Beauty marketing is rapidly becoming a two-way conversation as the social media revolution takes hold.

Cyber pioneer Procter & Gamble acknowledges steering more of its marketing dollars online, as is the competition, from the Estée Lauder Cos. to Elizabeth Arden.

From Twitter to Facebook, Imeem to VideoEgg, beauty brands are diving head first into the social networking world to communicate with consumers about new products and build allegiance to their brands.

“As recently as five years ago, beauty businesses thought that online retailing wasn’t necessarily aligned with their brand positioning,” said Steve Stoute, chief executive officer and managing director of Carol’s Daughter. “They thought they would give third-party retailers the opportunity to sell the brand. As they started seeing that consumers were open to being reached through these channels, for many brands, they became more important than traditional beauty publications.”

Stoute, who founded the advertising, branding, marketing and consultancy firm Translation, officially entered the beauty world via Carol’s Daughter, the firm in which he is a partner, in 2005. Through Translation, however, he helped construct the digital work done around Sean Combs’ initial fragrance launch. “We used it as a way to bring people into the brand,” he said. “The new, young consumer is shopping this way, and now big beauty companies are stepping up.”

“Sean was really ahead of the curve when it came to marketing on the Internet,” said Diana Espino, vice president and general manager for the Aramis, Sean John, Lab Series Skincare for Men and Kiton brands at the Estée Lauder Cos. “Before any brands were really looking at marketing online, he was already there because of his music. He has always had an innate understanding of the media. When Unforgivable [Combs’ first men’s scent] launched in fall 2005, he was posting videos on YouTube and gathering fans on MySpace. When his first women’s fragrance, Unforgivable for Women, was launched in fall 2007, the launch party was broadcast live on MySpace. What is unique to marketing this way — and what Sean has always understood about it — is that you have to engage consumers in your brand before you try to sell it to them. Young consumers don’t want to be marketed to in traditional ways. They want to be invited in.”

With Combs’ latest scent, I Am King, Combs taped a spot played on YouTube and MySpace, which explained why he named his fragrance that: “My mother always said I was her king, which is how the fragrance was named,” he said in part — and asked viewers to submit videos saying why they were kings, with the prize being a trip to New York City to literally live like kings for a few days. More than 36,000 viewed Combs’ spot, said Espino, and the brand got more than 1,000 entries. Three winners were chosen — one caveat was that each had to have a social cause as part of the video — and flown to New York in June to get a taste of Diddy’s world, with a shopping spree at the Sean John store and accommodations at the London Hotel, said Espino. The brand videotaped the winners and later posted it online in three episodes.

Espino noted the brand also developed a widget for I Am King. “It allows fans to embed the information anywhere they post, which makes the passing along of information very viral and organic,” she said. And Twitter even played a part in I Am King’s prospects: After the Fragrance Foundation solicited consumer votes via Twitter for best celebrity fragrance launch (the votes counted for 10 percent of the judges’ score), Combs posted asking for votes — and walked away with the FiFi trophy in June.

“Online is fast. You don’t have to have your plan finalized 18 months out,” said Espino, who plans to relaunch Lauder’s Lab Series Web site later this month with significantly more social networking capabilities. “You can capitalize on trends, and that’s a real advantage. Online, for the Sean John brand, is more important than print advertising to me. You can tell a story online, you can introduce personalities. It’s a more natural, organic way of marketing.”

Arden, a very early adopter of social networking as a marketing tool, is this month unleashing a full-scale online media campaign for Mariah Carey’s new fragrance, Forever. In addition to a dedicated Web site,, a strong social media campaign will be part of the launch, said Noreen Dodge, Arden’s senior vice president of fragrance and global brand development. The company plans MariahCareyBeauty pages on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, hoping to leverage Carey’s 1.7 million followers on Twitter and 700,000 Facebook fans. (Carey also has 132 separate fan pages on Facebook.) Arden also is working with social media sites Imeem, Pandora and VideoEgg to further drive business. Pandora will create Carey fragrance-branded backgrounds for users to see while listening to the singer’s music, while Imeem will feature an exclusive Forever-themed playlist customized by Carey on its homepage. VideoEgg will feed into Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and YouTube in an effort to drive traffic to DailyCandy will offer a “twitter-to-win” sampling program for the fragrance, and Sugar Inc. plans a customized Carey page on its site and a sweepstakes to win the scent.

Stoute observed, “Brand profiles are one aspect of Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. But it’s also buying advertising around the sites your customer is going to. You’d buy ads on MySpace, or do affiliate marketing programs with them. It’s not as blatant as setting up a page on MySpace and saying, ‘Hi, I’m Olay. Do you want to be my friend?’ As these social networks grow, we’re learning how we can live harmoniously with the customer in this space. You’re seeing established brands trying to be part of the social marketing landscape. It’s all about trying to blur the lines between selling and inviting. Are you pushing the brand, or are you inviting them? You want consumers to come to the decision to buy your product on their own. The key is to get them to feel like you’re with them, not selling them.

“When you shop at bricks and mortar, you shop a channel,” continued Stoute. “Online, that isn’t true. You’re shopping an experience. P&G did a number on everyone, positioning their products as luxury goods online — they made Olay look like La Mer.”

Marketing this way evolves organically when a brand has a recognizable face, such as Carol’s Daughter founder Lisa Price or Bare Escentuals founder Leslie Blodgett. “Lisa has a Facebook and a Twitter page — she’s a real person and people can relate to her and her products. Leslie Blodgett is the same. When you don’t have a founder involved, it’s harder to get them to fall in love with the brand,” he said, adding that, in his view, the beauty industry is late in entering the social media world.

The Estée Lauder Cos. certainly is stepping in, with most of its brands pursuing online marketing programs. Among leading examples are MAC Cosmetics, the Lauder brand and Bobbi Brown. While the corporation operates more than 40 e-commerce sites, including in six countries outside the U.S., there also is a huge marketing focus on social networking.

Dennis McEniry, president of the Estée Lauder Cos. Online, said Lauder is not using networks like Facebook to sell products, but to build the brands and provide consumers with services. For instance, Bobbi Brown uses Twitter to answer consumers’ questions.

Marisa Thalberg, vice president of online global marketing, said the goal with Twitter is to create a brand presence and strike up an intimate relationship with consumers.

MAC’s first foray into social media came about 18 months ago when the brand, which has a knack for fusing fashion, fantasy and pop culture, launched on Facebook to support its spring 2008 color collaboration with Parisian graffiti artist Fafi. Laura Elkins, MAC’s vice president of global consumer marketing and artist relations, said, “When we initially launched on Facebook, we had initially planned for it to be short-term. But we had such an unbelievably positive reaction from fans.”

Since then, the Lauder-owned brand, which averages 19,000 new Facebook fans every month, has gone on to become the number-one branded cosmetics page on both Facebook, where MAC boasts 250,000 fans, and YouTube, where the brand has experienced 140,000 channel views and 417,000 total video views.

And, while measuring sales driven by social media remains very difficult, Elkins said the effect is still tangible. “While we can’t measure a direct effect on sales, we do know we are building awareness and strengthening interaction with our consumers.”

MAC Cosmetics was one of the first beauty companies in 2008 to tweet about makeup trends backstage during New York Fashion Week, having a select group of its senior makeup artists tweet from behind-the-scenes. According to company executives, the initiative was very popular — MAC’s Twitter widget reached more than 500,000 total widget views during the spring 2009 shows, and jumped to more than 2 million tweets for the fall 2009 season. The response helped fuel MAC’s newest social media endeavor, which is scheduled to launch next month:

The new Web site will consolidate all tweets from MAC’s senior artists, both in the U.S. and globally, and serve as a user-friendly online destination where people can follow all the tweets at once. The brand also is creating a tab on Facebook that will feed directly to the page. “We saw such phenomenal results from our artists Twittering backstage that we decided to expand our brand presence on Twitter and go global,” said Elkins. “We expanded the senior artists that are Twittering to include global artists from around the world, and they are now going to be tweeting about all aspects of fashion 12 months of the year instead of just two four-week seasons.” The site and tweets will be about the artists as people and the projects on which they are working. “It’s really highlighting MAC’s DNA and artistry,” said Elkins.

Aveda went on Facebook only a month ago and has already attracted 16,000 fans.

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