Considering the advent of more consumer-facing conferences, major questions arise about the relationship between the audience and the organizer: Who gets to do the talking, and more importantly, how does this decision color the experience for attendees? 

  • At Beautycon, anyone can be an expert, and all aspects of the conference reflect the role of consumers in driving the community of beauty enthusiasts forward. 
  • In contrast, at Goop’s wellness-inspired event, In goop Health, the company’s founder Gwyneth Paltrow and her appointed panel of industry professionals serve as experts to those in attendance.

Beautycon follows in the tradition of Comic-Con but transforms amateurs into professionals, reflecting the shift in power from corporations to consumers.

What happened

CONTEXT: Founded in 2011, the Beautycon Festival is likened to a hybrid of Sephora and Coachella. Though initially an event for YouTube beauty influencers, it became an invite-only B2B festival for beauty brands in Los Angeles two years later. Today, Beautycon is an open, ticketed, B2C event in 2014. Its latest iteration, led by CEO Moj Mahdara, who joined in 2014 to co-found Beautycon Media, aims to connect consumers with YouTube makeup influencers (almost 10,000 people attended the first event). Just a year after the switch, Beautycon nearly doubled its earnings YoY. In 2018, Beautycon hosted festivals in Los Angeles, London, New York and Tokyo, gathering more than 200 brands and 23,000 attendees, including brand and retailer representatives, beauty influencers and consumers who enjoy the shopping, DJ sets, panel discussion and makeup tutorials. 

PURPOSE: The cosmetics trade-show-meets-festival has a lot in common with Comic-Con, in many ways Beautycon’s predecessor. Established in 1970, Comic-Con offers a gamut of events and activities, from portfolio review sessions to an annual costume contest and film screenings, aimed at not only comic book professionals and aficionados, but also amateur comics and consumer-enthusiasts. This makes Comic-Con a catchall event for anything comics, giving both comic book readers and creators the opportunity to partake in, teach, entertain and learn from the world of comics. Similarly, Beautycon seeks to exist as an “authority in beauty culture” through inviting a multiplicity of voices to weigh in on this culture’s status and evolution. It does so by providing a physical space where beauty enthusiasts can take online their interactions offline via vendors, panels, performances, tutorials and more. 

EXECUTION: Beautycon’s dominance in the consumer-facing events space is largely built on balancing inclusive values with exclusive experiences. Beautycon mimics and in some ways transcends Comic-Con’s strategy by empowering consumers to be the agents of their own experience. Rather than feature celebrities in its line up, it promotes beauty influencers—many of whom made a name for themselves with YouTube makeup tutorials. Like Glossier’s rep program, Beautycon also worked with 50-or-so “super BFFs” in 2014 who, through twice-a-week Google hangouts, helped the company pick and choose from a pool of interested brand partners to feature at its festivals. This effectively blurs the boundary between “professional” and “amateur,” erasing any hierarchy between shoppers, corporations and experts while giving attendees exclusive access to their favorite voices in the cosmetics space. In doing so, Beautycon manages to attract a diverse set of Gen Z and Millennial customers—as of June 2019, 67% of attendees were 18-24-years-old, 54% of ticket holders were non-Caucasian and more than 90% planned on attending another event in the future, according to the company. 

Beautycon’s ecosystem incentivizes brand and retailer participation not only with its cultural resonance, but with actionable data. The company has formidably expanded its data analytics and provided market intelligence on more than 280,000 attendees in 2018 to its brand partners. As a digital media company, it can help with marketing, producing short videos for brand websites and social media accounts, and as also consults brands on content, retail and collaborations. The conference has also garnered $4,200 per square foot in the past, speaking to the power of in-person, social media-minded retail.

Beautycon is strengthening its own resonance by merging events, data analytics and editorial production to serve as both a B2C and B2B platform. With the company’s latest $9 million fundraise in 2017, it intends to reposition itself as a company at the intersection of media, entertainment and commerce. It promotes its own brand via Beautycon Digital through a social media-first media strategy, ditching its website to publish content such as a weeku series called “Self Care Sundays” directly to Instagram, and other social platforms where its audience spends ample time. It also hosts an annual influencer awards ceremony called The Beauties, and launched Beauty Pitch, a mentorship and funding program to support beauty and fashion entrepreneurs. Together, this convergence of services will help spin Beautycon Media’s flywheel and raise its cultural resonance as a platform the serves consumers, brands and founders.

Why it matters 

Beautycon’s rise reflects the shifting power dynamic from corporations to consumers. Today, information is distributed among the mass of shoppers instead of corporations. Companies are no longer the industry’s gatekeepers and consumers are their own best source of knowledge and expertise. Other conferences also highlight the rise in self-actualizing shoppers. Blushcon, a consumer-facing conference that held its first event in January 2018 in Pomona, CA, found in post-conference surveys that many visitors actually attended in order to learn more about how to become an influencer. In turn, Blushcon launched an invite-only digital component to its conference, the Blushcon Ambassador Program, which gives these enthusiasts a place to connect with one another over Instagram, and ultimately in person. Creating spaces for consumers to strengthen their self-initiated communities will only become more important for corporations moving forward.

Beautycon is able to move the dial on the cosmetics industry as definitions of beauty evolve towards greater inclusivity. The event’s entire premise is to “[build] a global community of people who were tired of being told what they “needed” to do, how they “needed” to look, and what they “needed” to buy”). At the latest New York event, one panel discussed redefining masculinity and the concept of what it means to be a “real man.” They can also be themed around inclusivity-building topics and knowledge, such as women’s financial literacy. Similarly, the emergence of Blushcon, an event dedicated to the discovery of Asian cosmetics brands, points to changes in an industry that reflects demands for greater inclusion. Notably, Blushcon’s first conference was part of the Asian American Expo, a community gathering featuring vendors, performances, food courts and expositions that began in 1982. Reception was strong—the first Blushcon festival brought in 10,000 attendees (of 120,000 at the entire expo), increased the number of Asian brands by nearly 40%, and contributed to about 10% of total sales. 

The evolution of the conventions as illustrated by Beautycon and Blushcon points to the value of giving consumers a physical space to interact with one another. While shoppers are more knowledgeable than ever, they are most often relegated to online channels such as Reddit, Instagram, Facebook and other forums and social media sites. As more consumer-facing events emerge, they can win over consumers as exclusive events—almost like once-a-year parties where the biggest enthusiasts gather. However, unlike Revolve, which hones both the exclusivity of #RevolveFestival and the exclusivity of their invite-only attendees, Beautycon manages to strike exclusivity with its festivals but keep its doors open to thousands of anyone with a ticket. Constant advice about wearing “sensible shoes” to Beautycon speaks to the scale and dynamism of the event and the community it has built.

Where to go from here

Despite the success of Beautycon festivals, companies are struggling to forge a sustainable path forward. Mahdara has said that the company is looking to owned retail purely for this reason. It launched Beautycon POP, a pop-up concept that attempts to mimic the best qualities of the conference (experiential events and community) to more consumers year-round, but on a smaller and shorter-term scale. The pop-ups aim to create social media-worthy retail experiences through a Museum of Ice Cream-like immersive galleries and on-site makeovers that feature legacy beauty brands as well as up-and-coming, direct-to-consumer companies (its pilot pop-up in LA featured 22 digitally-native, female-founded brands), with a complimentary ecommerce marketplace, Beautycon Shop (Madhara also said in 2017 that Beautycon may sell private-label beauty cosmetics and apparel, though this has yet to materialize, and Beautycon Box, its Birchbox-like subscription that sends consumers curated selections of beauty influencer-endorsed products, folded in 2017). The company also says it wants to merge ecommerce with community and education, though its current site doesn’t differentiate much from other retailers. 

Beautycon Media has the potential to establish a virtuous cycle among all of these parts, but like other companies seeking to merge content with commerce and experiences, all of these projects require different types of expertise. The company may have to narrow its focus in the short-term in order to establish a strategic direction in the long term. While entering both physical retail and launching ecommerce will enhance the identity Beautycon has established through its festivals by making the brand more accessible to a broader audience (which is of particular importance considering the density of conferences in major cities), ecommerce, and to an extent the pop-ups, cannot replicate the advantages of a two-day festival. It also remains to be seen whether the pop-ups will be more scalable than a conference that sells 30,000 tickets given the operational complexity of launching multiple, temporary retail concepts.

Companies should consider how to indoctrinate the exclusivity known to festivals and other events into more traditional retail. While Beautycon certainly has a strong brand that can translate to stores, the pop-ups will necessarily lack the (positive) exclusivity known to its festivals in terms of the time period that they remain in operation (three to ten months), the community (as stores, the pop-up will be divided more explicitly between brands, sales associates and shoppers as opposed to influencers, consumers, entertainers, etc.), and the singularity of experience that comes with a festival. Compared to Beautycon Festivals, it’s unlikely that Beautycon POP locations will be destinations in and of themselves, at least to the same degree. While festival goers willingly purchase a ticket to then spend more money going shopping at Beautycon, pop-ups will not attract consumers in the same way.

Beautycon and other event organizers need to consider the tradeoffs of innovative, experiential and larger-scale festivals with smaller-scale and more traditional retail experiences. It takes a great deal of expertise, resources and planning to create the festivals Beautycon does so successfully, and perhaps there is a way to incorporate more sustainable business practices into them, instead of creating an offshoot (and diluted) version of the festivals through Beautycon POP. The answer will depend on what Beautycon wants to become, but even if its ecommerce marketplace and pop-ups are attractive to brands, there are so many ways for consumers to buy cosmetics—and only one Beautycon festival. The company might be better off focusing on that, while providing backend production services and intelligence to consumer brands in the beauty sector to ensure the festival’s sustainability.

Goop’s In goop Health lets attendees live in a celebrity’s world for a day, but in contrast to Beautycon, the experience is dictated by a panel of experts rather than consumers. 

What happened

CONTEXT: Goop’s In goop Health summit launched in 2017 in California and has since held events in New York, Vancouver and London. In many ways a physical manifestation of Goop’s ecommerce and editorial site, the wellness summit, gives attendees the opportunity to live in founder Gwyneth Paltrow’s world for up to three days. 

PURPOSE: In goop Health launched as the physical manifestation of the newsletter that launched the Goop brand—activities, talks, products and experiences curated by founder Gwyneth Paltrow and her chief content officer. It’s one part of Goop’s ecosystem, which also includes editorial content, brick-and-mortar stores, ecommerce, and a forthcoming Netflix docuseries. Consumers provide a range of reasons for attending In goop Health. Some are simply fans of Paltrow and talk about her as a “trusted friend,” arguing that the summit is not about answers but the experience. Many also work in the wellness space and say they attend largely for networking purposes as female entrepreneurs or come to scout brands, giving the summit more of a trade-show vibe. 

EXECUTION: Like other conferences, a main selling point of In goop Health is exclusivity, inextricably tied to Paltrow’s cult of personality. Attendees pay for access to Paltrow’s world and to those she invites into it. The founder successfully positions herself as both an authority and an inquisitive consumer;  A recent marketing email for In goop Health’s London debut read from the perspective of Paltrow: “I’ve always had a lot of questions—big and small… Over the years, I’ve met some incredible people who’ve helped me find those answers… In goop Health is where those questions come to life.” Price point also puts In goop Health on an even higher echelon in the consumer imagination; while Beautycon ticketing starts at about $45, a single-day at In goop Health costs $1,000, although the company more recently began selling tickets to individual activities and sessions at a more manageable cost of $30. 

Why it matters 

Unlike Beautycon, Blushcon and Comic-Con, In goop Health’s message is centralized, stemming from Paltrow herself. While attendees of the wellness summits can sign up for various talks (“Fertility Myths and Answers,” “Conquering Burnout”) and activities (meditation, psychotherapy workshops), they resign themselves to be guided through a series of events curated by Paltrow herself. Clearly, Paltrow’s influence is enough to keep the wellness summits running, but attendees sign up for a much different experience than those at Beautycon; they pay for access to a world different than their own versus access to a world they are helping to create.

In goop Health is just one part of Goop’s virtuous cycle, which combines editorial, retail and events, but serves Goop more than anyone else compared to Beautycon’s B2B platform. Goop has a spiraling ecosystem of products and services that drive more traffic to its conference, including a growing blueprint of physical stores and an imminent Netflix miniseries. The latter in particular can help grow awareness for Goop overseas, as the Netflix series will be available to its approximately 10 million UK subscribers. Additionally, In goop Health functions as a branded wellness conference—beyond serving as a brand-building opportunity, the summit is a business opportunity that gives Goop the ability to pick and choose which brands it collaborates with throughout the three-day stint, including its own private labels. Vendors in the past have included Lululemon, which collaborated on an aerial yoga session and Glamsquad, which taught attendees how to do “no-makeup” makeup. These brands gain status thanks to Paltrow’s blessing, but the event is more about Goop than any other company—a departure from Beautycon, which seeks to provide its brand partners with a variety of services. 

Where to go from here

Celebrity-driven events often amplify the risks of celebrity-driven brands. As it exists today, Goop couldn’t exist without its famous founder, which is also true for In goop Health. An interesting and recent development is Goop’s launch of Goopfellas, a podcast for men that will be built out into a full product vertical and potentially a summit. How Paltrow’s influence over a brand for men might contrast to her current role in the women’s brand will be something to watch and may lend insight into how Paltrow could distance herself from the brand without removing its lifeblood down the road. 

A newer trend—celebrity-driven experiential attractions—may be buffered from some of the risks present in Goop’s business model, including Lady Gaga’s Haus of Gaga, an exhibit at her Las Vegas show that features a selection of her costumes and other items, some of which are for sale, and Modelland, Tyra Banks’ theme park—“A place where everyone can be a model.” Not so different from Disneyland’s attractions, these spaces immerse consumers in a foreign environment. These events help solve some of the key risks associated with celebrity-driven brands—what happens if the celebrity steps away from the helm? If the company is acquired?—by creating innovative spaces where consumers can live in the world of the celebrity. These attractions may be better poised to attract visitors by returning some agency to consumers, especially considering the rise of consumer-inspired events like Beautycon. They also create experiential spaces for consumers that go beyond the Museum of Ice Cream model, which can help protect brands from declining relevance. Between 2015 and 2019, for instance, profits from Disneyland’s parks and resorts division grew 47% while those of its media division decline 15%. 

As other consumer-facing events crop up, In goop Health is likely to receive greater criticism for its exclusive price point. Popsugar, for instance, debuted a festival in 2017 called Popsugar PlayGround that explicitly intends to make the wellness industry relatable and accessible to everyday consumers (tickets range from $65 to $225). Goop is no newcomer to criticism about its inaccessibility, and will likely retain its aspirationality on principle as more wellness-oriented events emerge. Even if this strategy tarnishes Goop’s reputation, its clientele, 11% of which earns more than $1 million annually, will keep the wheels turning.