Recently, Estée Lauder’s president and chief executive officer Fabrizio Freda announced how it's chosen to allocate its advertising budget this year. “These investments are mainly now in digital. 75% of our investment now is in digital social media influencers, and they’re revealing to be highly productive.”
The statement – made during the group’s second-quarter earnings call – won’t sound particularly dramatic to those of us working within the influencer space, especially as Estée Lauder and the beauty industry generally have been early adopters and inspiring innovators in the influencer landscape.
The group owns 29 of the world’s leading skincare and makeup brands – including Bobbi Brown, Clinique, MAC, La Mer, Smashbox, Tom Ford and the original Estée Lauder brand. Speaking of the company’s eponymous founder, its global brand president Stéphane de la Faverie says “Estée Lauder was the ultimate entrepreneur, the original influencer, a true innovator and a visionary.”
So why does such an epic and powerful conglomerate rely so heavily on influencers? The first reason is down to the nature of beauty products. Through helpful ‘how to’ content on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok – beauty influencers have the unique ability to not just show how a product looks in its packaging, but the end result, on real skin, shot in real time.
A great example of this is Smashbox’s ‘7 Cover Shot’ eye palette. The barrier to converting with a product like this is of course that a customer can’t imagine how they’d use every colour, plus are most-likely stuck in a rut of what suits them and which colours they’ve always worn. Our agency worked on an influencer campaign for the brand – enlisting the creative prowess of five beauty influencers known for their inspiring, colourful makeup looks. Its shoppable ‘how to’ videos generated 486K views with an average of 12.3% engagement rate – above the industry average of 8%. Most importantly, however, it educated potential and existing customers on how to use its products, with content the influencers created and posted themselves.
Influencer marketing doesn’t come cheap, but to use a face that’s both well known and – this is important – well-liked, means not only are the assets instantly recognisable but those influencer’s followers really champion their success too – engaging with, commenting on and cheering on those TV campaigns, YouTube ads, in-store events etc. Case in point: Alessandra Steinherr. During her 10-year stint at the helm of Glamour magazine’s beauty department, MAC, (Estée Lauder’s biggest, bravest makeup brand) chose Steinherr to be part of its first Influencer lipstick collection. The brand gathered a hot list of global beauty influencers, and invited them to create their very own MAC lipstick shades, which then went on sale. And the in-store and online face of the products? You bet, the influencers.
After Glamour, Steinherr went on to be an influencer in her own right. Her IG account boasts a highly-engaged 190k followers – her in-feed product reviews regularly rack-up 20-40k views, with Steinner replying to questions and giving advice to all the comments too. And that is one of the reasons why Estée Lauder (the brand) – which has over 27 million social followers globally – also chose Steinherr as its ANR ambassador (that’s Advanced Night Repair to the uninitiated.)
A powerful way to use influencers within a marketing strategy is to empower them to foster, build and manage a brand’s community. This can work on both a macro and micro scale – both of which the group has invested heavily in. A truly authentic fit for the brand, Steinherr already used, loved and regularly spoke about Estée Lauder and its cult ANR serum. But making it official – and commercial – took their relationship to the next level.
Not only did Steinherr create relatable, unscripted, authentic videos, Stories and IG Lives for the brand, she also became the go-to person for any questions and advice her followers had too. Their partnership was not a drive to shift product – ten bottles of Advanced Night Repair serum are already sold every minute – it was about nurturing that huge customer base and holding on to them. Essentially by making a trusted influencer an official ambassador for the brand, you can also delegate a huge amount of community management and brand building to them too.
The thing to note with Estée Lauder is that it's not a one size fits all strategy – those 29 brands, as well as their customers are all different, so its approach to working with influencers must reflect that. A great example of this is a campaign we worked with them on for Jo Malone London. As fragrance is seen as such a deeply personal, nostalgia-rich area, we wanted to make its 'Declare Your Scent' campaign about authentic storytelling. That meant using lesser-known 'nano' influencers with followings of around 2000 who we knew (through social listening) were already brand advocates. The influencers not just produced really unique, engaging content for their own channels, but we were also able to create an influencer network in different territories that the brand could continue to trust, and collaborate with.
Key to the group’s digital marketing success will be its ability to set data-informed KPIs for each partnership – the influencers who can easily shift volumes of product may indeed be different to those with high engagement rates or those with the power to bring in new customers and followers. Based on its previous collaborations, Estée Lauder’s big-budget investment can only be a good move, provided of course that they continue to innovate in terms of how they work with influencers – harnessing their creativity, their innate understanding of their platforms and their audiences, as well as partnering with truly authentic brand ambassadors.