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Beauty in the Blogosphere

A new breed of beauty writers is building the sort of influence that's gaining the attention of major brands: bloggers.

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A new breed of beauty writers is building the sort of influence that’s gaining the attention of major brands: bloggers.

Scores of blogs largely dedicated to opinions and reviews of beauty products have proliferated in the past several years. And as the quality and quantity of blogs increases, beauty companies’ traditional marketing strategies are having to adapt.

Typically, when a beauty manufacturer is pitching a new product, the firm needs to take into account how far in advance — from several weeks to several months — magazines are producing an issue. If a blogger gets a product in the morning, however, a review — good or bad — could be on the Web site by the afternoon, immediately followed by reader feedback.

“You get the consumer’s voice so fast,” said Procter & Gamble Co.’s Esi Eggleston Bracey, vice president and general manager of global P&G cosmetics, overseeing the Cover Girl and Max Factor brands. And “blogs are more interactive. You get the benefit of dialogue rather than one-way communication.”

While they may not look like magazines, the honest voices and conversational tones of sites like Lipgloss and Laptops, Beauty Brains, Beauty News NYC and My BeautyBerry have gained a wide following. Moreover, blog commentary is virtually out of reach of the spin control of beauty marketers.

“Manufacturers can consider [having less influence over bloggers] risky,” said Eggleston Bracey. But “there [can be] more upside than risk.”

The lack of influence over a blogger when trying to position a product “keeps everybody honest,” said John Demsey, group president of the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. “They have an opinion,” said Demsey, adding, “when it’s positive, it’s incredibly positive and when it’s negative it’s incredibly negative. It’s very democratic. Everybody gets a vote.”

Beauty blogs typically post links to other beauty blogs and sites can spawn others. Julia Coney, founder of a blog called All About the Pretty, said Tia Williams, founder of Shake Your Beauty, inspired her to start blogging in 2006. Same with Blogdorf Goodman founder Annie Gugliotti, who launched a blog in 2005 after being encouraged by Robin Krug of Now Smell This. (See sidebar.)

And it’s not only the brands that are having to adapt to the power of the blog. Magazines also are having to recognize the growing competition, and as a result titles such as Glamour, Elle and Lucky have launched their own blogs. Glamour’s first beauty blog, called The Girls in the Beauty Department, was launched in April 2006, and Allure has plans to introduce a beauty blog by the summer.

“It’s a layering process in terms of communication,” said Demsey. “Magazines that continue to offer a strong point of view will continue to be important and successful.”

Beauty executives and bloggers agreed blogs don’t have the commercial pressures of magazines — if they make any money at all. As Karen Monterichard, founder of Makeup and Beauty Blog, put it, “We don’t have the same commitments to advertisers. Bloggers can say what they want without having to answer to a corporate sponsor. There’s independence if you’re not connected to a magazine.”

But when it comes to the credibility of blogs, it “can vary widely,” Stacy Baker, editorial director of Sephora, said. The retailer entered the beauty blogosphere in June 2006 with the creation of Beauty & The Blog. “A blogger has to know what she’s talking about and have the résumé — or at least citations — to backbone her opinion,” Baker added.

“[Blogs] don’t have the intrinsic authority of Vogue but someone who is trusted and has a unique voice can become an expert,” said Demsey. Added Eggleston Bracey, “Some women want a magazine voice rather than sifting through a blog. [Bloggers’] credentials are by way of beauty experience as opposed to journalism experience.”

Indeed, despite a plethora of beauty content on blogs and social networks, of women under 30 years old, 74 percent sought beauty advice and information from magazines in early 2007, according to a report by brand strategy firm The Benchmarking Co.

The Washington-based firm, which puts the number of beauty-related blogs, message boards and social communities in the “thousands,” added that 30 percent of women got beauty advice or information from these sites. This reader base reached 50 percent for those under 30 years old, said the report, which was based on a March 2007 survey of more than 2,500 women in the U.S.

The bloggers themselves can range from “young teens who are basically spending all day blogging,” said Demsey, “to women in their 40s and 50s who have embraced the sexy vixen personality.” Sephora’s Baker cited Blogger.com data that said a new blog is created every 7.5 seconds. Most bloggers are under 30 and are likely to live in the suburbs; only a third live in urban centers.

Beauty brands, retailers and publicists often target bloggers with product samples, information and events. Liz Kaplow, founder and president of Kaplow Communications, has begun inviting bloggers to press events or separate “blogger press launches.”

Linda Wells, editor in chief of Allure, said she believes beauty brands have started to take blogs seriously over the past few years because blogs are “starting to have an effect on product sales. Companies are more excited about being mentioned [on blogs], so we’re seeing more of the industry reaching out to bloggers,” she said.

For the first time this week, specialty retailer Henri Bendel invited a dozen bloggers to its beauty breakfast Wednesday, an event the retailer holds yearly to introduce the brands it carries to the press.

“Bloggers have a valuable voice in the market since they talk directly to our consumers,” said Claudia Lucas, senior vice president and general merchandise manager at Bendel’s.

However, just as blogs present noncommercial editorial, magazines are able to feature more well-rounded pieces, according to Wells. “Although one person’s voice is very entertaining,” she said, “bloggers don’t have all the research to give a real assessment of a product.”

Magazines have found their own blogs to be a good outlet for topics that require a faster turnaround like events, trends and celebrity coverage. Magazine blogs also allow ongoing dialogue with readers.

Andrea Pomerantz Lustig, contributing editor and blogger at Glamour, also finds blogs useful for topics that might not make it into the magazine. “It’s a way of taking a bigger story and still writing about it, but in a more personal point of view, which couldn’t traditionally get in the magazine,” she said.

Observers by-and-large expect blogs to work in harmony with magazines. “Blogs are not a replacement for, [they are] supplemental to, beauty magazines,” said Eggleston Bracey.

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