How Cosmetics Retailers Can Utilize Influencers
Written by: Guest Author
For the last few months, marketers have become enamored with something called “influencer marketing”. You’ve heard the hype, but what’s it all about? Can you use it, and should you?
The first thing that you need to understand about influencer marketing is the philosophy. In other words, we know influencer marketing works, but why?
You may have heard that the most powerful form of marketing is “word-of-mouth”. Word-of-mouth marketing is hard to track (many retailers use “how did you hear about us” forms to try and capture a small portion of this data) but anecdotally, you can surely think of a few times you looked into a product after hearing about it from a friend. On the other hand, how often do ads move you to buy a product? While personal recommendations don’t happen as often, they’re much more powerful.
With the rise of social media platforms and internet video, word-of-mouth marketing is now spreading to the internet through influencers.
What is an influencer?
In reality, anyone with an online audience can be an influencer. Brands will want to focus on influencers who are already producing content for their industry, of course. Most cosmetics brands are utilizing this extensively via YouTube, Instragram, Snapchat, and more.
The content that these influencers are producing is incredibly powerful because their audiences trust them. This trust is at the core of word-of-mouth marketing, and was incredibly difficult to produce in the past. Before the internet came along, word-of-mouth was unpredictable, difficult to measure, and impossible to control. But now, with the help from a few powerful voices, your brand can become known to millions.
But what’s the catch?
To take advantage of this form of marketing, there are a few catches.
First, if you are actively trying to get people to talk about your brand, you have to expect that there will be times that people will say things you don’t like. While it’s possible to have some control over the general tone (more on this later), people have opinions, and some will not be favorable.
Second, your products need to be great if you want to get people talking. If you send a skincare product to a YouTuber, and it doesn’t do what is advertised, they’re probably going to tell their audience not to buy it. Again, there are ways to have some control over your brand, but these influencers value their relationship with their audience, and that’s built upon trust.
Influencers are people
The small amount of control that you have is tied up in your selection of influencers and promoters. Though you can’t control what they say, you can decide who you want to partner with.
However, it’s important to treat each one of these individuals as people, not tools. Despite how it may look, the most powerful influencers are very busy and have lists of dozens of videos they want to create. They will always ask themselves the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) question when they are deciding whose product to discuss in their next video. Because of this, it’s important for you to remember that your product needs to work as advertised if you’re going to make the cut with the best influencers.
From a logistical standpoint, you’ll want to have one or more company representatives dedicated to managing relationships with influencers. These brand reps should be continuously reaching out to new influencers. Your brand should partner with these individuals in a relationship that is mutually beneficial.
How can you do this?
- Offer review samples
- Ask how your brand can help them produce content (product descriptions, lists of ingredients, manufacturing policies and processes)
- Ask them what products they are interested in
Importantly, you should never try to control their voice or language. Unless you have a contract, these partners have full control over what is said or not said on their platform. If you suggest that they describe your product in a certain way, or ask them not to speak about a problem, sooner or later, there will be an influencer that will not oblige.
Without trust and honesty, influencer marketing falls flat on its face. Whether the trust is lost between you and the influencer, or between them and their audience, your brand will be hurt.
One horrific example of this is the Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad from early 2017. In it, Kendall (the influencer) is pictured using Pepsi to apparently fix all the most pressing social issues. Violence, racism, oppression, all vanish with the sharing of a can of soda from one of the world’s largest brands.
To the surprise of Pepsi, this did not go over well. The implications were offensive and polarizing to many who saw the ad. (Some felt the message was anti-government, for example).
The bond of trust between Jenner and her fans was broken. The bond of trust between Jenner and Pepsi also dissolved. Why? This was not the influencer’s voice. Pepsi admitted that she was not at all involved in the creative process, but they wanted to leverage her clout to push their product. Of course, this was a commercial, so it would hardly have been normal to hand creative control over to someone who doesn’t have experience producing or writing advertisements. Regardless, this is the ultimate example of how NOT to use influencers in your marketing.
Your influencers will ideally be creators themselves, and when it comes to unpaid partnerships, they must be allowed to say what they want, how they want.
Are there any exceptions?
When to pay, and when not to pay
Money is always a factor. Anytime a new and natural avenue or style of marketing comes along, it’s not long before it’s monetized into oblivion. A few years ago, the tech industry had a simple and somewhat pure way of marketing their new products. Tech YouTubers with giant channels would receive review samples of new phones, tablets, and laptops, and would talk about them on their channels for “free”.
In reality, this wasn’t quite free as most of the companies (Samsung, LG, Microsoft, etc.) would carelessly “forget” to ask reviewers to return the samples. Still, no money was changing hands, and the motivation for the YouTubers to make these videos was only the ad revenue that they’d earn on their videos.
As of this writing, this is changing rapidly. The largest channels are now selling 5-10 minute long videos to these same brands for several thousand dollars. These videos are little more than commercials for these products. The YouTubers must disclose the sponsorship, and are under contracts that limit what they can and cannot say about these products. Often times, the brands approve the final videos to ensure they’re not paying someone to say something that might damage their brand. As mentioned before, trust is hugely important in these relationships, and it won’t be long before a creator or sponsor pushes this too far and loses trust.
If a reviewer is not trusted to give their open and honest opinion, their review is valueless, their audience will abandon them, and that influencer can no longer do anything to help a brand. Paying someone to endorse your product is not new, however, and it can be done correctly. Video games (Madden), magazines, and even boxes of cereal have all been using big names to help sell their products for decades. Those relationships have their place. If the influencer has particularly large audience and is known to be paid for their work (a supermodel would be the typical example), paid endorsement makes sense. It also makes sense in scenarios where the spokesperson is an actual user of the product and genuinely loves it.
On the other hand, paying hundreds of small makeup tutorial YouTubers to compliment your product could very well be harmful to your brand.
Perhaps the best practice would simply be to provide samples of your product for free, with no strings attached whenever possible. Do this particularly with the products that you know are exceptional in your industry. The only time you should consider paying for an endorsement is when a very large influencer does not have time to talk about your product without being paid.
What influencers should you target?
Getting the right influencers can be a powerful, natural, and inexpensive way to get your brand in front of your target audience. But who should you be looking for, and how can you find them?
YouTube is one of the best channels to find cosmetics influencers, not only because of the huge number of creators, but also because of YouTube’s powerful search engine features. How can you find quality influencers?
- If your budget is tight, look to YouTubers with smaller subscriber numbers. You can type one of your keywords into the YouTube search bar, then sort by channel to see a list of channels that discuss that topic.
- From there, look for channels with less than 50,000 subscribers. While not a guarantee by any means, these creators will be much more likely to accept a product from you and actually produce a video.
- YouTube’s algorithms currently favor upload frequency above all else. While content quality and user engagement scores are important, what really drives channels to success is frequently providing new content. Qualify your influencers by ensuring they upload multiple videos each week, and have been doing so for the last few months.
- Go to the channel’s about page, and you should find contact details via social channels or e-mail.
- Depending on the product, review samples should be relatively inexpensive, so there’s no need to demand that a creator sign some form of agreement when you send them a product. Just let them know you like their content and would love to hear what they think of your product.
Be sure to subscribe to these creators and follow them on social channels. You should have tracking set up so that you are notified when your brand is mentioned. On social, you can easily search for your brand or product name on a daily basis to be sure that you know when people are talking about you. When one of these creators produces a video, share that with your audience.
What if they say something negative? Again, trust is the most important factor in making this work for your brand. While it’s certainly not a requirement, you can earn trust from your audience and theirs if you take this feedback publicly. A simple “thanks so much for your honest feedback. We’re looking into X problem to be sure it’s taken care of” can get your brand positive traction in the marketplace. When you do fix the problem, send the updated product to that creator and be sure they know what you’ve done. Of course, if their criticism is incorrect (perhaps they didn’t follow instructions on how to properly apply it, for example), it is fine to point this out in a respectful manner.
Instagram is huge for cosmetics since it is so visual. Similar to Snapchat, Instagram allows users to share stories with their followers in the form of short video clips. These are great places for short, natural product endorsements.
Instagram also has search features, although they’re not as extensive or powerful as those offered by YouTube. Searching in the tags section of Instagram, you’ll find recent posts from users on that topic. People do tend to spam as many hashtags as possible to increase discoverability, but you can see whether or not the photograph has anything to do with cosmetics or not with a quick glance.
Here to, it’s good to look for influencers that have smaller audiences. You’ll find that most cosmetics YouTube creators will also have an Instagram profile. There will be a correlation between audience sizes between these platforms.
It’s important to note that YouTube creators can make money a number of ways. Even if they aren’t being paid by sponsors or affiliates, ad-revenue can still generate a sizable income for larger channels. Instagram, however, does not have monetization built-in directly (at least not right now). Since that’s the case, influencers may be more reluctant to talk about your product here without compensation. In some cases, YouTube is viewed as the primary platform to discuss products, and Instagram (along with Snapchat and other social networks) a way to connect more directly and openly with fans.
Still, this can be a good way to reach and find smaller influencers.
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