end up working in beauty? What attracted you to this market?

My job is my life passion. The way I ended up working in beauty is actually a play of faith, because I never imagined I would end up doing this job. When I was still studying, I was attracted by consumer goods, food, and passionate about fashion and in particular fashion history, so I thought I would end up doing a job in one of those fields. But I didn’t consider beauty, which at the end connects everything I am passionate about.

What do you love the most about your job?

So, as I told you it was a play of faith when it started. It was a Monday night, I was still in my second year of graduate degree at Bocconi and my roommate told me “Anna, you should look for an internship, because it’s mandatory for your course.” Indeed, I listened to her and I went to Bocconi’s career centre, finding there this very interesting internship regarding company strategy in Intercos. The job, rather than the industry itself, was what attracted me — I was very keen to see a company as a whole, from a bird-eye view perspective. I never heard about this company before, and I wasn’t particularly passionate about beauty at that time. So I applied on Tuesday morning, they called me in the afternoon, for an interview the day after… and I knew I was hired on that spot.

During the interview they took me to the showroom, where an incredible variety of cosmetics shades were displayed, and I realized that this was a way I could own color in a very unique way! It was definitely love at first sight!

Your job focuses on the creation of the trends and products of the future, studying them for Asian consumers. Can you expand on this and tell us more about what the process entails?

Intercos is the major manufacturer of cosmetics for all the major brands, we do all the spectrum of products that spans across makeup, skincare, hair and bodycare. Intercos stands out in being extremely innovation driven: that is why our job as marketers is to envision the future, translating this into products that speak and fulfill the needs of very diverse clients, consumers, regions and needs.

My job as Asia strategic marketing takes into account everything that goes from the creation and anticipation of trends, to the ideation of products and proposals to clients. To achieve this strategy I rely on a very diversified and local team based in China, Korea, Japan and South East Asia able to authentically understand the consumers and markets as insiders, connect with brands, and make the difference with meaningful innovation.

How are we able to anticipate trends? To create the future of beauty, we need to look at what inspires it. Beauty is connected to so many things — design, fashion, food, entertainment — but art in particular is meaningful, as it defines the sense of beauty for a generation.

Art is extremely influential in creating the relationship on how we see beauty in the world, in the way we interact, in the way we find sensations. I’m very passionate about art myself. I constantly educate myself as I think art is the gate for the culture of a country. And especially nowadays that China is looking to connect with its own heritage and culture, that becomes fundamental to interpret the trends in beauty. You even have to look at historical trends, that’s why it is very important to understand trends as local, but there’s so much that influences beauty trends — it could be fashion, design, KOLs, opinion leaders, it could be retail, social media. There’s a lot that goes ahead and it is important you do that with a local team to understand the language, the culture and most importantly, the speed of change! I would say in China today, it takes a Gen Z to understand what beauty is about, because Chinese millennials are a very different population and have a very different perspective and sense of differentiation compared to the Gen Z. And the Gen Z are driving beauty nowadays, so again, you need to be local, open-minded, curious, and nurture yourself with a variety of stimuli and that’s how you start.

So once we understand the trends, the context and the consumer, we need to figure out what is the product they’ll be needing in the future. Our life is all about anticipation, because it takes some time to arrive from idea to the market. Something that launches today, was conceived maybe 2 years ago, it is definitely longer than fashion! The highest is the complexity of the brand we work with — like luxury multinational brands — the longer will be the development time.

That is why it is fundamental to anticipate the change, otherwise you’ll be obsolete. So that’s why trend forecasting comes before product development. Once you’ve figured that out, you can work with the R&D department to develop the product.

What do you think is the key for innovation in this field in particular?

We normally consider innovation under three points of view.

It could be incremental, looking at what’s in the market and what’s successful — you observe and then you provide some value differentiation.

Then it could be technology driven, considering that we create new raw materials, active ingredients, processes and more that provide a practical improvement in the product.

But then there’s a third option, that is marketing driven and that is based on our ability to dream, to really imagine what comes next. And that could create a concept when there is none yet.

These three segments are very important to create innovation. This is how we work to develop our plan of innovation alongside R&D. As a marketing team we define a plan based on these three perspectives: is there something we’re missing from our portfolio? Is there any new important innovation we need to emphasize? Shall we imagine beauty differently?

Under this strategy the Product Development side of marketing connects all innovation functions of the company to generate new cosmetics with Asian-driven perspective or Asian generated manufacturing. Once we imagine our product and create it, we have of course to market it. This is the job of the strategic marketing team that covers the promotional side, knowing each brand as they are part of it, serving not only local clients but also international ones that are looking at Asia as their destination.

How do you think the beauty world will change in the next few years? Do you think it will be influenced by technology even further? If so, how?

I like to think of time as elastic, you can stretch it or shrink it to understand how trends evolved in an accelerated perspective, and anticipate what will be next.

That perspective is extremely useful if we think about China, where the evolution is happening at the speed of light. I feel now that moving from China to Europe, is not even travelling in space anymore, but travelling in time! I have a strong feeling that the current life in China is anticipating what is going to happen in Europe and the USA maybe in 5/10 years.

Considering the speed of the change in China, the strong investment on innovation in every field, and lack of barriers that could curb the evolution in other countries — let’s think about the data regulation! — we can easily imagine how this country’s growth is unstoppable.

But even in a word that is changing, the desire for beauty is constant. Everybody wants to feel beautiful, or at their best. What it changes is the definition of what is beauty. When we look at certain countries as South Korea and Japan, we can see they are still linked to some fixed parameters. While in China, the common standard is changing and is defined by individualistic values. Not just by what is current but even by dynasties from the past. It’s a collision of cultures and values that is manifesting now. And for that reason, what one can expect is an individualistic approach with a futuristic view in terms of no limits of transformation.

I think the majority of consumers like simplicity in application, but complexity in the transformation, with very evident results. So, here is the challenge for a company like us — how we can make the transformation flawless and simple, while creating stunning results, encapsulating youth forever. I think consumers are becoming more and more demanding and what is required is more efficiency. If the landing point is clear, how we get there is the challenge.

How has the purpose of a beauty brand/company shifted in today’s day and age? How do you deal with so many different requests and stay up to date with trends in your industry?

I believe brands changed in the way they stopped being a dictator of taste and became an enabler of possibilities. So more and more we can expect that the future will be for brands able to interpret the taste of a specific community in a very authentic way.

That is particularly relevant when you are in a market that is changing so quickly. In a Clubhouse chat the other day, I was talking about the fact that it’s interesting to observe how in China we are working more, with the famous 996 mode: from 9am to 9pm, 6 days a week. Which is incredible if you think about how in the rest of the world the conversation focus is all about working less. Why? Because in China there’s hunger for evolution, and maybe in Europe and in the US, people feel too comfortable thinking they achieved a very good level, and there is lacking motivation for pushing harder. But you know, this lack of appetite for evolution doesn’t help us to move forward.

So, why this observation is relevant. Because these international brands that are directly trying to compete in China with domestic brands, in a territory where being local is an advantage, are losing the battle big time. The point is, if they are coming for you, you’ll most likely lose, because they know much better what their consumers are looking for, they are faster, more agile in taking decisions, and they are generally delivering more value to their consumers.

The trend is accelerating in such a way, that now Chinese companies are buying international brands, orienting their offering to the Chinese market — which has the biggest consumer base in the world. China is what the US used to be, the most powerful market because of the size of its population. But if the USA can count on 300 million people, China has already 1,4 billion. And now that they defeated poverty, as the government declared, there is no limit on what they can achieve.

So all the world now depends on China, on their consumption. But they’re fed up with being a destination, they want to be the journey and the leader. They want to be creators, they don’t want to be only imitators anymore. The battle will be here. We can expect that more homegrown brands will emerge in every field, and in every positioning it has to be considered that if you can’t defeat you have to think how to ally!

People have to understand that this is a market with a brain, and it will be this brain that will change the world.

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