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We analysed the visuals of top skincare brands - here's what content performs best in 2021

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Ruth Stephensen
We analysed the visuals of top skincare brands - here's what content performs best in 2021

The skincare industry is a highly competitive space with new brands and products emerging all the time. While many beauty brands have suffered over the past year, skincare is a category that has proven more resilient as customers have shifted their spending to self-care and pampering trends.

With reduced access to bricks and mortar stores, many skincare brands have ramped up their ecommerce capabilities to grow direct to consumer sales channels. Digitally savvy brands are cultivating highly engaged social media followings and using targeted advertising to direct traffic to their online stores.

As social media platforms are highly visual channels, brands require a large quantity of branded photo and video content to keep their audiences engaged. So what type of content performs best? We took a visual deep dive into the data from over 2700 posts on Instagram to find out!

How we executed our Visual Audit

We started with an initial assessment of 30 top skincare brands and reviewed their Instagram accounts and all posts for 2021. After this review we narrowed our list down to 10 accounts, selecting a mix of classic and cult brands, that were showing significant audience engagement and growth.

Brands we reviewed: Drunk Elephant, Frank Body, Fresh Beauty, Glow Recipe, Herbivore Botanicals, La Mer, Neutrogena, Sand & Sky, Summer Fridays and Versed

The next step was to rank every post made by each of the above brands this year, from the highest to lowest levels of engagement. From this we were able to compile a list of top performing visuals from each account to analyse the content and format.


Most engaging visual trends for skincare brands

After examining each of the posts we were able to see very similar themes emerging in the types of content that audiences responded to - and potentially just as interesting was the content that wasn't on the list, but we will get to that at the end!

Nearly all of the brands had high-performing posts in similar categories and from this we were able to pinpoint some specific content trends emerging.

Are you ready to find out what they were? Let's start at the bottom and work our way to the top visual trend of 2021.

Skincare Content Trend #8 - Key Ingredients

Product images featuring key ingredients were a popular feature among the top images. We predominantly saw natural elements, such as fruit or florals, used to visually emphasise active ingredients or fragrances.

Micro trend: Ingredients plus texture

Skincare Content Trend #7 -  Graphic Artwork

Brands didn't just rely on photographic content,  many shared custom illustrations featuring product ranges or how to guides. Skincare brands also used graphics to share typographic statements for brand announcements or to raise awareness of brand advocacy. 5/10 of the featured brands had custom graphics or text appearing in their top 10 posts.

Micro trend: Product range illustrations

Skincare Content Trend #6 - Humour

It's not about marketing or informing your customers and some of our featured skincare brands didn't shy away from cracking a joke or making a lighthearted post. Some popular types of humorous posts were sharing an amusing tweet, jumping on a meme trend with Bernie Sanders or adding custom tags to stills from cult TV shows.

Micro trend: Branded memes

Skincare Content Trend #5 - Moodboard Images

Aspirational stock images were still utilised by some of brands we examined. Interestingly 5 out of 10 of the top posts from Herbivore Botanicals were moodboard style images (which we actually found very surprising because their own product imagery is stunning!) Skincare audiences particularly responded to cute animals and dreamy pastel coloured bathrooms.

Micro Trend - Mood videos.

Skincare Content Trend #4 - Product In-situ

In-situ imagery gives the audience a look at how the product is used and often has a more raw, lifestyle oriented feel. This was a popular visual trend with 8 out of the 10 skincare brands we examined having this style of imagery in their top posts.

For this analysis we defined in-situ as a product in hand or placed within a space it would be used - such as a bathroom or bedside. It's worth noting that although there were some human elements in these images, such as hands or legs, there were no faces present.

Micro trend - Product being dispensed

Skincare Content Trend #3 - Collections

It turns out bigger is better - if you are talking about product collections that is!

Large numbers of products displayed in cabinets, shelves and dressers were all among the top performing posts. Product hauls were a consistently high-performing visual trend shared by a number of accounts we reviewed showing that skincare audiences seem to agree that more is more!

Micro trend - The shelfie

Skincare Content Trend #2 - Texture

Nearly 20% of the top posts, from across all the brands we reviewed, featured the texture of their formulas. In-fact, 9 of the 10 brands audited had this style of visual content ranking in their top 10 posts. This demonstrates that skincare audiences respond to sensorial content highlighting product texture and swatches.

Micro trend - Macro texture shots.

Skincare Content Trend #1 - Styled Product Images

The top performing style of content, which accounted for nearly a quarter of the most liked posts, was straight-up product oriented visuals. These images had one or more products as the primary focus, some supporting props and no human elements.

Micro trend to watch - Minimalist styling

That concludes our list of top performing content for 2021 but before you go—let's discuss what wasn't on the list.

What types of content didn't perform?

Firstly—and most surprisingly—there was a notable absence of faces. While all of the brands reviewed posted a significant number of images featuring customers and models, only one post in the top 100 we reviewed showed someones face.

Secondly only 6% of the top performing content was video. Interestingly when we reviewed the posts with the lowest engagement of the year, video featured heavily in the bottom ranked posts from all brands. This least-liked video content was predominantly commercial looking ads that had been repurposed for social media sharing.

Key takeaways

From this visual study and deep-dive into how skincare brands are visually communicating with their audiences we have three key takeaways:

Every brand and audience is unique so it is important to keep an open mind when designing content for your customers. Not every image has to be flawless or perfectly on-brand to perform well on social media.

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