benefit susan kim wwd digital forum

Benefit Cosmetics’ Susan Kim believes that “beauty is in the midst of an epic disruption.”

The vice president of Benefit’s global strategic marketing, Kim advises companies not to rely on old ways of doing business. They need to understand their brand on an intrinsic level, and focus on the stories and influencers that resonate with today’s digital consumers.

At one time, department store makeup counters and their makeup artists were the primary beauty brand ambassadors. But “there is no authority anymore,” she said. In a culture where people can get whatever they want, whenever they want it, “the empowerment is completely in the consumer’s hands. We have complete democratization of media and news and information, and e-commerce is booming.”

Citing 2016 data from NPD Group, Kim pointed to flat or negative growth among traditional brands. But “the indie brands are absolutely on fire,” she added. Indie brands embrace “digital natives,” going where the consumer is. More importantly, they speak in a way that resonates with a younger generation.

For a 40-year-old company like Benefit, thriving in this kind of environment could have been challenging. But the brand has always had a strong, fun-loving identity that connects with consumers. Pointing to her company’s motto, “laughter is the best cosmetics,” Kim referred to Benefit’s rich DNA — “from our beginnings in the Seventies in San Francisco to our first product, which was actually a nipple stain for a stripper,” she said, laughing. Today, every Benefit product has its own individual personality, complete with irreverent names.

Building on that foundation, the company drives forward using two main digital tactics: Engaging with influencers and curating or creating content.

Benefit taps influencers who authentically love its products. “[They] have more earned reach at an exponential level than any of the brands,” said Kim. “We’re seeing about 152 billion beauty views on YouTube alone for the year, a plus 60 percent growth. And of that, in 2016, branded views were only 4 million. Ninety-five percent of all views on YouTube are from non-branded channels. So it’s very important for us to reach those influencers who have that reach.”

When Benefit looked into the metrics, it discovered that four products were driving roughly 60 percent of its beauty views on YouTube in 2016. One of those products posed a surprise: The Roller Lash Mascara was a 2015 product that the company didn’t promote much after the first year.

“We dug a little deeper and saw that what was driving those views were makeup tutorials,” said Kim. “And a lot of it was driven by one particular influencer: Jeffree Star…So he was just a big fan of Roller Lash without us pushing it on him.” The product was his “go-to” mascara, inspiring the company to collaborate with Star. It worked with him and a few other influencers on a limited edition collection, and has since extended its influencer relationships to large and fast growing countries like China.

“China is going to be a huge market for us,” she added. “Seven percent of all luxury sales are done geographically in China; 30 percent of all luxury sales are by Chinese consumers. And half the growth in the next five years in luxury sales will come from Chinese consumers.”

When it comes to addressing the new wave of digital platforms and increasing priorities on globalization, meeting goals, or KPIs, and diving into the data opens the door. But “to really win, and to really thrive, build your team for the immeasurable,” urged Kim. ”That is really how you are able to keep your brand DNA intact across your global market as well as your consumers.”