Once upon a time the beauty industry was in a pretty set way. Brands such as L’Oreal, Avon and Estée Lauder only needed to whip up tried-and-tested print and billboard campaigns with household celebrities in order to sell new products and collections, giving the marketplace a general feeling of luxury and inaccessibility. For the average Jane, you saw Liz Hurley wearing a perfume and you were expected to buy it. End of.
Then things started happening, a series of chain reactions sparked innovations across the industry as up and coming beauty brands–who would have previously never stood a chance against their big name competitors–started turning to emerging technologies to market their products. Lime Crime was one of the early luminaries, they set up shop on Tumblr in 2008, establishing a platform from which they could sell their radical Unicorn and Velvetines lip colours in styles that were otherwise unavailable on big name markets. It created a new way for customers to buy beauty items, and they flocked to it in their droves.
The beauty blog, Into The Gloss also picked up an impressive stream of followers with its insightful articles looking at the beauty habits of household celebrities. The blog started securing millions of dollars of funding back in 2013, allowing founder Emily Weiss to later launch her own beauty brand Glossier which offers products designed to be the "backbone" of a woman’s beauty routine.
Another newbie that was launched out of an industry success is Milk Makeup. Born out of the cultural hub in NY, LA the studio Milk is a crossroads of fashion, music, photography, and film worlds. The Milk Makeup team consists of some of its veterans such as Milk cofounder Mazdack Rassi, seasoned Milk Girl and creative director Georgie Greville, beauty and fashion editor Zanna Roberts Rassi, product developer and COO Dianna Ruth and makeup artist, Frank B. Milk Makeup embodies this fun, eco-conscious, low-maintenance, cool girl trend. And by combining high-tech formulas it’s quickly building a cult following on instagram with almost 95,000.
BitterLaceBeauty emerged on the market with one knockout product - a shimmering iridescent rainbow highlighter, again unlike anything you’d find at a department store counter. When it launched it became an overnight success story on Etsy, selling out almost instantly and forcing founder Jenna Georgescu to set up a standalone e-shop to meet with the demand.
Instagram and YouTube have changed the way consumers purchase beauty items, moving them away from makeup counters and big-money ad campaigns, towards products that suit a social-media-savvy, Instagram-filtered lifestyle
In 2016, we’re a long way away from Liz Hurley-influenced cosmetic choices. Instagram and YouTube have changed the way consumers purchase beauty items moving them away from makeup counters and big-money ad campaigns, towards products that suit a social-media-savvy, Instagram-filtered lifestyle. Word-of-mouth (by way of post tagging and sharing) is the number one way to sell a beauty item, and this is having a huge effect on the way beauty brands situate, market and advertise their collections, forcing them to say goodbye to traditional media, and hello to digital.
Glossy Box is one such example of a brand doing this successfully. At the New Rules of Beauty Marketing and PR event in London back in May, The Drum reported on how Glossy Box achieves a staggering 80 percent of new customer acquisitions through word-of-mouth on social media. This organic strategy relies on customers talking to five people about products they receive in their monthly subscription boxes, and it’s working.
YouTube influencers are the biggest assets in this move towards organic customer growth. These days they’re the Liz Hurley and Julia Roberts of the beauty industry, easily its most authoritative figures and the ones who have the power to affect the spending habits of the legions of millennials who turn to the channels of Michelle Phan (8 million subscribers) and Zoella (11 million subscribers) for daily tutorials, guidance and, ultimately, buying advice. Zoella’s Bronzed Nude Summer Makeup tutorial uses products from Urban Decay, Collection 2000, Benefit, Mac, NARS & more and has over 2.5 million views to date. It’s a simple, two-minute video recommendation, but it's worth its weight in billboard campaigns.
In 2013 make-up artist, Wayne Goss, was one of the first to use the channel as way of showing viewers how to ‘get the look’ of big name celebrities such as the Kardashians in his tutorials. It made perfect sense then, to use his channel to launch his eponymous range of beauty brushes. His tutorial on how to contour and highlight in the style of Kim Kardashian has amassed over ten million views, and unsurprisingly his beauty brushes sold out overnight - despite an asking price of over $200.
These days, seeing a product used in real life is key to getting it to go viral. When Kylie Jenner shared her video endorsement of Nip+Fab’s Dragons Blood Fix Serum on Instagram, the post received 5.6 million views and over 73k comments. Imagine the combined reach then, when you factor in how many of these comments were followers tagging their friends and telling them to check the video out.
Kylie went one step further and launched her own range of Lip Kits earlier this year, previewing the collection on Instagram before tweeting a link-to-buy when the range went live. Within ten minutes all six colours had sold out.
Following on from the legacies left by Lime Crime and BitterLaceBeauty, there are how a whole host of beauty brands elusive to department store counters but with hugely popular Instagram accounts which point towards selling platforms. Gerard Cosmetics, L.A. Girl, and Sugarpill all ship internationally, and with Instagram followers way past the 1 million mark, they’re proof that doing away with a traditional store front can be hugely beneficial.
As if the pull of Instagram as a marketing channel for beauty brands wasn’t big enough then, the sway was further consecrated when the platform launched Instagram Stories in the summer. Sarah Jessica Parker even chose launch her latest fragrance on it, and despite having no paid support behind it, the video had received 82,000 views in just two hours. Last month, Glossy reported on what it terms The Instagram Effect, after a whole host of beauty brands jumped on the new Instagram feature within hours of it launching, offering behind the scenes tips, tricks and features in much the same style as YouTube’s vloggers. Among them were L’Oréal and Urban Decay, who have 2.5 and 4.1 million Instagram followers respectively.
Taking their Instagram beauty video strategy one step further is Sephora, who launched a separate Instagram account for its The Sephora Collection line of products, encouraging followers to mention their friends in the comments to promote a word-of-mouth style marketing campaign which rewarded participants with the chance of winning featured cosmetics.
And in a genius stroke of Gen Z marketing, CoverGirl recently announced 17-year-old makeup artist and social media star James Charles as a CoverGirl spokesman. Appealing to a gender fluid generation, the company also tweaked its marketing language to reflect a new direction. Its new mascara, called So Lashy, is deemed an universal mascara designed “for anyone wanting to transform their lashes into a bold look.” Essentially, they aren’t just marketing this to just women. Charles is well established on social media: he has 78k followers on Twitter and 668k on Instagram despite having only started his makeup tutorials a year ago. CoverGirl's appointment of him will no doubt prompt other brands to think along similar lines.
Taking a product out of its store setting and selling it through word of mouth and social media does pose one major problem for these beauty brands trying to get digital though, a problem that didn’t exist at traditional make-up counters. What about trying the colour and style of a product on before buying it? Plenty of things look great with the right Instagram filter, but consumers could be understandably hesitant when taking a stab-in-the-dark with buying an item, only to find it doesn’t look the same on them. To tackle this problem, some beauty brands such as L’Oreal, Urban Decay and CoverGirl have turned to augmented reality, developing apps which allow customers to ‘try’ a product on, in much the same way (they hope) as you would at an in-store makeup counter.
L’Oreal launched the world’s first virtual makeup app, Makeup Genius, in 2014 which has since been downloaded 6.3 million times. Along with Urban Decay’s Vice Lipstick app and CoverGirl’s BeautyU app, these augmented reality platforms ask users a series of questions about their skin types and makeup preferences before telling them to upload a picture on which they can then ‘try out’ products, doing away with the need for in-store testers and makeovers. This is the aim anyway but it’s hard to see how these apps will win new customers given the lengthy download and setup processes involved in obtaining the app. In terms of keeping current customers digitally fulfilled though, no one can fault them.
As makeup moves into augmented reality in this way we’re reaching a new era in beauty branding, one in which tech-savvy companies recognise the mobile-optimised, image-led and social media-influenced needs of their customers. Better still, the move away from traditional paid advertising is saving them a hell of a lot of money - win win for everyone.