Storytelling has been the backbone of beauty since inception. Word-of-mouth endorsements and product education all rely on great stories. This storytelling isn’t always done through words alone; at retail, stories are primarily visual. When a consumer combs the aisles at retail, design in the form of colors, shapes, symbols, and other visual imagery beckon from across the room. Words and the written story are important, but often only after a consumer picks a product up.
Online, however, words are first—every search on Google, every Facebook group or hashtag, every YouTube video discovered by consumers is first powered by words, an inquiry, an idea. Here, storytelling has seen a reemergence. Today’s omni-channel consumer is more informed and empowered than ever. They are doing their research. 58% of beauty category shoppers begin their purchase journey online and 73% use their phones for research while in store. When Steve Jobs put a multitasking minicomputer into the palm of your hand in the form of an iPhone, the world changed. Today, smartphone technology has become an integrated part of our lives and consumers are shopping online from brick-and-mortar stores, on the soccer field, in the carpool lane, on social media—everywhere.
Recently, Make Up In New York asked me to curate a discussion panel exploring how three leading platforms in beauty technology are helping both brands and consumers discover all the stories they want to hear, all the information they want to know, and ultimately, the product right for them.
TOPIC 1: TRADITIONAL PRESS VS. INFLUENCER MARKETING
Kelly Kovack – Founder, BeautyMatter: BeautyMatter is an independent industry publication dedicated to finance, mergers, acquisitions, tech, careers, and trends in beauty. BeautyMatter’s aim is to fill the void, connect the dots, and provide an informed, analytical, and compelling point of view. They offer highly curated news and original content by thought leaders and beauty insiders.
Kelly, you represent both the traditional media channel and have worked with influencer marketing. Can you please elaborate what levers a brand should pull and when? What is the determining factor when choosing one media over another? Can you also talk about when they collaborate together?
KK: Unfortunately, there is not a one-size-fits-all answer. First and foremost, it is contingent upon the brand’s business model. For example, a DTC brand is going to have a different marketing mix than one with a more traditional brick-and-mortar distribution strategy. As a rule, the decision should be made based on the objective and budget of the initiative. Today, brands have a plethora of marketing tools at their disposal—the key to success is knowing how and when to deploy them and in what combination.
Regarding collaboration, in many ways they have already merged from a functional standpoint. PR firms have had to become fluent in the world of influencer marketing to remain competitive and very often influencer outreach is more heavily weighted than traditional media. Honestly, large influencers are behaving more and more like traditional press because it’s become a business. Something that is important to remember is that every market is different. I think the US and China probably have the most evolved influencer marketing eco-systems, but when you launch in the UK traditional press is still really powerful and has to be a part of a brand’s strategy.
How important is it to guide the influencer in their review? Is a general overview of the brand/product enough for the content to feel organic?
KK: The best content is always the most organic, but you want the information to be factually correct. Scripting influencers is a definite no-no, but you do want them to have all the information necessary to properly tag the posts, understand your brand values, and have product knowledge. Don’t do a cut and paste of your training manual or swipe the info off your website. Take the time to understand the influencer’s POV and present your information through that lens so it is relevant to the content they create and their audience. It should be approached from the mindset of building a relationship, not executing a transaction.
You talk a lot about brands creating thought leadership pieces. How do you see qualitative techniques such as storytelling and design thinking affect marketing in upcoming years?
KK: Storytelling has been and will remain the most powerful conduit for connecting with and marketing to consumers. Storytelling has been around since the beginning of man—we’re hard-wired to receive information this way. What has evolved and what will continue to evolve are the methods for disseminating the narrative. Design in general has become an integral part to building a narrative because so much of the communication that happens online is first and foremost visual.
Thought leadership has been one of my soapbox topics for a while because it has the potential of amplifying marketing efforts while also establishing credibility and differentiation for a brand beyond the product or service. However, it only works if you’ve a founder that is truly an expert, has commitment to a set of values, or is willing to opine on trending topics. Thought leadership opens up more marketing opportunities but it also creates more work because to do it well requires a strategy, a commitment from the founder, and an investment of time and effort.
There are moments when followers might complain about their go-to influencers posting too many sponsored or #ad posts, thus questioning the credibility/ legitimacy of their reviews. Do you think this will affect the way consumers research through influencers to make purchase decisions?
KK: Perhaps, I think this is why we’ve seen engagement rates from nano- and micro-influencers surpass many of the big influencers. That being said, if the content is good I’m not sure consumers care if it’s sponsored. I think influencers will still be a stop on consumers’ path-to-purchase, sponsored or not.
You recently wrote about “Influencer Engagement Nearing All-Time Lows.” If influencer marketing is declining, is it still more or less effective than more “traditional” digital marketing?
KK: Let me start by saying influencer marketing is not a new concept. Brands have always leveraged influential people to help market their brands and products—social media turned it into an industry. For that reason, I don’t think influencer marketing will ever die, but it’s already begun to evolve. We’re beginning to see a push for more regulation especially with wellness products, brands are establishing process to vet influencers, and there are now metrics and KPIs to attribute the ROI of programs. I am not sure influencer marketing is more or less effective than more “traditional” digital marketing; I think they are an important part of the marketing ecosystem. Digital marketing isn’t a zero-sum game—there is a time and place for each which I don’t think will change. One very interesting evolution is influencers launching brands—not simply putting their name on some private-label product, building proper beauty brands and leveraging their communities to get traction. Just this quarter we’ve seen Marianna Hewitt and Lauren Gores’ Summer Fridays, Laney Crowell’s Saie, and Deepica Mutyala’s Live Tinted all receive funding for product brands.
TOPIC 2: THE POWER OF REAL-WORLD REVIEWS
Laura Brinker – SVP Marketing, Influenster: Influenster is like TripAdvisor or Yelp for brands, with beauty being one of the largest categories on the platform. With 38 million+ authentic product reviews, consumers can discover honest feedback from people like them. In addition, members–these beauty enthusiasts—have the opportunity to connect with brands and potentially try new products or gain access to special offers and promotions.
The fact is, reviews matter!
How do you define the difference between your community of real-world users and other micro-influencer platforms?
LB: Many influencer platforms are created to help brands broker paid partnerships with individuals using their social platforms to promote branded content. Influenster is actually not an influencer network—it’s the leading product reviews community, with 38MM+ reviews, growing by 1MM each month, written by our 6MM members: everyday consumers who love sharing their feedback about the brands and products that make up their daily lives. These people are not paid to offer their feedback, and, in most cases, they haven’t even received a free sample. Ninety-eight percent of the content is non-solicited and non-incentivized, written after product purchase. As brands realize that engagement is equally important to reach and awareness, and it’s known that people with smaller social followings tend to drive significantly higher engagement, you could think of Influenster as a community of micro- or nano-influencers. But, at the end of the day, it’s all about peer-to-peer networking, and enabling brands to tap into the advocacy that already exists at scale.
What events do you feel led to the spotlight on real people as content creators vs. the larger influencers? Is there still a role for mega-influencers?
LB: People have always trusted real people more than branded claims. Word-of-mouth as a source of influence is not a new concept. Before the era of social media, and mass media before that, you likely relied on beauty advice from your mom, sister, friend, or hair stylist. Social media influencers rose in popularity because, with digital technology eliminating the barrier of geography or physical proximity, people could develop personal connections via platforms like Instagram, and those relationships felt authentic. But once these social influencers grew in reach, and started consistently being paid for their recommendations, suddenly what once felt authentic started to feel like advertising. That’s not to say that all mega-influencers are inauthentic. There is definitely a place for them in the marketing mix, but it’s more top-of-the-funnel, driving awareness or relevancy vs. conversion. Essentially the model for influence has flipped on its head. It used to be that a very small group of experts dictated trends that trickled down to the masses; now influence bubbles up from trending conversations amongst everyday people. A good analogy is the move from haute couture to street style.
How important is it for a brand to pick the “right” reviewer? How do you suggest brands define their audience?
LB: We at Influenster know our members extremely well. When you join—and it’s free to join—you opt in to link your social media accounts, and then you complete a profile about who you are; where you shop; your beauty habits, wants, and needs. And then, and this is where the real richness of information comes, you engage with us on the platform by writing reviews, posting photos, asking/answering questions, and social networking with other members. So when a brand comes to us interested in reaching a particular audience, we are able to hyper-target based on thousands of data points per member. If it’s a sampling program, one of many things Influenster offers, this means getting products in the hands of an already-qualified and highly motivated audience.
How much do you allow your brands to curate what and how users review? For example, if a product requires 4-6 weeks to see results? Or if a brand specifically wants feedback on how a product performs, vs. how it was packaged vs. the scent, etc.
LB: It’s important to note that we never tell our members what to say. Their opinions are their own, and all opinions are valid, whether someone has a positive or negative experience with a product. Three-star reviews are often invaluable, because they provide insights to marketers regarding potential product or communication improvements and clarifications. We do, however, have tools to both educate and inspire our members. Using the same example of a sampling program, we would include a postcard with the sample, explaining how the product works and coaching people what to expect at each week of use. We create branded content that lives within the Influenster app and on social media. And, we have built-in CRM plus gamification tools to facilitate a steady stream of follow-up communication and motivation. Finally, while sampling accounts for a very small percentage of reviews on Influenster (as I mentioned, 98% are non-incentivized), members who do receive samples must disclose that the product was provided complimentary for testing purposes.
How do you measure engagement, purchases, and success for your brands?
LB: The original inspiration for Influenster was actually to find a new way to conduct market research. One of our founders previously worked at an events company that gave away a lot of product samples, but had no way to collect feedback from those who received the samples; and the other founder worked at a traditional research firm that, while effective, was bureaucratic and slow moving. They thought, what if we create fun online panels, put product directly in the hands of consumers, and inspire them to share their opinions with brands through a gamified system? Influenster was born. All that to say, having a founder with a research background means we provide very in-depth reporting. Depending on the nature of the program, this includes the number of reviews generated; social posts, impressions, and engagements; an earned media value calculation; and the results of a survey garnering participants’ purchase intent, responses to certain product attributes, and more. Recently, Influenster partnered with leading research provider IRI to conduct a matched market study measuring sales lift of an Influenster sampling program vs. traditional digital media in test and control markets. The results showed that the Influenster campaign delivered 44% higher sales lift on the sampled products, in this case mascara and eyeliner; and a 69% higher sales lift [both vs. traditional digital media] on the brand’s entire mascara and eyeliner lineup, an impressive halo effect. In sum—peer-to-peer marketing really works to build business!
TOPIC 3: THE ROLE OF AMAZON FOR BRANDS
Amanda Zajac, Vice President, Beauty, Stella Rising: Formerly Women’s Marketing, Stella Rising specializes in strategic media planning, buying, and activation across beauty, retail, food, and health. Amanda heads up the beauty division. Key areas of practice for her include digital and social marketing, Amazon strategy, as well as consumer intelligence though their proprietary community of over 20,000 grassroots influencers.
Amazon has experienced a 42% YOY growth in total beauty sales in the US alone. This is amazing but not surprising because 52% of consumers report starting their product search on Amazon. As a result, the total number of items for sale in the beauty category has quadrupled in the past few years.
It seems that the “research online, purchase offline” process is common in the consumer journey. How can a digitally native brand make up for their lack of an offline presence?
AZ: The above consumer journey still takes place; however, the path to purchase is evolving. There is no doubt the importance of brick-and-mortar presence to drive both awareness and sales for a new brand; however, you can be very successful as a digitally native brand. DTC brands are flipping the distribution funnel around—previously brands would first get retail distribution and then focus on their own ecommerce site. Now the exact opposite is happening. Brands are first focused on their own ecommerce and then move up the distribution funnel to retail shops such as specialty, mass, and pop-ups. There are two major reasons for this flip:
Being at Stella Rising, we are lucky enough to have access and knowledge into the financial world. Private Equity looks at your digital footprint before even considering acquisition, and the number-one channel they look at is social—how you are messaging your audience, are they converting and are you scaling.
With the above said, having the right digital strategy is key to success, not to mention launching a new brand.
Lady Gaga’s new beauty brand, Haus Laboratories, is going to be distributed by Amazon. Does that change the beauty ecommerce landscape?
What are your top suggestions for brands looking to establish themselves on Amazon?
AZ: You must address the following during the launch phase:
Most brands fall in one of two stages:
We’ve been talking about the power of reviews. What are your suggestions for garnering reviews on Amazon?
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