brands study

Our recent study of 800 women who shop online for beauty products found that 37 percent will try a new product after seeing it on a social media site like Facebook or YouTube, or after reading peer reviews. Only 24 percent indicated they were still influenced by more traditional marketing approaches, such as print magazine and TV advertising, that beauty brands have used for years.

What these numbers tell us is that brands and conventional advertising channels have been displaced as trusted sources of information or authority and replaced by online influencers, whether a buyer’s peer group, a respected blogger or a peer-affirmed trend leader.

It is important that brand managers recognize this trend, and even more important that they understand both the origins of this phenomenon and what brands can do to address it.

The rise of influencers is a direct byproduct of today’s “trust crisis.” As a society, we have lost confidence in traditional institutions, corporations and the media. And, nowhere is this distrust more apparent than at the point of purchase — whether that’s a register at a physical checkout or an Amazon “One Click” button. According to A.T. Kearney research conducted in 2016, 53 percent of respondents reported having little or no confidence in large corporations.

But losing trust in businesses doesn’t mean shoppers suddenly also relinquish the need for information or a trusted authority. It just means they have to seek out information, affirmation and guidance in different venues, which may help explain both the exponential growth of digital media and social networks over the last two decades and the rise of the “influencer” as a key agent in consumers’ lives.

In the beauty industry, this translates into an increasing number of shoppers who would rather listen to “people like them” or “real people” than follow the direction of high fashion mavens, unattainable level of beauty with models and traditional brands, perhaps overly comfortable in their role as the arbiters of what constitutes beauty at any given moment.

So who are these influencers, and how are they capturing the hearts and minds of beauty products users?

Our study identified three types of emerging digital influencers, each offering different types of content, and addressing different target audiences.

The Girl Next Door

What began as a hobby for some women in their teens or early 20s has turned into an Internet-enabled global phenomenon. “Regular” girls who love beauty and enjoy sharing their beauty secrets and opinions with others — like Bethany Mota and Carli Bybel with their 10 million and five million YouTube followers respectively; Instagram stars Chrisspy (four million followers) and Makeup Shayla (two million followers), and cross-platform Influencers such as Zoella, who reaches more than 30 million readers — are leveraging social media to build audiences, hold their attention by providing a steady diet of fresh content, and creating personal brands, some with global reach.

The Lifestyle Guru

Lifestyle Gurus operate at the intersection of fashion, beauty, wellness, home décor and travel. Having worked in the fashion or beauty industries they have “insider” credibility, allowing them to be relevant across a variety of topics. Model and blogger Chriselle Lim has three million followers on her YouTube channel, and almost one million followers for her Instagram, where she shares her days on the catwalk wand offers beauty, food, fitness and fashion tips. Her followers can “buy the look.” Clicking on an item transfers them to the brand’s web site. Other influencers in this category include Aimee Song — with 4.3 million followers on Instagram — who covers topics from interior design to beauty tips and Kristina Bazan with five million Facebook and Instagram followers of her own.

The Expert

Another proven path to achieving global influencer starts with being a professional makeup artist or a skin-care expert. “Experts” bring the experience and expertise consumers value and trust to social media, without any corporate trust baggage, enabling them to build impressive follower bases. Professional makeup artists like Jaclyn Hill — who enjoys four million Instagram followers and an equal number of YouTube subscribers — falls into this category. Other examples include sisters Sam and Nic Chapman, makeup artists who started producing beauty tutorials under the name Pixiwoo (two million followers on YouTube) and Patrick Starr, a MAC makeup artist with two million of his own YouTube followers.

The past few months have witnessed a growing debate about whether influencers ought to be segmented into two groups — Macros, those with millions of followers, and Micros, those with up to 100,000 followers — and whether one set is superior and/or more authentic than the other. As we see it, we believe it’s the micro influencers that will eventually matter. In the end, Macros just seem to be more like traditional authorities and less like regular folks.

Who knows? In the near future influencers may be digital — literally digital that is. This April, Amazon expanded its “Echo” line with the introduction of the Echo Look, a voice-activated, hands-free camera that allows users to take full-length photos and short videos of themselves, the better to see how clothes really fit. In need of a second opinion? No problem. The Echo Look lets you create a personal “Lookbook” — essentially a network of friends with whom you can share photos.

Need more critical advice? You can “share” your photos and videos with Style Check, a new Amazon service that partners learning algorithms with style advice from fashion specialists. If it works for clothing, can cosmetics be far behind?

Whether or not traditional beauty brands can find ways to influence the influencers, the challenge is finding ways to rebuild consumer trust, one customer at a time. And the only way to do that is through transparency, shared values and positive customer experiences.

Do you feel that your brand has what it takes to the deliver on all three? Check out what the bloggers are saying. You might be surprised at what you find.

Hana Ben-Shabat is a partner in the consumer and retail practice of A.T. Kearney, a global strategy and management consulting firm. She can be reached at hana.ben-shabat@atkearney.com.

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