Google wants to change the way we shop online, beginning with beauty brands

YouTube influencers, sexier shopping searches and a ton of data are all part of Google's master plan.

We’ve never been harder to please.

Today’s consumer is demanding yet curious, fussy but impatient. Like a toddler, basically.

Nowhere is the marketers’ problem more real than in the beauty sector. Vague searches for products plague Google. In fact, 40 percent of all shopping-related queries are for broad terms like "makeup" or "face cream," according to a Pixability study. Yet interest in the industry continues to grow at a remarkable rate. On YouTube, for example, views for videos in the beauty and personal care categories are up 65 percent year-on-year—garnering a total of 222 billion views annually.

But Google thinks it has the answers. Alphabet’s prized gem is poised for a huge overhaul of how consumers experience online shopping. It’s doing this with a trifecta attack, roughly broken down into themes: shopping experience, data and messaging.

"We’ll be evolving," said Brian McDevitt, Google’s industry director for consumer packaged goods. "We’re going to present more curated shopping results to provide a more natural and organic way of discovering various products. In the past, it’s not been a very visual experience."

Enter its secret weapon: "Manufacturer Center." Think of this tool as the backbone for the digital shelf space that a beauty brand would want to have with Google. Brands that upload and share all product information, descriptions, pricing etc., will give Google a very clear sense of a particular product. This will ultimately unlock an array of different shopping experiences that can be teased across, YouTube, Google Express and its countless other platforms.

So offering brands the opportunity to share more details with Google is step one. Step two is finding a way to use this information to make the online shopping experience more visual, more all-encompassing. It’s unclear how this would look. But envision a future search as an enhanced version of Showcase Shopping Ads (the string of pictures showing branded products that line the top of devices after a search for something vague like "makeup").

Then there’s YouTube. "We know that there are all these moments where creators and influencers are talking about products," said McDevitt. "It seems like a very natural place to shorten the journey to retail by making product discovery much more intuitive in those moments."

Marrying retailers with consumers’ individual brand needs and wants will, of course, require your personal information. Your online footprint will play its most vital role yet.

"If you think about Google in totality, we have seven different properties with over a billion users that allow us to generate a rich tapestry of signals about a particular user," McDevitt explained. "From Google Search I get a very good sense of what this user is searching for, from Google Maps I have a really rich understanding of location. From YouTube I understand what they’re watching. So all of those signals across all these different properties give me a great understanding of what this consumer is interested in."

On the brand side, Google has also stepped up its data game. It continues to provide insights so that brands better understand their consumers. MAKE UP FOR EVER, for example, based a campaign to launch its Ultra HD Foundation on surprising data it unearthed.

They discovered two very different Google searches linked to foundations. Around 70 percent of general complexion queries, like "best concealer," were related to a specific brand, such as "best concealer Estee Lauder." Meanwhile, only 33 percent of really specific complexion searches were related to a brand, such as "best concealer for dark skin." So they built a campaign around this insight to reach a much more diverse audience.

In doing so, they unlocked an entire palette of new opportunities. MAKE UP FOR EVER was able to build messaging that drove awareness of how they were differentiated in addressing the needs of a more multicultural consumer. The result? A 44 percent lift in brand recall, an 18 percent rise in product searches and its YouTube channel subscriber account went up by 11 percent in just one month, according to Google.

The last spear in Google’s three-pronged assault on internet shopping is messaging. There’s less attention being devoted to traditional advertising in this sector, said McDevitt. No one has nailed attention better than YouTube influencers (a few of whom spoke about how they engage their audiences at Google’s second annual Beauty Redefined event today).

Johnson and Johnson’s Neutrogena recently capitalized on the use of influencers for the launch of its acne-fighting Light Therapy Mask. The product demands a huge shift in how consumers physically treat their skin for spots—from applying cream to actually wearing a mask that resembles something from Star Wars. Who better to push such a radical product but the influencers consumers know and trust, like Nash Grier. Google says Neutrogena directly attributed a growth in awareness and a sales lift for the mask to its YouTube campaign.

Any changes to the online shopping experience will be gradual and perhaps not immediately noticeable (it’s unlikely you’ll punch in a Google shopping search and be faced with an aggressive new module). But that’s because the real future is happening behind closed doors where one word reigns supreme: Data, data, data.

"We know that the consumer is much more demanding, they’re much more curious and they’re much more impatient," added McDevitt. "So we think it’s going to be important that a marketer is going to have to be much more data-driven in their approach with connecting with the consumer because  that unlocks the ability to have a more personalized experience with a brand."

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