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Bloggers: The Industry’s Conversation Starters

WWD’s Pete Born talks to the new generation of bloggers who are helping established beauty brands resonate with a wider consumer base.

Appeared In
Special Issue
Beauty Inc issue 04/13/2012

Estée would be pleased. Decades after she coined her well-worn slogan—“Telephone, telegraph, tell a woman”—her dictum on the power of old fashioned over-the-counter social media has been updated to texting, tweeting and blogging, thanks to the digital age and a cadre of self-made makeup and lifestyle experts broadcasting to a horde of followers. The latest to emerge is Emily Schuman, a 28-year-old who founded her own Cupcakes and Cashmere blog and signed on as Estée Lauder’s social media and guest editor for esteelauder.com earlier this year. She follows Michelle Phan, who earlier signed on with Lancôme, and the pioneering Lauren Luke, who started the digital pixels flying and recently signed on as a digital ambassador for Unilever’s Simple brand.

“They’ve got a following and they are today’s entrepreneurs,” says Jane Hertzmark Hudis, global brand president of Estée Lauder. “I’m not so sure they are not close to Estée Lauder herself.”

Some questions are inevitable: Are these the new authorities in beauty? Will department store beauty advisers and magazine editors take a back seat? The answer so far is “No.” If anything, the new digiterati are greatly widening the conversation with their instant, global reach.

Web users have formed a community, like magazine readers and TV viewers. The give and take across the Internet is changing the way consumers are behaving, according to media watchers. People have long been searching for a sense of validation of purpose or desire. In terms of the Web, that means a democratization of aspiration and communication. But there’s still a pecking order. Consumers want to look to a leader. None of this seems to be diminishing the clout of old media, especially for fashion magazines that have embraced the cyber age. There is a convergence with the old and new. Of course, the street cred of celebrities is hard to match. “One tweet from Rihanna is worth more than a week of TV,” says one keen watcher of pop culture.

Hudis notes that Schuman touches on the classic Estée Lauder vision of lifestyle with its highly stylized advertising of the past. “Emily is close to that, but she does it in today’s way—in a blog.”

Or as an observer notes, “It’s a new way of consuming media” with bloggers putting the message in “a generational language.”

Schuman, whose Cupcakes and Cashmere blog attracts three million visitors a month, has written a number of posts picking out a slew of Lauder products she likes and even hosted an event at the Century City branch of Bloomingdale’s in Southern California, promoting Lauder’s Mad Men limited edition color cosmetics story.

“We’ve seen an incredible increase in traffic. Context is so much of everything,” Hudis says, noting that Schuman has provided “a fresh context. It’s a game changer.” The demographic of Schuman’s audience has been described as from 18 to 34 or 44. The typical Lauder customer, at least in North America, is older. “The ultimate goal is to mesh the two brands,” Schuman says. “On my site, I am trying to promote an elevated lifestyle that meshes well with the Lauder brand, a kind of sophistication. People saw the Lauder brand as this really established, high-end beauty line, but not necessarily fitting into an overall lifestyle.”

Schuman sees her role as writing about a gamut of different products and how they add up to “this overall kind of elevated lifestyle.” She notes, “a [magazine] beauty editor just focuses on the one product,” while pointing out “both are equally important, but they are very different roles.”

Schuman says she came to the brand on her own. “As a child, my mom and my grandma used to give me their samples to play with. But as an adult I found the brand on my own. The nail polishes are fantastic. Then I discovered the lipsticks; bright and matte and exactly what I was looking for.”

Her attraction to the brand is key, considering that, on the surface, a blogger’s image of independence and impartiality might seem at odds with a gig as a guest editor for a brand. “I see myself as an editor,” she says. “One of the things that I find most appealing and most intimidating about Estée Lauder is that there are a ton of products that appeal to different races and different ages.” She adds, “At the end of the day, I’m putting out products that I love and that reaches a very niche audience.” In that sense, she sees herself as completely independent. “That’s the only way this collaboration would have worked.”

Wendy Liebmann, chief executive officer of WSL Strategic Retail, touched on an observation made by Hudis, that it is tricky business to reach out to a new generation of users while trying not to alienate your loyal base. “They are part of a new conversation, a more democratic power of the people to drive and build sales,” Liebmann says. “How do you, as an established company, take part in the conversation?” The digital experts are not usurping the role of beauty advisers in the stores, they are transforming it. “When a customer walks into a store, she can be better informed than ever,” Liebmann says.

Companies have to wholeheartedly embrace the new digital order and move it to the center of their organizations, she insists. That involves overcoming generational hang-ups. It also means getting the message right. “It only works if you’ve got the product and image that is relevant,” Liebmann says. “If you’ve got nothing to sell them that is appropriate, so what?”

“In today’s world, you can’t cheat the consumer,” says Marc Speichert, chief marketing officer at L’Oréal USA, talking about Michelle Phan and the company’s other efforts in the blogosphere. “It’s very important for us to be authentic. I am not going to drive consumers to the channel if they think we are pushing Lancôme products.” Speichert notes that a key asset is Phan’s sense of authenticity as she uses different products.

Speichert sees the bloggers as fulfilling an important role, the second step in his four-stage “path to purchase.” After the first phase—the traditional media-driven consumer awareness and consideration—comes the evaluation step, and that is where a blogger can keep a consumer from losing interest.

For her part, Phan is going a step further, launching a new video channel called FAWN (For All Women Network), in which she and others rove around the globe looking for local beauty looks and tips. First up was Italy and next is New Zealand. The digital and geographic worlds of beauty are coming into alignment. Are you on board? Let me know at peter_born@fairchildfashion.com.