Male Grooming and the 21st Century Man: How to Bring More Men into the Category?


The concept of men’s grooming has undergone enormous change and today’s young and mature men are more engaged than ever before as they look for ways to look good and enhance their appearance.

New-style barber shops are appearing on every high street and the market is awash with new brands and products, including L’Oreal Men Expert’s The Barber Club range, a 3-step range of products to clean, care and style beards.

Yet something’s not quite working. According to “Male Grooming Beauty’s Final Frontier?”, a recent report I co-authored with Two by Two Design, sales of men’s grooming products are ticking over at +3% per annum, considerably slower than many women’s beauty categories.

Last week a group of beauty and personal care experts and marketing professionals gathered in London to discuss what motivates men to buy or not, and how brands can tap into their buying behaviour and expectations.


Kate Nightingale is founder of strategy and customer experience consultancy, Style Psychology, and a psychologist and expert into consumer behaviour. Through her work she has seen that old fashioned ideas of masculinity are slowly changing. So while many of us want to fit into social groups and will follow certain dress codes, there is a tendency to want to express our identity, especially for those living in metropolitan areas.


Marcus Allen, global vice president, The Refinery, the luxury men’s grooming salon business, was also behind the massive growth of Urban Retreat in Harrods. He believes that getting men to change their attitudes towards grooming and to become more involved requires giving them permission to do so.

Permission to change

Marcus told the story of how he persuaded his new director to come into the salon for a haircut after years of paying £9 at his local barbers. “For the first time ever, his wife noticed that he’d had a haircut and his daughters also remarked on his new look. From then on, his attitude changed. He’d been given permission to invest in looking great.”

“You have to give men a reason to change,” agreed Kate. “Such as to get a promotion. Or if you are single, to understand that women appreciate you taking care of yourself.”

Like many of the new-style barber shops that are emerging, The Refinery offers men a safe environment that they want to visit. There is a social dynamic too, making them destination places to come and sit, chat, share a beer while having a hair cut, beard treatment or general tidy up.

Marcus believes that it starts with a safe, social environment where men feel good, not judged. “Men don’t want to be self aware as it’s scary,” he observed.

So is this a barrier to men wearing make-up?

Not necessarily. Some young men wear make-up to be safe and to belong, while some use make-up to express their own identity. Others feel it’s demanded of them.

Stirling Murray, ceo of The Red Tree beauty brand consultancy and moderator of the discussion, maintained that football culture is having a huge impact on men’s style changes. “Men are going for architecturally sculptured hair that needs cutting every two weeks. And it is footballers who are leading the charge.”

To maintain these cuts, men are dropping into the barbers every couple of weeks. That’s good news for now, but if the trend for longer styles returns, barbers will have to find other ways to keep coming.

Marcus pointed out that some popular styles are 70 years old. “Shaving the sideburns and round the back of the neck means you can go for longer between cuts. Some men never want to change and it’s a challenge to persuade them otherwise.”

The Importance of Touch

The discussion turned to the role touch plays in engaging consumers.

“Through touch we naturally connect with that product or person on an emotional level and are more likely to buy,” commented Kate. “Scent is another sense not being used to its full potential. Its association with the emotions is greater than any other sense.”

Stirling pointed out that guys are comfortable using online, so is the fact there is no opportunity for touch an issue?

Kate didn’t think so. “When we imagine we are touching, smelling or tasting something, the brain will react in the same way as if we were doing it. 90% of engagement with the product is the same as physical, especially if we identify with the person showing it.”

“We want the facts,” added Marcus. “Skincare is like going to the gym. The more you put into it, the more you will see results. Explain it. Tell us what it does. Keep repeating. And the more sources that repeat it the more you are likely to want to try it.”

Shopping channels, such as QVC, are successful because of this repetitive approach in demonstrating products to show how they work. Similarly, short online videos showing how to use products are an excellent way of engaging men.

Providing information at point of sale in retail is also key to grabbing men’s attention. According to Kate, 25% of space on the counter should be devoted to information. “You don’t need 15 of everything displayed on the counter. Design in retail should be about getting interaction, information and assurance.”

Extending Men’s Portfolio

Building up a relationship with consumers helps to upsell them onto more sophisticated products and concepts. The Refinery has several skincare packages - good (core), better (add on) and best (keep on adding).When it comes to services, a non-salesy approach also works best. The Refinery has seen a huge increase in brow shapes with brow shaping becoming the norm. “It starts with a little trim here or there, the small things. When the customer sees the improvement they want more. It’s about looking our absolute best,” said Marcus.

The Refinery is about to launch a huge campaign on nose waxing - the hair no man wants. Again, it’s about creating that safe environment built on trust.

The Final Word

Engaging young men is far easier as they spend more on grooming products than older men.However, the industry may be missing a trick. The largest uptake of Instagram is women over 45 and there is every reason to believe that older men are just as engaged with digital. And why not? Everyone wants to look better, whatever their age.

“I don’t think it should be about age, but lifestyle and identity,” affirmed Kate.

“The problem is that men aged 40 are not being given information in a way that they like to hear it. If the industry keeps talking to a 20 year old, they’ll be missing out.”

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