Beauty has always led the way in influencer marketing, and with TikTok and Gen Z upending old standards and creating new conversations, beauty was the first vertical to bring enthusiastic early adoption from brands—legacy and challenger alike. Many of the best practices in influencer marketing were born in beauty, and this hasn’t changed with the rise of TikTok.
In 12 years of casting and development consulting, I’ve seen the spokesperson paradigm shift from "real people," "models," and "celebrities," to the less-gatekept world of "influencer marketing," and now the exciting evolution of the "creator ecosystem." For our team at Ampersand, creator marketing is more than a change of phrase: It signifies that greater value is going to be placed on storytelling and creativity, moving away from the aspirational psychology that leverages peer pressure, privilege, and exclusion. Brands need to step away from old habits and thrive with new partnerships. Beauty brands are among the most willing to do this.
They need to take a chance at something—or someone—new. This is not a hard sell among beauty marketers. They’re always pushing to find better ways to reach customers. They are ready to test new tech capabilities and sales optimization features. They take smart chances in casting. When we talk about thought leadership, we don’t need to look far. Here are some of the practices I’ve seen beauty brands have great success with on TikTok in 2022.
Lean into creative filmmaking.
Video formats like the tutorial, the unboxing video, and the product test were perfected by beauty influencers and will always have a place in the ecosystem, as long as consumers are curious about new products. But these video formats do tend to get stale. I love to see creator briefs that guide them toward a visual style, or a specific aesthetic the brand wants their product associated with. YSL Black Opium’s dramatic transition from day to night was eye-catching every time, and distinct to the product, even though creators were given a lot of leeway in how to do the transition. One prolific TikTik influencer, @domenicaaq, created a particularly striking campaign.
One of my favorite channels on TikTok, @RougeReview, does beautiful visual interpretations of different fragrances. You may have heard of the unusual and very intriguing neurodiverse condition called synesthesia, which causes a “crossover” of the senses. Some synesthetes can taste or smell colors or sounds. The RougeReview channel is almost the inverse: this creator’s visual presentations of perfumes are so evocative, it triggers the feeling of knowing that scent.
Don’t judge a creator on the basis of their follower count, when so many other factors matter.
Even if you’re implementing a data-driven discovery process to choose creators, a channel’s follower count is only one piece of a larger equation. Right next to it on TTCM (TikTok Creator Marketplace), you see Average Video Views, which is actually the metric that determines post reach—and the swing is so dramatic with TikTok creators that a person’s AVV might be higher than their total follower count. Or, more normally, it might be a solid 20-30%. If you’re looking at a creator with 200K followers and 65K AVVs that reporting period, versus a creator with 3 million followers and 10K AVV, the 200K channel is by far the better value.
The other enormously helpful stat TTCM gives is percentage of active followers versus inactive. Imagine how many loud and embarrassing public battles Twitter and Facebook could have avoided if they were just willing to provide partners with that level of transparency about their user data.
Transcend your vertical.
TikTok is the platform to experiment with creators outside your vertical. Many advertisers are looking at lifestyle crossovers that can both bring their brand to new audiences and reinvent the visual interpretation. A colleague at a multicultural skincare start-up told me that she’d seen the greatest recent ROI when partnering with professionals in CorpTok. This makes all the sense, as creators in those communities are usually in the same economic bracket as the target customer. Also, unlike beauty vloggers who test new products daily, business creators may be more loyal to a favorite beauty brand.
Other verticals where I’ve seen great crossovers include gaming, anime, and entertainment. Gifted cosplayers and visual artists thrive in these categories, and while they’re not creating looks you’d see out on the street, they’re pushing the limits of visual transformation and getting huge audiences for it. Then, on the flip side, there are pop-culture personalities like fan favorite @hellotefi who might do five videos in a row reporting on a celebrity breakup, then switch things up and take viewers on a journey of discovery featuring her favorite skincare products at Sephora … or go glam with a red lip for a Chanel party.
As for the beauty/care creators you’re on hiatus with, don’t worry: they’re trying new partnerships and new content styles with candy brands, car makers, and more.
You can always be more inclusive.
Beauty is an intimidating concept for many consumers. It feels unattainable. Normal conditions like oily skin or age spots or the fullness of one’s cheeks are all potential problem zones that need to be fixed, in order to hit certain predetermined beauty standards. This has been the case for centuries.
Reframing the conversation around beauty, and the definitions of it, is a process without end. It also gives brands so many opportunities to be inclusive, and to find new customers through being more inclusive. Brands including NYX Cosmetics and e.l.f. have turned their channels into a rotating showcase of real customers and non-model-looking creators showing what the products look like on a whole range of skin tones, lips, brows, etc. New brand Youthforia features its Asian founder in more than half of its videos, talking about everything from her startup story to her "flawless base" routine. And over on MAC Cosmetics’ channel, I was thrilled to see videos from people with gray hair and fine wrinkles—repping the demographic that all of us will reach one day, with luck.
If you don’t like where the influencer/creator industry is heading, change it.
Recently, some brands have been asking for campaigns that "feel influencer-y" or platform-authentic but "don’t involve any influencers” in order to keep down costs and to retain more of the creative control.
Undeniably, Instagram is having a moment of pricing inflation. Look at it as your sign to seek out emerging creators on TikTok. The platform is surfacing tens of thousands of new channels onto TTCM every month, and creators can post their own rates and negotiate with brands directly. For every mid-tier influencer quoting $10K per post, there’s someone with a nearly identical profile and equal follower count asking for $2K or less.
The other way to stabilize the industry may be through education. Right now, many would-be creators are getting all their information from upstart management firms or "master class" workshops whose founders may have no professional marketing/advertising experience. This is why, when you ask for marketing case studies, result guarantees, or any other justification for their high rates, many influencers cannot answer. They can’t tell you why their session rate is so high because they’ve never been on a real set, and never seen a production budget. They won’t allow the normal agency review and approvals process for their deliverables because they don’t know it’s normal.
Many advertising executives have anxiously inquired whether there’s a system to protect them from getting creator content that they don’t like, not being able to request revisions, and having to pay for content they end up not using. My solution is simple: I say from the time I reach out, “This is the review and approvals process.” We put the number of approvals and the circumstances under which reshoots can be requested into the contract, and into the brief. Creators or reps who can’t agree do not become partners.
It would be great to see beauty brands lead a push toward educating on best practices in creator marketing—just like you train hairstylists and makeup artists on how to use products and techniques. Having swung the pendulum one way, beauty marketing professionals can now help push it toward balance.
A glowing future
While every variable in the vertical—from the notion of beauty standards to popular platforms to consumer habits —might change, beauty consistently innovates to meet customers where they are. We’ve seen DTC marketing programs pave the way for big-box retail dominance. We’ve reached the peak of "influence" and seen the new vistas of the creator universe. Next up? The metaverse … and beyond.
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