The influencer marketing model is shifting — fast.
Back in 2015, when Becca Cosmetics first partnered with vlogger Jaclyn Hill for a highlighter, it sold out almost immediately. When the company partnered with Hill again in 2016 — this time with a palette, Snapchat announcement and exclusive point of sale via Sephora app — 26,000 units sold out in 90 minutes.
Both of these sales surges marked milestones in the relationship between beauty brands and influencers. Beauty brands could experience a true sales spike from partnering with an influencer, and an influencer could get his or her name on the packaging of his or her favorite brand.
But that was 2016, and now, two short years later, things are already drastically different, Becca’s chief executive officer Bob DeBaker said. “I wish the good old days were still here because I honestly believe the chance of doing that [today] is very slim, if not over,” DeBaker said. “It has become more part of the routine.”
But back then, it was novel. Becca reached out to Hill after noticing sales spikes when she talked about their highlighters. “We thought, ‘Wow, that was pretty amazing, that would be cool if that could happen again,'” DeBaker said. Then the brand had the idea to reach out to Hill.
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“It sounds so ridiculously stupid now that we actually thought about that, because this is the moment we’re in now, but the reach out to her honestly was to say, ‘thank you,'” DeBaker said. “It wasn’t to say, ‘oh, here’s a whole bunch of other products, talk about these too.'”
Over a thank-you lunch, the idea for the Champagne Pop highlighter came about.
“The thought of putting someone’s name on the box, on the packaging as a collaboration now is a price of admission — it’s table stakes if you want to be involved in the influencer moment — but think back two years ago,” DeBaker said. “How many of us were really willing to put someone’s name on the package?
“The speed with which things have moved and the different dynamics that are involved present a real difficulty in figuring out where we go from here,” DeBaker said. “The best and most powerful thing the influencer movement has done is truly put the power…into the hands of the consumer.”
DeBaker outlined three tips for going forward as part of the influencer movement — treat the influencer relationship and customer relationship similarly; view the influencer moment as a media moment, and pay attention to Gen Z.
The relationship that brands have with influencers cannot be a substitute for the relationship brands have with their customers, DeBaker said. Instead, influencer relationships should be treated as a “segment of you how relate with your consumer” and informed by brand equity strategies and goals for consumer relationships, he said.
Businesses will also need to accept pay-to-play in terms of their own social media posting, DeBaker noted. Because of algorithm shifts on platforms like Facebook and Instagram, brands need to treat those forms of media as they used to treat advertising in print magazines — and pay to boost their posts, he said.
There aren’t that many new big-name/big-follower influencers entering the market, DeBaker said, and, combining that with pay-to-play, it suggests that social media is shifting. “We need to look at this moment as a media-buy moment,” he said.
Things are also shifting between generations. While traditionally older age groups would teach the younger ones about makeup and skin care, it’s now the other way around, DeBaker noted. “A younger consumer is so knowledgeable about what’s going on in the category because she’s engrossed in the videos, engrossed in the content, she follows all the people — she has more time to do it than those of us who have to work for a living.
“I encourage all of us to pay attention to what is going on with Generation Z,” DeBaker said “The Millennial generation is definitely a digitally native generation, but the Gen Z audience will be native to the influencer moment.”
Gen Z genuinely trusts what they hear in social media posts from influencers, he noted. “It’s not different than when we learned to read the newspaper,” DeBaker said. “This age group is, ‘if I saw it in a video or saw it in a post, it must be true.’
“We’re creating a very tough moment, and we’re all living in the midst of these influencers who have been paid, who have to maintain authenticity, and it’s a tough game for them — but the challenge is on us as brands because ultimately the consumer will not make the judgment call on the influencer, they will make the judgment call on the brand.”
Becca does not pay its influencers, DeBaker said.
As fake followers have been unearthed in a wide spectrum of situations, brands need to pay extra close attention to where they’re spending their marketing dollars, DeBaker noted.
“We’re all making decisions [for] the investments we make in the influencer world, and who we use, and the people who are being valued as big-time influencers are suddenly showing up as having half their followers being bots — they’re not real,” he said. “When consumers find it out, there will be a massive distaste. They will not turn on their influencers — they will turn on brands…they expect us to have done the homework and recognize what was real and what was not real.”
Brands need to pay close attention to which influencers they choose to work with, keeping authenticity in mind, and remembering that the power is now truly in the hands of the consumer, DeBaker noted.
“The truth is that the people who were huge 15, 18 months ago are huge now,” DeBaker said. “It’s interesting to contemplate all the reasons why we’re not seeing a surge in big-number follower influencers…That layer we call micro influencers that we’re all in love with — so are consumers — because there’s a certain authenticity. They haven’t yet been paid a lot of money, they haven’t yet been given a ton of product. It’s still genuine, it’s still authentic.”