Cosmetics brand Benefit is experimenting with a new in-house influencer agency as it invests more marketing dollars into the burgeoning channel. With a regulatory crackdown and a microscope on fraudulent activity, the hub is dedicated to ensuring its budget is being wisely invested and delivering returns.
The aim of the division is to bridge the gap between its marketing team and digital influencers. It will be led by Annie Harrison, senior PR and influencer manager, who said that at “peak” campaign times it will have up to 14 people working in the department.
However, it is currently trying to recruit a digitally native employee to sit within the team full-time who “will bring more of an analytical skillset” to help inform the strategy and develop a “best-in-class reporting metric”, said Harrison.
The set-up of this division – which will be trialled in the UK before a potential roll out into other markets - marks a step-change in how Benefit is approaching influencer marketing.
Prior to the inception of the dedicated influencer unit (which was established at the beginning of February 2019), the influencer responsibility was spread across two separate teams: PR & Digital. The hub now sits independently in both but will act as a collaborative space, still working really closely with all teams, explained Harrison.
“By joining both the PR and digital skillsets, we hope will be the key ingredient to set us up for great success to achieve our global KPIs.”
The brand has always worked with influencers, predominantly in what it would describe as an 'organic basis' – building up relationships through paid-for trips, one-to-one experiences and gifting rather paid-for ads."
However, such an approach can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s the most authentic way for brands to showcase products but on the other, there's a growing call for more transparency in how these symbiotic relationships are declared to consumers.
Benefit’s in-house influencer team was set up amid a backlash over the opacity of the 'gifting' relationship between brands and social media stars, which eventually led to the ASA and the Competition and Market Authority (CMA) introducing more stringent rules.
The regulatory bodies state that if posts result from a free gift or other perks, the influencer must declare it in the same way they would a paid-for ad.
With Benefit having worked with some 500 influencers, the new division will focus on a more robust way of tracking the output and signposting of content created featuring the makeup brand, including posts that haven't necessarily been contractually agreed.
“For this reason, we will encourage our influencers to use a #GiftedbyBenefit hashtag for products, gifts, services, trips, hotel stays, etc, in order to comply with the CMA regulations, should the influencer choose to post about anything about it,” said Harrison.
Benefit is one of a number of brands introducing more formal influencer marketing processes within its marketing departments. Last year, L'Oreal – which invests 90% of its influencer marketing budget on Instagram started doing its own 'background checks' on the social stars is works with, part of a three-step vetting process to ensure the brand was in safe hands.
The advertiser has spent a few years building up a repertoire of influencers it feels represent the values of the brand and a large part of the team’s remit now is simply about maintaining those relationships. However, Bennett’s team is now also on the hunt to bring more diversity into its influencer mix.
According to a report on Gen-Z commissioned by the brand, 51% of this demographic want to see companies working with a wider mix of people who actually look like them and so finding that new group of influencers will fall under Harrison’s team’s remit.
Elsewhere, Benefit is also bolstering its experiential marketing strategy.
"In our survey, we found that 56% of Gen Z want the bricks-and-mortar experience to be really engaging," explained marketing director Lou Bennett, at an event hosted by Impero on engaging Gen-Z.
"The whole premise of Benefit [when it was first established 1976] was all about a locker room vibe, a sisterhood where you could pop in and hang out. And that's something we wish to evoke," she continued.
With a new quarterly programme of events, Benefit's stunts so far have included a chicken restaurant that promoted it's 'winged eye' eyeliner and a happy house that included four interactive rooms (equipped with a glitter shower).
The investments are all part of Benefit's endeavour to make 'premium' makeup more accessible.