By  on October 17, 2008

Getting influential consumers to use and gab about their products is a dream for beauty companies — and one that Blush Media is aiming to fulfill with Beautyfix, its sampling and social networking initiative.

Beautyfix was launched earlier this month along with its Web site, beautyfix.com, and charges product junkies $50 every three months to receive product-filled kits. The subscriber-based service sends kits that are typically filled with about seven items, which are required to be deluxe travel size or larger, each from a different beauty subcategory. The subscribers can discuss what they loved — or hated — about the items on beautyfix.com, which Blush Media president Dave Fink describes as Facebook for beauty aficionados.

“The number-one challenge that beauty brands face is that [the market] is a supercluttered space. There are over 1,300 new prestige products to launch each year. It is unbelievably staggering,” said Fink. “Sampling is still the number-one way to drive new customer acquisition. Get a product in someone’s hand and they have an opportunity to try it out. They see results from that product, and you have a very good chance of getting them to walk into a store or go online to purchase your product.”

At first, Beautyfix’s subscriber population will be limited to 25,000 a quarter, but the goal eventually is to expand that population considerably and segment kits by consumer characteristics such as skin type and problem. Subscriptions alone will initially drive Beautyfix’s revenues, anticipated to total $5 million annually if 25,000 are sold. “I very much believe that, within a few years, we will be reaching significantly more than 25,000 consumers,” said Fink.

Companies that want to participate in Beautyfix submit items — up to three a quarter are allowed from a brand — to be vetted by a 25-member panel of beauty industry experts, including blogger Tia Williams, colorist Rita Hazan, plastic surgeon Babak Azizzadeh and hairstylist Sean James. The most favorably reviewed items make the kit, and there is no cost to beauty companies other than the expense of supplying 25,000 pieces for the kits, 25 for the panelists and 250 for beauty bloggers handpicked by Blush Media to get a first look.

Although kits are generally expected to contain seven items, the debut kit contains nine: 24-Karat Gold Dust Powder by Jane Iredale, Phyx Overnight Repair Masque by Kronos, Anti-Aging Treatment Cream by M Lab, pHaze 9 Purifying Mask by PCA Skin, Firming Neck Therapy by PerriconeMD Cosmeceuticals, NOC-Out Cover-Up Compact by Redpoint, a 15-day trial from weight-loss resource Sensa, an Aqua Veil Pure Hydration Serum by Amarté and Natural Wonder Cream by Amarté, a Korean brand that is being introduced in the U.S.

To attract potential subscribers, Blush Media will place ads online and outreach to bloggers as Beautyfix launches to generate as many as 10 million unique impressions. Advertising in magazines will begin with December books and feature creative spotlighting products that are in the kit. Next year, Fink said the Beautyfix advertising budget would run into the “several millions.”

Target Beautyfix members are female beauty addicts ages 25 to 49 who, along with the kit, have the ability to create profiles, comment on products and upload photos, among other activities, on beautyfix.com with their $50 per quarter subscription. (Nonmembers can view Beautyfix.com, but not be actively involved to the extent of members.) Fink explained the price is inexpensive enough to draw a wide swath of people, however not so cheap that just anybody would sign up.

“The nice thing about Web distribution is that you can reach the entire population. You are not limited to just boutiques in the most densely populated areas as you would if you were focusing on retail distribution alone,” he said. “We expect to see a very broad cross section of women across America.”

For brands, one of the key benefits of participating in the Beautyfix program is learning the response to their products. Blush Media is in the process of connecting online beauty stores with beautyfix.com so that members are directed to venues to buy products. “As a brand, you will know exactly who you got your product in the hand of, who liked it, who didn’t like it, and the ultimate [result] is that, through the relationships we have and are building with a number of different e-commerce destinations, we will be able to provide feedback on who made a purchase and how many purchases,” he said.

Blush Media is a division of Manhattan Beach, Calif.-based Intelligent Beauty, a company that specializes in selling beauty products online and provides fulfillment and warehousing capabilities for Beautyfix. Fink, who joined Intelligent Beauty after roughly eight years at Internet marketing service firm Q Interactive, and Nicole Cardi, a former buyer for Fred Segal Beauty who is a brand director with Blush Media, head the 10-person team that is behind Beautyfix.

Fink indicated that Blush Media is contemplating providing private-label sampling programs with social media components in the future, but he insisted Blush Media’s chief concern now is to perfect Beautyfix. “Every brand that I have spoken to is focusing more and more heavily on sampling. Budgets are substantial for sampling, and it is just [a question of] how do you get the most efficient sampling and incorporate our products in the most efficient way,” he said. “I feel very confident based on the consumer feedback and brand feedback that Beautyfix is that program. It just becomes a matter of how can we scale to provide the biggest benefit to the greatest amount of consumers and to the greatest amounts of brands.”

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