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Modern Retail Talk: How Topicals tries to tap into Gen Z’s aspirations

Most DTC brands have been trying to target a certain type of consumer — usually, high-earning millennials. Topicals has been going about things differently.

The startup skincare brand, which launched earlier this year, has said that it wants to market itself to the idiosyncrasies of Gen Z. Topicals posts much of its content on Twitter or TikTok, rather than Instagram. And its aesthetic and voice has been much more unvarnished rather than the preened tone many people expect from certain brands.

On the most recent Modern Retail Talk, Topicals co-founders Olamide Olowe and Claudia Teng spoke about how the company has positioned itself and why it has attempted to rethink its overall brand messaging.

The concept of aspirations is a core component of what the two founders built. Much of skincare marketing campaigns over the last 30 years, said Teng, has focused on skin perfection. “They are selling a version of aspiration that didn’t feel attainable to 99% of people,” he said. These companies were telling consumers that if you used their products, your skin would be cured of all ailments. Teng and Olowe explained that their business thesis was to focus on the fact that most people live with chronic conditions.

“How many people with visible skin conditions have you seen driving down Sunset?” Olowe asked. Topicals’ visuals, conversely, focused on being more honest about the conditions in which most people lived. Photos the company shares on social media showcases people with varying types of skin conditions, for example, and its Twitter strategy focuses on demystifying skincare as a whole.

Much of this work has been focused on understand who the company’s target consumer is. While skincare companies have traditionally focused on tapping millennials, Topicals focuses squarely on Gen Z.

According to Olowe, she thinks of the demographic as more of a psychographic. “They are inclusive individualists,” she said. “They care about other people, they care about causes that are bigger than themselves, care about diversity and inclusion, care about classism but each one of them have their own identity.”

TikTok, she explained, is a perfect example. “On TikTok, it’s all about creativity — what is the content in the message or video; how funny is it? how creative is it?” The content that works there — which speaks more broadly to the younger generation — connects to the greater world but also has a certain type of individuality. On Instagram, said Olowe, “you want to have the perfect feed.”

All of these observations, the two co-founders said, feed into the way they’ve launched and marketed their product line. They have focused on connecting to young people on Twitter as well as begun building out a more robust TikTok strategy. Gen Z, they reasoned, are seeking out different types of content from brands.

The two spoke about how they’ve used these insights to evolve Topicals. At the core is understanding who these young consumers are and what it is that they want. Gen Z, said Olowe, “celebrates that they are different from others. That’s very different from millennials.”

You can watch the full episode below: