Content is still king, pandemic notwithstanding.
The coronavirus has restricted traditional modes of revenue, but it hasn’t stopped the flow of content. On the contrary, it has accelerated it.
Social media engagement shot up last spring, when people found themselves on their couches, going live. Instagram Live views spiked by 70 percent, Facebook reported, with beauty and fashion influencers experiencing as much as a 50 percent increase in engagement that spilled over to sponsored content, too.
Beauty brands leaned into the craze, which had been percolating for years but boomed at the onset of the global health crisis. Nearly one year later, brands have adapted to the new way of meeting their customers where they are—at home.
For Bobbi Brown, content has always had a direct correlation to sales. When Brown used to appear on Oprah Winfrey’s TV network, OWN, any product she talked about would sell out instantly.
“There’s never been anything like the Oprah effect,” Brown told Beauty Inc, adding that when word got out that Winfrey liked her foundation sticks, “you couldn’t get them in the country” because they sold out so fast.
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In December, Brown appeared virtually on “The Wendy Williams Show” to promote her clean beauty brand, Jones Road, leading to its highest sales day since its launch less than two months prior. She has also joined radio host Elvis Duran—after whom Bobbi Brown Cosmetics, with which Brown is no longer affiliated, once named a bronzer—on his show in promotion of her wellness label, Evolution 18.
But increasingly, Brown—like other founder-led brands—is producing her own universe of multiplatform content. She’s got a podcast, “Beyond the Beauty With Bobbi Brown,” and on Instagram, for example, where she shares complementary visuals, tutorials and the like, Brown is one of a growing number of brand founders who are shirking the platform’s signature, polished aesthetic in favor of minimally produced, low-fi content. They are trading in filters for grainy videos made via internet bandwidth they now have to split with their quarantine partners.
Call it a sign of the times. Better yet, call it “authentic.”
Lucie Greene, brand strategist and founder of the futures consultancy Light Years, noted a shift during the pandemic toward video content in a variety of forms.
“The amount of content we’re consuming digitally, in general, is exponentially exploding,” she said. “What’s interesting about the pandemic is it’s very much shifted toward video, whether that’s livestream or longform user-generated video.
“Our sense of aesthetic has shifted during this time,” Greene continued. “What would have seemed less polished now feels easier and more authentic and somehow more intimate. You see into people’s homes.”
Trinny Woodall has long thought of herself as the “antithesis” to the polished, Instagram look. She and her cosmetics brand, Trinny London, share unfiltered photos that are sometimes so up close, one can see the subject’s pores. Recurring Instagram features, like “Friday Twinning,” are shot in in just one take, bloopers and all.
Her audience loves it. On Facebook, Woodall has amassed 33 communities, called Trinny Tribes, in 16 countries that cumulatively count about 80,000 highly engaged followers worldwide.
Woodall’s content strategy has changed little since the onset of COVID-19, but the pandemic has changed the way in which customers engage with her content. Trinny London has grown 270 percent from March to December, even after a brief COVID-induced pause to Facebook advertising in March. Woodall is expecting the brand to net $60 million in sales in 2021, she said.
“Our tech team has grown three times during COVID-19,” Woodall said. “The focus is on innovative personalization to make [customers] feel happy, whatever their buying habits have been in the past.” As an example, she cited an online tool, Match2Me, which offers personalized product recommendations when users take a quiz.
Trinny London’s Facebook posts are 51 percent organic, 49 percent paid, according to Woodall. “We are careful to see what organically converts for us and then use those as ads,” she said.
Trinity Mouzon Wofford, cofounder of Golde, said that when the pandemic struck, customers turned to the brand, known for its skin care and ingestibles, for self-care resources and “opportunities to feel connected.”
Traffic to Golde’s website increased, with the conversion rate reaching 4 percent. Sales were up as much as 700 percent versus the year prior, Wofford said. Golde’s Instagram profile views have more than doubled, and the brand is seeing record story and feed engagement.
Golde, who launched a line of just-add-water wellness products at Target in January, is also experimenting with new platforms.
“We launched in 2020 a private chat community on an app called Geneva,” said Wofford. “It’s basically like Slack, but not for work. We’ve opened that up exclusively to our Club Golde ambassador base. It’s a cool place for us to connect with them, share sneak peeks of launches, and for each of them to connect with one another and share latte tips, what their wellness routines are like. [We’re] thinking about how we can not only engage with the community, but how they engage with one another.”
Pre-pandemic, Jenna Lyons had been planning an in-person activation to promote LoveSeen, the false eyelash brand she launched in September, but was forced to scrap those plans in March of last year.
“It shifted us toward thinking about community, not that we weren’t thinking about community and building one before, but it has to become more important,” Lyons, who only started posting to her Instagram account last year, said. “It’s a world that I’m a little bit trepidatious around because as a user myself, I am not as willing to purchase or believe in something when I see it’s a paid post. Word of mouth and friends are probably the best thing. As a brand, how do you get that without it feeling fake?”
Asked whether she is interested in platforms such as TikTok or Clubhouse, Lyons said though there is interest, LoveSeen doesn’t yet have the bandwidth to be on multiple platforms.
“My philosophy has always been don’t do it if you can’t do it well,” she said. “[TikTok] requires so much contiguous activity. There is no question that there are people purchasing from TikTok. My son literally asked for a jacket that he saw in a TikTok video. As a brand, we’re not set up for that yet.”
For Dr. Barbara Sturm, the pandemic presented the opportunity to reconnect with patients and customers. She had attempted to do master classes with retailers prior to COVID-19, but “they weren’t so interested in it because they thought nobody would sit at home and watch,” she said.
That changed during the pandemic, when “all of a sudden, people were ready to sit in front of a digital device and receive information.”
Tracee Ellis Ross, CEO and founder of Pattern Beauty, wrote via email that she and her team remain content-focused, though the execution has changed.
“I had to embrace shooting styling tutorials on my phone and connecting with our community in different ways,” Ross said. “We increased our investments in product education, at-home styling and continued to amplify a core belief of mine that ‘hair care is self care.’”
Content is driving traffic, and sales, for retailers, who have shifted editorial to focus on skin care and wellness.
Net-a-porter beauty director Newby Hands said at the e-tailer’s inaugural digital festival, The Beauty of You, that traffic to skin care content is up 100 percent over the past year, with wellness content up 55 percent. Skin care was Net-a-porter’s top-performing beauty category in 2020.
“Literally within a few days of lockdown, we saw this real pivot,” Hands said. “The audience was engaging with skin care, and wellness then became huge. What they wanted was less aspirational. They wanted straightforward, practical advice. They would buy products and devices they could use and they wanted advice on what to do. It was interesting to see how practical it became, and that’s how it stayed.”
Kate Wolfson, vice president of content at Goop, said the company has “doubled down on the service aspect,” offering content focused on mental health and immune support.
“We wanted to provide [Goop customers] with as many tools as possible to navigate these times,” Wolfson said. “Right now, that means tools for supporting general well-being by way of stories like supporting immunity and sleep, introducing clean skin care routines and working through pandemic-related anxieties.”
Goop’s editorial strategy also includes content relating to sexual wellness, a category that skyrocketed at the beginning of the pandemic. A headline for a recent article on Goop’s website reads, “Vibrators, Sex Toys, Lubes, and More for Every Desire” and links to 32 sexual wellness products.
Wellness and home were Goop’s fastest-growing categories in 2020, driven largely by content versus organic sales, Wolfson said.
“We sent out a dedicated community support newsletter and we saw an incremental lift on the product that was featured,” she said. “It was air purifiers, calming oils, cozy clothes. In our case, anytime you contextualize a product through content, we see a boost in its average weekly sales. The impact can last for four weeks after the story or newsletter went out.”
Cassandra Grey, founder and CEO of Violet Grey, said her company is working on its “own version of QVC,” called “Behind the Counter,” which will consist of short-form content franchises that will exist on Violet Grey’s web site.
The purpose, Grey said, is “education, inspiration and trusted product recommendations through the lens of people that we have trusted since inception,” including “celebrity customers” and beauty enthusiasts. Violet Grey will use its brick-and-mortar store in Melrose Place, which remains closed due to the pandemic, as a studio to film its segments.
Violet Grey employs seven people as part of a “communication arts team,” which it tasks with content production. Grey is in talks with production companies to work on the “Behind the Counter” franchise.
“That was a whole process, trying to find somebody that would work with us because we have a very tight budget and we don’t want it to feel produced,” Grey said. “It’s produced in that we feel we have curated and partnered with the biggest authorities in the industry that can help [tell] people how to use something or what to buy, and tend to be affiliated with brands or have their own brand…. Everyone has a contractual agreement. There’s lots of restrictions around what brands you can’t talk about. Our editorial integrity is our whole business.” As for what is keeping the brand founders-slash-content-creators entertained? For Lyons, it’s simple: videos of puppies and people baking cookies.
“It’s the only thing I watch these days,” she said. “I come from [the fashion] world, but watching people put on amazing outfits? I don’t care because I’m not going anywhere. But I’m loving all the stuff that people are doing with their dogs. I can’t get enough of that stuff.”