The medical aesthetics industry has experienced high rates of growth in recent years and looks likely to maintain this momentum in the foreseeable future. Several factors underline this trend, over and above our increasing preoccupation with fitness, health and physical appearance.
These include waning stigmas around surgical and other interventions beyond medical necessity; the prevalence of non-invasive or minimally invasive aesthetic technologies and procedures; rising female empowerment and financial independence; and the influence of social media and celebrity lifestyles. At the same time, the emphasis of medical aesthetics is changing in a number of ways.
Among these are growing interest from millennials and men, whereas previously the core aesthetics clientele was older women; and the emergence of ‘preventive’ aesthetic intervention at a relatively early age. The market is also shifting geographically, from medical-aesthetic heartlands such as North America to fast-growing segments in Asia and Latin America. The latter may be relatively established territories bolstered by medical tourism, such as South Korea and Brazil, or large emerging markets where an expanding middle class with accumulating disposable income fuels dynamic growth rates.
Various estimates put compound annual growth in the global medical-aesthetics market at between 6% and 12% over the next five to eight years, with higher rates in Asia Pacific and other later-developing regions. Countries such as Mexico, India and China are seen as fertile territory for medical aesthetics, partly due to the population aging, increased awareness of aesthetics possibilities, and availability of local surgical expertise.
Moreover, these regions already have a vigorous digital infrastructure in place, which can help remodel the aesthetics industry to reach a wider audience through multiple channels and devices. In doing so, businesses can expand and reinforce direct-to-consumer relationships by leveraging the same media that underpin the physical self-awareness driving interest in aesthetic procedures.
For example, around half of the world’s internet users are in Asia, which spearheads global digital innovation in a number of sectors. Venture capital and private equity investments in digital health across the region expanded at a compound annual growth rate of 38 percent between 2015 to 2020, according to McKinsey & Company.
Aesthetic medicine and digital media
There are inherent links between aesthetic medicine and digital media. Social networking, and particularly photo/video-sharing platforms such as Instagram, are geared to people who want to display their faces, bodies and personality ‘brand’ to the best advantage. They are natural terrain for the celebrities and influencers who tend to be engaged in cultures of health, fitness and self-presentation. They encourage a younger demographic to think more about the way they look and how that relates to self-image, relationships or ambitions.
These associations may actually have benefited from the COVID-related restrictions that dealt a temporary blow to the aesthetics industry through facility closures, social isolation or reduced disposable income. Increased recourse to Zoom, Teams or other video communications platforms, where people can see how they look online, has focused users’ attention on the aesthetic elements of their onscreen presence.
Beyond that, digital innovation is making inroads into medical aesthetics from a service, diagnosis and treatment perspective with remote consultations, particularly in areas reliant on visual representation and high-definition images, such as teledermatology. Nonetheless, most of the digital opportunities in aesthetics have to do with marketing, public relations, education and awareness - or relationship-building.
Expanding and consolidating these activities is especially important in an industry that has grown rapidly and sometimes quasi-legally. The range of options on offer may look confusing to people unfamiliar with aesthetics procedures. The industry still faces a good deal of scepticism and cultural resistance, despite changing cultural norms. And it involves considerable personal and financial investment from customers.
Industry can raise its game
Against this background, accelerated digital engagement across multiple industries and settings, as a result of successive COVID-related lockdowns and the normalisation of home working, is a chance for the aesthetics industry to raise its game and bounce back from any pandemic-imposed interruptions to growth. It needs to think carefully, though, about the right channels and technologies to pursue, and precisely what kind of customer experience can be created or enhanced digitally.
In particular, the aesthetics sector has to understand that digital media and platforms, while offering far more scope for targeting and personalisation, are also multidirectional and participatory. Spheres of influence and conversations about brands and services extend beyond the tight control over messaging characteristic of traditional pharmaceutical marketing campaigns. This creates strong potential for virality that can work for or against an industry still destabilised to some degree by unregulated practices or regulatory uncertainty.
In most cases, changing a consumer’s appearance, even with increasingly non- or minimally invasive procedures such as Botox, microneedling or laser reduction, will require a substantial comfort level of around issues such as safety, durability and pricing. Consumers will want to be well-informed, relying not just on professional judgment but on third-party opinions and experiences conveyed and discussed through channels like social media.
A worldwide medical aesthetics study published by Allergan in 2019, for example, found that 28% of global consumers turned to the internet as their first step in seeking a dermatologist or plastic surgeon for an aesthetic treatment. Moreover, 82% of US consumers aged 21-35 years chose Instagram as their leading information source.
This calls for a multi- or omnichannel strategy targeting not just end-users but doctors, clinics and online influencers (which include doctors, suppliers and their customers). It may involve a mix of social platforms (Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, etc), online advertising, e-mail communications, viral marketing, content seeding and outreach to social-media influencers, exploiting interlocking networks of paid, owned and earned media. All of this can be backed up by advanced analytics for real-time targeting or adjustment, and customer-relationship management tools.
Today’s consumers expect an immersive experience online (e.g., virtual tours of medical aesthetic clinics/treatments), and across multiple platforms, all the more so in a business segment that is about presentation. Leading medical aesthetics businesses have already taken steps to build digital platforms in emerging markets with strong growth prospects.
In China, for example, Allergan formed a strategic partnership with Alibaba Health to launch a medical-aesthetics consumer education and consultation platform in September 2018. With Chinese regulators scrutinising aesthetics practices, the aim of the partnership was to promote “appropriate” medical-aesthetics consultations and treatments via an ecosystem of online-to-offline communications and transactions based on mobile-internet and artificial-intelligence capabilities.
Homegrown digital apps such as So-Young and Gengmei have also made headway in China, incorporating features such as facial scans and diagnoses, searches for clinics and live consultations. Users can share reviews or treatment journals and post ‘before-and-after’ selfies through the apps. A similar US-based platform is RealSelf, which expanded its global reach this year by acquiring Tajmeeli, a leading aesthetic procedure resource for Arabic speaking consumers, and YNS Group, a portfolio of online destinations serving customers throughout Europe and Latin America.
These initiatives mirror the proliferation of digital platforms, agencies and websites for medical aesthetics in Western markets. They indicate just how critical digital resources are likely to be in building awareness, confidence and uptake in a sustainable and reputable medical aesthetics industry, as consumers populations shake off pandemic restrictions and prepare to look their best in the outside world.
Right customer, right channel, right content: leveraging omnichannel analytics, technographic profiling and influencer mapping
Research Partnership has witnessed the accelerated adoption of digitalisation in healthcare across many therapy areas. It has been considering how to support healthcare-marketing operations with their new business questions, both now and in the future.
One of the key challenges for marketers is knitting together the proliferation of available channels, both online and offline, to provide a meaningful and engaging brand experience for the customer. One of the ways in which we are supporting our clients is with technographic profiling to understand changing online behaviours among both healthcare professionals and end users. We use quantitative research and advanced analytics to map channel preferences and segment customers by behaviour, channel and messages. This ensures optimum ROI against available marketing resources. Knowing where and how to communicate to maximum effect is critical, and our omnichannel analytics can help with this.
In addition, having witnessed the rise of a new breed of online influencer, both medical and non-medical, with the power to influence large audiences, we have developed a means of profiling and mapping these individuals. In doing so, we can also help identify ways to develop an effective influencer-engagement strategy and guide the online conversation so that it elevates the brand.