Using internet research to inform business strategy
A market researcher, UX strategist, and analyst spend a morning trying to answer a simple question, using only insights available on the open internet: Will men buy pimple patches?
At Gitwit, we constantly explore new industries and buyer personas in search of potential opportunities, both for clients and our in-house venture studio, 19days.
We take a methodical, robust approach to our discovery process, and we’ve seen the value in taking weeks or even months to hone in on an exciting market opportunity and a real problem worth solving.
However, sometimes a client already has a very early-stage idea and wants to sniff out as quickly as possible if there’s anything there. They want to know, “is it worth my time to identify a problem or opportunity here?”
Our team has a remarkable ability to dive into an industry and gain real-world, data-driven market insights in an extremely short amount of time. How do we do it? We dig deep into customer experiences just by using information available on the open internet to fuel our netnography and market research methods.
What is netnography?
Put simply, netnography is a qualitative research methodology that uses principles of traditional ethnography to study interactions in online communities. Our team collects and analyzes data from sources such as social media platforms, discussion boards, images, videos, and other user-generated content to help us:
- Understand consumer behavior, needs, and preferences
- Inform marketing strategies
- Better understand a brand’s reputation
To illustrate the power of our research methods, we gave our team a challenge.
We asked our team to see how much they could learn about an industry in three hours using concentrated netnography and market research. To do this, we created an imaginary client with the brief:
A client has come to Gitwit with an interest in men’s pimple patches. They want us to help them evaluate the market and the opportunities around this product to help them decide whether to pursue a business in the space.
If you’re unfamiliar, pimple patches have exploded in recent years as a fashionable way to cover and heal zits with an easy-to-apply sticker. Our goal was to learn as much about men’s skin care and pimple patches as possible in this short timeframe. Our team started by storming questions we wanted to answer, including:
- How much are men spending on pimple treatment/acne treatment?
- Where are men talking about skin care? What are they saying?
- What do consumer ratings say about current pimple patch products?
- Are consumers looking for men’s skincare products? How often?
Here’s what we found.
Do men’s pimple patches present interesting business opportunities worth exploring?
My name is Kassie McClung, and I’m a market researcher at Gitwit. When we are exploring a new industry, I typically start by researching the overall market trends, and reviewing quantitative and qualitative data. I start with questions like:
- What is the total addressable market?
- How are people talking about this industry?
- What innovations are happening in this space?
For this project, I wanted to learn more about the skincare industry, particularly men’s skincare. I aimed to not only explore the current state of the industry, but upcoming trends in men’s skincare and what’s driving those trends.
I also delved into the competitive landscape for pimple patches. I wanted to know:
- Who are the major players in this space?
- How do they position themselves?
- Who are they talking to?
- Market research reports: I studied industry reports for the U.S. men’s personal care market and U.S. cosmetic & beauty products.
- Landscape research: I identified the top 6 brands selling pimple patches and researched their messaging and positioning.
- Netnography: I scoured social media platforms such as Instagram and Reddit to better understand consumer behaviors and preferences with pimple patches.
What I learned
After a fascinating three hours, I came back to the group with a few key takeaways:
- The men’s personal care market is growing — 8.7% CAGR through 2030 — and skin care is a significant driver.
- About one-third of millennial and Gen Z men don’t have a skin care routine. However, they increasingly are concerned about the appearance of their skin, signaling they may opt to use more reactive solutions such as pimple patches, versus a proactive daily regimen.
- Skin care brands that seek to capture more of this segment are becoming more non-gendered. Many brands’ have shifted their language from “beauty products” to “self care.”
Many brands aim to make their pimple patches invisible, while others position them as a fashion accessory, almost like a sticker, with colorful designs that include hearts, smiley faces, rainbows, and more.
A content creator on Instagram put it the best: “Sometimes I wear two different pimple patches. One for function and one for aesthetics.”
Through my netnography, I found that perhaps unsurprisingly, consumers who preferred the more visible brands typically belonged to Gen Z. This generation tends to embrace imperfection and authenticity.
Meanwhile, user-generated social media posts that highlighted less visible products tended to use more clinical language and appreciated that patches were discrete: “They look like bandaids that camouflage the pimple,” one poster said.
Existing pimple patch brands tend to be gender neutral and highlight that their products are subtle or invisible. Most position themselves as evidence-driven skincare products, rather than beauty products. To visualize how brands are positioning themselves, I created indexes for gender/product visibility and clinical vs trendy.
This helped me identify a couple of outliers:
Starface’s efforts to stand out from the competition and on users’ faces have also brought them to the top of the search rankings shown in Austin’s research.
Howdy, I’m Austin Boardman and I’m a data engineer here at Gitwit! I wanted to dive deep into the technical side of consumer buying decisions for skin care and pimple patches specifically.
Typically, my process starts by understanding trends in searches, website traffic, and the associated demographics and geographic data. We use tools like SEMRush, Ahrefs, and Google Trends to understand the competitive landscape and where consumer interest is growing.
From there, I can make recommendations for our hypothetical client about potential marketing channels, gaps in the competitive landscape, and the strategies that top performers are using to get traction.
I started by going to SEMRush and looking at search trends and keywords related to pimple patches. I wanted to answer the following questions:
- What are people actually searching for? What are the variants of generic names for this product? Are the searches gendered?
- Who is leading in branded search terms in this space? Why?
- What do we know about the demographics of the searchers?
Using “pimple patches” as a root keyword, SEMRush created a long list of additional related keywords, ranked by monthly search volumes. While the generic ‘pimple patches’ was by far the most commonly searched keyword at over 90k searches per month, there was also a long tail of less common keywords.
We gained a few insights here:
- Starface emerged as the leader at the top of the rankings, with over 10,000 monthly searches in the US for multiple keywords. Their Hello Kitty line was also in the rankings. This suggests that searchers with a high buying intent already have a specific brand in mind, and may be drawn in by the fashion element of Starface’s product.
- CPC (cost-per-click) is remarkably low, often well under $1.00. Depending on product cost, a D2C brand could likely find success running paid search ads, given the favorable economics.
- Conversely, competition for these keywords is relatively high. Organic SEO isn’t likely to get us far.
- Brick-and-mortar retailers do still command a smaller chunk of searches. We’re seeing over 2,000 monthly searches for Walgreens, CVS, and others, which may suggest some urgency in the purchasing decision — “Oh shit, I need to get rid of this zit immediately!”
On Google Trends, we observed that searches for “pimple patches” have skyrocketed! And this isn’t just a short-term trend. We’ve seen searches consistently increasing over the last 3 years.
Seeing that Starface appears to be the dominant market leader, I wanted to understand the deeper consumer perceptions surrounding the product. I used a scraping tool to obtain as many reviews of Starface as I could from Amazon, and loaded them into ChatGPT to understand the general sentiment. A few common trends emerged:
- Poor efficacy: While reviewers said Starface’s pimple patches worked for reducing size or redness or pimples, they often didn’t work for blackheads or larger pimples. Others mentioned they weren’t sticky enough and tended to fall off.
- High price: At around $0.50 apiece, Starface carries a significant cost burden compared to other brands or traditional acne treatments.
- Fashion over function: Many reviewers claimed you might be better off using more clinically formulated hydrocolloid patches for acne treatment, but liked the trendy fashion statement behind Starface’s product.
I also asked ChatGPT if any demographic trends emerged from the reviews. It said Starface tends to be more popular with younger users, with some reviews even coming from parents purchasing the patches for their children. However, a clear gender bias didn’t emerge; Starface appears to be loved by Gen Z users regardless of gender – a trend supported by Yugvir’s research.
Hey there! I am Yugvir Parhar, a User Experience Researcher at Gitwit. I wanted to look at this industry and men’s skincare from a user-centric perspective. Some initial research questions that I started with were:
- How do men perceive skincare?
- What kinds of products are they using?
- Why are men adopting or not adopting skincare products?
- How do different demographics of men use these products?
I started by doing secondary research, looking at articles, publications, and trends — thanks, Austin! I found some interesting insights about men’s perception of skin care, their changing views on it, and factors that affect their perception.
Here are the key insights I came across:
Insight 1: There is a generational divide in men’s perceptions and acceptance of skin care and the types of skin care products they want.
Younger men (aged 18-34) are about 6 times more likely to use skin care products than older men (aged 50 and above). With the evolving views on gender roles, social media, and the rise of awareness about wellbeing, younger men are more likely to be investing in skin care than older men. This is a stark difference in views and self-care practices.
Of course, when we talk about consumer validation, we would like to be more thorough in the diversity of “men” we speak with. Academic studies so far have mostly taken into account heterosexual men; however, we may need to expand our definition to find a better and more accurate customer segment to target.
Insight 2: Younger men are more open and likely to adopt skincare products because of an increased social presence and more fluid gender norms.
- Even among younger men (Gen Z and millennials), Gen Z cares more about brands that support DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) and are gender-neutral or gender-fluid.
- TikTok has become a powerhouse of marketing to Gen Z and is catering to their desires for eco-conscious, sustainable mission, and gender-liberated products.
Younger men are also more prone to acne and other skin care needs as they go through puberty, and they use products to hide blemishes or moisturize.
Therefore, for a product to be successful for this target segment, the best messaging is gender-neutral and eco-friendly, using channels of marketing that younger generations are more familiar with like TikTok or Instagram as well as using influencer culture.
Insight 3: There is a push to shift the perception of skincare from being about beauty to being about personal wellbeing, in line with healthy eating and going to the gym. A contributing factor to this is the receding notion that skin care is not for men and only for the purpose of beauty. This means that people are now starting to think of skin care as any other personal wellbeing activity. There’s also a growing trend in personalized skincare and acne products.
Insight 4: Older men, however, are still sensitive to messaging around skin care products. They tend to go for products that target males in their messaging and are geared more towards anti-aging.
To better understand older men’s perceptions of skin care, I conducted semi-structured interviews with a convenience sample of men around Gitwit. A few trends emerged:
- When it comes to skincare, they are very minimal (if they use it at all), and they think of it as a luxury rather than a necessity.
- “Oh I think it is definitely a luxury. I don’t need any of this to be healthy, it is just add-ons.” -Participant, Gitwit
- They responded more to “male-specific” brand positioning, including skin care products from “Beardo” and “The Man Company”. This is supported by the rise of more men’s grooming sections in superstores like Target and Walmart.
- “I buy all of my ‘skincare’ from the men’s section in stores. It was so stereotypically male with a brick wall and the guy with a beard but it spoke to me for some reason.” -Participant, Gitwit
Forbes agrees, asserting that “Men of every age are more likely to buy cosmetics from a men’s brand than a women’s brand and that tendency increases with age.”
From a glance, it seems that there are multiple viable target users with the major differentiator being age. This also means that different age segments gravitate toward different products and brand positions in this space. Here is an initial breakdown of the user types we identified:
- Younger men (18-25) They use more blemish hiding products such as pimple patches and blemish hiding creams like BB and CC creams. They are more open to using products that are specifically for skin care as they believe skin care is for all and are more open to buying products marketed as “for women”. Another important trait setting them apart is that nearly 60% of Gen Z only buy eco-conscious products.
- Young Adult Men (26-50) They are more likely to invest in grooming products and buy from both gender neutral as well as male-specific brands. They are more open to trying skin care products, however, value discretion while buying. They do not want to be seen as investing in skin care.
- Older Men (50+) They typically prefer masculine brands and do not care for “skin care products”. Among those who do use skin care products, they are more likely to invest in anti-aging products.
Based on these findings, our recommendation would be to narrow in on one target segment and market specifically to them using the messaging and products that most resonate, and making sure that the company serves missions that the target persona cares about.
As our team reviewed our findings, we wanted to reground ourselves in our fundamental question: Is there a market for pimple patches targeted to men? Should our hypothetical client pursue this venture?
In short, we think there’s an opportunity, but consumer preferences aren’t quite as straightforward as we expected. Overall, the men’s skin care industry is growing and the competitive landscape is rapidly evolving. We would recommend to our hypothetical client that we further explore one of two lanes:
Lane 1: A gender-neutral skin care brand for Gen Z (or younger)
Younger generations are more acne-prone and may be more likely to seek out reactive skin care products with quick results, such as pimple patches. However, due to this generation’s perceptions of gender norms, we wouldn’t recommend pursuing a strongly masculine brand identity.
Our research indicated there could be an opportunity to build a new brand in this space – perhaps a downmarket or more clinically-focused competitor to Starface, given their marginal reviews. Search data suggests that a downmarket option could face some economic headwinds with a potentially high CAC, but TikTok’s new Shop offering is definitely worth exploring, given this generation’s affinity for the platform.
To succeed with this demographic, we’d recommend a gender-neutral brand positioning that advocates inclusivity and diversity and feels mission-driven. This demographic gravitates strongly toward brands that prioritize sustainability, social responsibility, and ethical practices.
Lane 2: Men’s skin care for an older demographic
For this demographic, we wouldn’t recommend focusing on pimple patches, both because acne is less common for older people and because older men are reluctant to be seen investing in their skin. Highly visible face patches aren’t likely to catch on.
To win with this demographic, we’d recommend developing a masculine brand offering a more comprehensive skin care line with prominent anti-aging options. A direct-to-consumer e-commerce play is worth considering, both because it would allow customers to purchase discreetly and because of the low barrier to entry for our hypothetical startup.