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The beauty of purpose

Being a purposeful brand can mean anything from donating profits from one SKU, reworking packaging to be more sustainable or creating campaigns to address mental health.

Ulta Beauty associates noticed guests were critical of themselves and engaged in negative self-talk. That sparked the idea for a study to examine what’s behind low self-esteem and how Ulta Beauty could help.

The Joy Study, commissioned by Ulta Beauty, explored how 5,000 adults and teens experience joy. More than 70% of those polled engage in negative self-talk and 91% pinpoint that negativity as an obstacle to their ability to experience joy.

With the help of best-selling author, motivational speaker and podcaster Mel Robbins, Ulta Beauty created a training curriculum for store associates called “A Toolkit for Joy.” Robbins teaches the video-based program.

“At Ulta Beauty, we strive every day to use the power of beauty to bring to life the possibilities that lie within each of us, and joy is a feeling we want everyone to experience when walking through our stores,” said Michelle Crossan-Matos, chief marketing officer, Ulta Beauty.

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ulta beauty the joy project

The Joy Study is just one example of Ulta Beauty’s purpose-driven philosophy. The beauty powerhouse isn’t alone in its quest to do well by doing good.

“What was once a differentiator has become a non-negotiable for many beauty consumers and if a beauty brand is not communicating and following through with real actions on environmental, social and/or sustainable values, they are just not part of the consideration set of today’s beauty shoppers,” said Marie Driscoll, adjunct professor at The New School. “Values have become imperative for beauty, fashion and luxury brands as a way to connect with today’s shoppers and keep them involved given the sheer breadth of alternatives,” she added.

Consumers appreciate the movement. Doing good is taking a bigger role in how consumers shop and spend their dollars. According to a Cone Cause study, 85% of customers are more likely to trust brands that try to do good in the world, and 80% will switch to brands with a cause they support. 

According to Paula Alexander, director of sustainability at Burt’s Bees, the numbers are even higher for younger shoppers. “We called it our Next-Gen consumer—millennials and Gen Z. Their interest in brand purpose is even higher [than older generations],” Alexander said. Next-Gen consumers are three times more likely than other age groups to say the role of business is to serve communities and societies. “And they are more skeptical than ever,” she added, noting efforts must be authentic. “Purpose is also a way to obtain and retain great employees.”

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burt's bees paper balm

One of the original brands with a purpose, Burt’s Bees recently published its Impact Report with a progress update on its 2025 goals that fall under two pillars—Full Circle Future (sustainable packaging, climate and eliminating waste) and Resilient Communities (responsible sourcing, global supply chain investment and foundation giving).

The company achieved 60% recycled content on average—a significant move toward its 2025 goals of 83% packaging that is reusable, recyclable, compostable or designed for recycling. Burt’s Bees paperboard lip balm is an example of its packaging advancements, which are 90% recycled paperboard.

The lip balm dovetails with SheKeeper, a three-year, $2 million partnership with the potential to improve the livelihoods of more than 16 million women working in the shea industry through introducing beekeeping and expanding sustainable shea processing capabilities in Ghana. Retailers are responding with their own efforts, including sustainability and regenerative goals for their companies. Companies like to partner with brands that match their ethos.

As exemplified by its Beauty Mark initiative, CVS, a company striving to lead with a purpose, looks to align with brands with similar goals. “We have an appreciation for brands that are mindful of their impact and that are purpose infused,” said Andrea Harrison, vice president, merchandising, beauty and personal care for CVS.

[Read more: Navigating the clean beauty maze]

raw sugar

Brands don’t need deep pockets to give back. But what they do need to do is align the effort with the brand, said Taydra Mitchell Jackson, chief marketing officer for SheaMoisture and a brand retailers applaud for its philanthropic efforts.

“If you are trying to make your company purpose driven, start with something important to you. People have the ability to discern when something isn’t authentic,” Jackson said. Unilever-owned Shea Moisture is associated with giving back. The brand reinvests at least 1% of net sales into economic opportunities for underserved entrepreneurs and Black business owners. 

Shea butter is one of the brand’s core ingredients and is sourced from women-led cooperatives in West Africa, providing fair wages and creating economic opportunities. Recently, SheaMoisture teamed up with The Roku Channel and MACRO Television Studios to debut “The Next Black Millionaires,” a docuseries that captures the journey of three entrepreneurs growing their passions into million-dollar businesses. The series provides inspiration for other Black founders who face obstacles, including raising funds.

Empowering brand philosophies

Leading with purpose was part of the DNA of Urban Hydration from day one, said Psyche Terry, founder of UI Global Brands, the parent of Urban Hydration. “For Urban Hydration, this connection to purpose is the driving force behind everything we do. It’s like this because I firmly believe that brands must have a clear and compelling purpose to forge a profound connection with their customers,” she said. The company has a multipronged approach. Each product, she said, is conceived to empower people and foster their sense of beauty from self-care.

Raw Sugar caught the attention of chains such as Walgreens for its formulas and its importance on bringing essentials to people in need. Since its founding in 2014, the company has distributed more than 16 million bars of soap and clean essentials as part of an ongoing partnership with Water for People and Eco Soap Bank. 

A retailer who put Raw Sugar into her assortment said the positioning distinguishes the line from competitors. “I liked their products and positioning,” she said. Emerging brands can show support on par with multinational powers. Even as a relatively new brand, Bubble Skin Care plants a tree for each order shipped in its efforts to foster sustainability.

Purpose-driven marketing isn’t only about donations. Lottie London, a U.K.-based beauty brand expanding in the United States at Walmart and CVS, created a campaign to raise awareness about the importance of blood donations. Citing research that only 1 in 10 blood donors falls into the Gen Z age group, Lottie London kicked off the Beauty for Blood Campaign.

Milani’s efforts stretch beyond the traditional donation model. Employees get involved in programs like the partnership with Our Big Kitchen in Los Angeles. The team prepared almost 400 meals to distribute to local organizations. Jeremy Lowenstein, chief marketing officer for Milani, explained that Our Big Kitchen’s goal of getting high-quality meals to everyone mirrors the brand’s mission to democratize beauty for all.

“All of our employees want to give back to the community. As a smaller brand, we felt that the opportunity was for us to engage with our local community,” he said. Another effort helps support the Latino community. Milani invited four artists to create artwork for a virtual gallery for Hispanic Heritage Month. Social media followers then had a chance to win the one-of-a-kind pieces.

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