There’s a perspective that’s gaining traction among entrepreneurs and executives in the DTC beauty industry that every beauty brand today is not just a consumer-facing company—it’s also a media company.
Ipsy, a beauty subscription brand, seemingly operates with this perspective in mind, and has found great success in rapid time on TikTok because of it. The brand is one of the biggest and most successful beauty brands on TikTok, which has all but replaced Instagram and YouTube as the platform where beauty lovers discover new products to try, influencers to follow, and hacks to change up their beauty routine.
According to a report by ListenFirst, Ipsy ranked third out of the top 20 beauty brands on TikTok for total engagements, and became the second fastest-growing beauty brand on the platform. With over 2.1 million followers, Ipsy also ranked third in number of followers.
This shift in the thinking of a beauty brand as a media company can be traced back to Glossier, which came out of Emily Weiss’ Into The Gloss blog. Today, traditional media has been replaced by social media, but the end goal is still the same: by turning your readers into customers and your followers into fans, you can build a community-driven brand. Some of the biggest brands in the world, like Apple, Disney, and Starbucks, have all leveraged this community-first strategy to scale and ensure lasting success.
A media company has to have its finger on the pulse of what’s trending in the culture and consistent output of content in order to generate authority in an industry. Similarly, brands who do well on TikTok are extremely plugged into what’s happening on the app, post often, and are constantly testing, learning, and iterating on what works to generate success. Oh, and they also have to remain authentic, which is pretty much the only thing on social media that you can’t fake.
BeautyMatter caught up with Stephanie Ocampo, Senior Director of Social Media at Ipsy, to find out how Ipsy cracked the TikTok algorithm and leveraged their community of Ipsters to create one of the most engaged audiences on TikTok. Here, she shares the seven strategies the Ipsy team used on TikTok to earn 1.6 million followers in a single year and generate top-of-funnel traction for their beauty subscription business.
Identify successful content frames and iterate
“My mantra for what works [on TikTok] is reflecting identity and triggering emotion within that identity,” says Ocampo.
On TikTok, identity goes far beyond race or sexual identity. You can identify as someone with curly hair, someone with large pores, or someone who loves wearing bold colors. For a brand like Ipsy, their customer is beauty obsessed and always on the hunt for new hacks to upgrade their makeup routine. Beauty hacks are what Ocampo refers to as a “tried-and-true gold content frame,” which means it’s one content type that can be executed in many different ways.
Ocampo and her team spend time identifying these content frames and iterating on them, which they did recently with a nail and gadget content frame to great success.
“We just did a look back for Q1 and saw that our nails and gadget content overperform like crazy across any of our other categories,” she said.
Using this insight, the Ipsy team started increasing the volume of nail and gadget content and was able to deliver one of the brand’s most viewed videos of 2022. To date, it has over 1.5 million views.
Create new content for a new audience
If you’re not yet on TikTok but you have a decent following on Instagram, some might follow you over on TikTok, but don’t depend on it. To find success on TikTok, you have to start fresh and attract a new audience.
“Where brands trip up is thinking that they can copy-paste their Instagram or YouTube strategy to TikTok,” says Ocampo. “I do think treating both platforms with completely separate strategies rather than relying on Instagram to build TikTok is a stronger strategy.”
Currently, it's not possible for Ocampo to see if there’s any overlap between Ipsy’s followers on TikTok and Instagram, but she says she would be very surprised if a high percentage of folks followed both accounts. Building two separate followings may seem like a greater challenge, but in the end, it expands your reach and brand awareness far more than if the same followers made up both platforms.
Utilize TikTok’s native features
TikTok is home to a massive, constantly growing library of songs and other trending sounds. If users engage with videos featuring a specific sound, TikTok shows them more videos that use that sound.
“Another thing that differentiates TikTok is the use of audio,” says Ocampo. “Through our many case studies and experiments, we realized the value of using trending sounds over your own talent’s VO (voice-over). As you increase the use of trending sounds, you increase the number of followers.”
While brands certainly want to create and cultivate their own voice on TikTok, leaning into content that feels native to the platform will often garner better engagement.
Cultivate community to drive top-of-funnel awareness
While Instagram Shop is useful for brands wanting to drive revenue, Ocampo believes the opportunity to build a community on Instagram has significantly slowed.
“There's just much more opportunity for growth and building community [on TikTok],” says Ocampo. “TikTok is superior in driving, engaging, and building a community that you don't necessarily have on Instagram.”
Any brand that wants to have lasting success needs to have a community behind it. TikTok is primarily an entertainment app, not a social media app. Excitement is essential to community, which you can deliver by putting out entertaining content like beauty hacks and reviews, as Ipsy’s done, or other content that’s relevant to your community. While TikTok can certainly drive revenue, especially when one of your videos goes viral, Ocampo definitely considers it to be a top-of-funnel tool for driving awareness.
Listen to what’s happening across TikTok
One of the advantages of Tiktok is that it’s an excellent discovery engine, and it can suggest content that it thinks you may be interested in based on the videos you like to watch, exposing you to new niches and creators on the app. According to Ocampo, your TikTok strategy has to be reflective of this wider landscape.
“One thing that differentiates TikTok from other platforms is the value of the entire community versus what only your audience and what only your industry is responding to,” says Ocampo.
Instead of curating your feed based on who you choose to follow, TikTok combines content from different communities into your For You page. This gives brands and creators the potential for more visibility, but it also increases the competition for your consumer’s attention. From a brand perspective, you might find that you have to step outside your industry in order to get a bird’s-eye view of what’s trending and what’s working across the platform—not just in your niche.
“Our data-inspired strategy is based on what we're seeing, not just on our channel and what our audience responds to, but on what the entire platform on TikTok is responding to,” said Ocampo.
Employ native users to execute your strategy
Since TikTok is still a relatively new platform—at least in terms of how brands are using the app—it can be difficult to find talent who can take on this role, which is part on-camera host, part producer, and part digital marketer.
Natalie Elmore is the social media specialist at Ipsy and the face of the brand on TikTok. She’s been integral to the brand’s success, according to Ocampo. With Ocampo leading the content strategy and Elmore executing on it, Ipsy experienced 309% YoY growth and gained over 1.5MM followers in the same time frame.
Ocampo acknowledges the challenges of finding someone who can be creative in front of the camera and also use data to inform and strengthen their future content.
So, how do you find a person with this unique skill set? Go straight to the source.
“Look at your micro creators and folks that are already creating this content on their own for fun or for their livelihood, because those are the folks that you want in any kind of TikTok role,” says Ocampo. “You need somebody that is a native to that platform, somebody that knows that platform’s ins and outs, somebody that lives on that platform more than you're able to.”
Brands are the new influencers
It’s important for brands on TikTok to realize that their competition isn’t just other brands, but also creators. With many influencers and celebrities coming out with their own brands, the line between influencers and brands is being blurred. Brands are the new influencers, and your content should reflect that. To feel native to the platform, Ocampo suggests adopting a UGC-style in your ads and content.
“Ipsy is moving away from those highly editorial shoots in the studio for TikTok,” says Ocampo. “You want to remain native to the platform and make sure that the videos you're creating look like videos that the community themselves would be creating.”
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