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The Drum

Beauty is in the eye of the vlogger as the behemoths battle it out for attention

Dom Burch is the founder and MD of Why Social, a strategic marketing consultancy, and former senior director of marketing innovation and new revenue at Asda. Trained in PR, Dom has spent the last 17 years in a variety of comms roles at Asda, Direct Line and Green Flag including head of PR and head of social.

Beauty vlogging star Michelle Phan

I read an interesting assessment of how well, or otherwise, the world's three largest beauty manufacturers are handling themselves online and in particular how successful they are at harnessing social media.

Minter Dial has assessed the online portals for Unilever, L'Oreal and P&G.

He says he wanted to address the notion of a federating beauty portal for the beauty conglomerates.

"For most independent brands, because of scale and focus, they are typically obliged to intermingle their content within their brand site. For the conglomerates, however, there is an opportunity to create a supra-site that talks to the beauty category as a whole."

Unilever ($21.5bn), L'Oreal ($27.4bn) and P&G ($18.1bn) collectively accounted for nearly $70bn in sales of beauty products in 2014.

A staggeringly impressive number, but as of yet none have really quite cracked how to reach their potential audience of beauty lovers in a way that drives true engagement for their brands

Minter says all three companies have very different executions, with very different social strategies.

"L’Oreal’s makeup.com is focused on a single area (cosmetics) and certainly has the most attractive UX...Unilever’s portals aggregate brands that cover health to beauty to household care, etc.. In both cases, the scope seems too wide to gain a concentrated following."

He points out the challenge is to find an appropriate line between editorial and helpful content with the urge to sell product.

By contrast, Fast Company reported how Ipsy founder Michelle Phan is using influencers to reinvent the cosmetics industry.

Fast Company notes that with her growing network of vloggers and beauty-box subscribers, the YouTube star is changing the marketing playbook for makeup.

Phan started making videos of herself applying makeup in her bedroom in 2007, and has since built a following of more than 8 million subscribers.

According to Fast Company she is now helping others follow in her footsteps through Ipsy, a monthly subscription-based mail order beauty business, that relies on an army of vloggers to test and review featured products.

Last May, Ipsy opened a 10,000-square-foot studio, complete with 360-degree cameras, state-of-the-art lighting, and elaborate props, for its network of beauty vloggers to shoot their videos from.

They've also taken on $100m in investment, valuing the business at $800m.

A mere snip compared to the three behemoths of beauty, but impressive nonetheless.

And although mail order only accounts for five per cent of all sales, there's nothing to stop Ipsy moving into physical retail in the future.

The fascinating part for me is how the really big organisations are struggling to best navigate the intersection of brand marketing (pushed and paid) and influencer relations (pulled and earned, albeit funded).

The tendency to over broadcast, and under invest in community management is telling of who the real paymasters are in each organisation, and how siloed multinational corporations tend to be.

The Itsy model is smart.

Products funded by brands, then monetised through subscribers, and real utility added for the consumer by creating highly engaging vlogger content.

I'll leave the final thought to Minter: "A beauty portal should be more about beauty than brands, community more than commerce and content more than conversions."

I agree. Sign me up now.

Follow Dom on Twitter @domburch