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4 Ways Modern Women Express Beauty to Brands

“Be yourself, because everybody else is already taken.”

This popular Oscar Wilde quote could not possibly hold more truth than it does today, specifically for millennial women. Modern females are keen to connect with their deepest, most authentic selves in order to feel as strong and empowered as possible in their daily lives.

As a result, the classification of what it means to be “feminine” has become fluid, because of the increasing realization that every female is truly unique. Given this level of diverse female expression, which often acts as a moving target for marketers hoping to “embrace femininity,” how can brands ensure that the messages they are creating remain accurate and relevant? Therein lies one of the biggest challenges for brands targeting millennial women: keeping brand marketing messaging #onfleek (without pandering).

Today, more brands are turning to Instagram as a lens into female millennial behavior. With over 500 million users, comprised of 55% 18-29-year-olds, and 31% US women, all sharing 95 million posts per day, Instagram is an extensive insights pool that marketers can not only learn from, but participate in.

The Question

In order to derive learnings from the wealth of female-driven Insta-content that exists today, Olapic recently partnered with Caress, a Unilever personal care brand, which was hoping to reframe the brand’s messaging toward this exceptionally important cohort. Through this exercise, Caress sought to uncover the details behind how millennial women are expressing their relationships to beauty, femininity, and personal empowerment.

The Solution

To reach Caress’ research goal, Olapic studied the mass amounts of content produced amongst widely-used “female empowerment” hashtags, such as #womentribe, #girlpower, #flawless, and #girlboss (to name a few), and then sorted this content using our Photorank algorithm, which identified  the most engaging images in the data set. Through this assessment we uncovered common cues spanning both lingual and visual elements shared by the top performing images, compiling a set of conclusions about common content characteristics and female empowerment. And, it was through this research that Olapic was able to guide Caress to better develop messaging and visual content to reach one of its most valuable audiences.  

Check out the four major discoveries we uncovered:

Finding #1

Millennial women thrive off of the concept of owning it:  Having control over the events of their daily lives, and running their schedules with poise and confidence.

Over the past few years, the idea of the “confidence gap,” and research around this topic has emerged. The confidence gap refers to and examines the difference in men and women’s levels of self-esteem and how the growing gap in women’s self-worth affects their ability to reach the highest levels of success in their careers. Closing this gap is just one of the ways women are being encouraged to combat gender inequality in the workplace, and in their lives. In our findings, it was particularly refreshing to see that millennial women are leading the charge in owning it, and research shows that women that believe in themselves will have a higher chance of achieving success in their careers.

Through our analysis, the concept of owning it manifests itself in Instagram images of women striking confident poses, donning bold fashion choices, wearing serious expressions, and rocking powerful eye makeup.  

Finding #2

There is no one way to be feminine, in fact, it’s a wide spectrum.

More and more, the younger generation is starting to acknowledge and accept the blurred lines that exist across the femininity spectrum, and even the gender spectrum. Looking at the way some brands marketed to women, even 20 years ago, it’s clear that there were “traditional” forms of beauty and femininity. As time as progressed, and as new generations have emerged, the idea of what it is to be truly feminine has shifted.

When Dove started their Real Beauty research in 2004, only 2% of women, globally, felt beautiful. Some of that can be attributed to the fact that the media, brands, and other forms of entertainment may have not always acknowledged or represented the widest spectrum of femininity. With millennial women, our research found that among their Instagram posts there is more diversity across what it means to be feminine and how it’s depicted visually.

From fitness fanatics who found femininity in strength, to those that felt more beautiful going au naturale, to others who expressed their femininity with eccentric makeup and by rejecting stereotypes, what became clear was that femininity can no longer be categorized with a one-size-fits-all mentality. Instead, being feminine is expressed through authenticity, and in whatever form women dictate it should be.

Je suis une fille, je suis une soeur, je suis une amie mais avant tout je suis une femme! #girlpower?

A photo posted by gwen dupont falasca (@gwendupontfalasca) on

Finding #3

Women are evangelizing each other publicly, not tearing each other down.

As Mediapost recently said, “For millennials, the hashtag has become a cultural phenomenon.” They are something that the generation has grown up with and even an aspect of marketing campaigns that have come to be expected (and well executed). That said, when on Instagram, what better place to look for young women’s insights about femininity than among popular hashtags like #squadgoals and #WCW (Women Crush Wednesday).
What was surprising is that while we thought #WCW was often reserved to laud female celebrities, we found that, more often, female admiration was reserved for the ordinary (and extraordinary) women in people’s personal lives. Women regularly using this hashtag did so in a way that showed off their close friends and sudo-mentors through expressing gratitude for meeting one another and inspiring each other to be the best they could be.

Finding #4

Females are celebrating their diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds

In our research we found that among women with diverse backgrounds, especially in the African-American and Latina community, Instagram has become a place to express their unique beauty with immense pride for their cultural background.

#blackwomen #black #blackisbeautiful #beauty #haiti #i #me #se #goodday #love

A photo posted by Shamma Loa Jeanine Dupré (@shammaloa) on

With this research, Caress can incorporate some of these findings into their future brand messaging and assets in order to reinvigorate its image through the lens of younger generations. By observing female consumers, beauty brands can better understand their customer’s priorities in an authentic way. Specifically in Caress’ case, and for any beauty brand, it’s imperative to listen to consumers, recognize cultural shifts, and act on the values of what your consumers want. By doing so, Caress can not only reach a wider target audience authentically, but also be seen as contributing member to a powerful female #squad and less like a brand selling products.