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Influencer strategy lets beauty brands reach limitless consumers with word-of-mouth recommendations

By Deanna Utroske

02-Jun-2016
Last updated on 02-Jun-2016 at 15:21 GMT2016-06-02T15:21:26Z

Alexa Tonner (left), EVP of Collectively Inc., with CEO Ryan Stern
Alexa Tonner (left), EVP of Collectively Inc., with CEO Ryan Stern

The social media – driven approach to PR has come into its own. So to find out what it’s all about, what works, and what’s next, Cosmetics Design checked in with Alexa Tonner, EVP of Collectively.

Collectively is a San Francisco Bay Area–based agency specializing in influencer strategy in and beyond the social space. The Bay Area has long been known for its proximity to all things tech and Silicon Valley.

More recently, it’s become something of a hot bed for the beauty industry, which is good news for Collectively: “We love being in SF and having a chance to work with local companies like Bare Minerals,” the agency’s EVP Alexa Tonner tells Cosmetics Design.

What it’s all about

Beauty influencers create social content that resonates with consumers, but they aren’t all big-name stars. “There's a whole range of digital influence, from ‘micro-influencers’ with less than a hundred fans to celebrity influencers with millions of fans,” says Tonner. “They often have preferred platforms--in the beauty world, YouTube and Instagram are dominant with Snapchat on the rise,” she adds.

Influencer strategy is putting the voice and presence of influencers to work for a brand or company. “Yes, they'll feature products organically,” says Tonner, “but if you're looking to guarantee placement and tell a specific story, you'll need to pay.”

She likes to tell clients that it makes sense “to think of influencers as if the magazine masthead was collapsed--they are both the editorial and business sides all rolled into one.”

What works

Influencer strategy has been part of the cosmetics and personal care industries forever. “Beauty, more than any other industry, has long understood the influence of word of mouth--friends telling each other about the beauty projects they love is a powerful thing,” observes Tonner. “Working with digital influencers achieves that word of mouth effect at scale, reaching anywhere from dozens to millions of followers with one post.”

How it benefits a company, brand, or product in particular varies. “Emerging brands should focus on fewer, deeper, more meaningful partnerships with influencers who really live their brand values,” explains Tonner. “Established brands should too, but they can invest more deeply in scale and impact,” she says.

Reflecting on how Collectively engages with clients, Tonner tells this publication, “We've been really focused on helping brands find the right influencers to collaborate with, and broadening the spectrum beyond just beauty and into non-endemic but complementary categories like lifestyle or fashion, which have shown even greater engagement.”

What’s next

The bulk of any given influencer campaign is driven by the individual’s personal passion for a product or brand. But in some cases it’s possible to work with influencers on consumer education about product benefits, ingredients, and more.

We believe in briefing influencers and that typically includes product and brand education as well, but we don't ask them to just copy and paste bullet points,” Tonner tells Cosmetics Design. “If an aspect of the company or an ingredient in the product resonates with them, they are empowered to share that in their own voice,” she says, adding quickly that “Any kind of forced copy sounds like just that--forced.”

What else is possible remains to be seen. Though much of the movement in the influencer strategy space comes directly from advancements in social media.

“There are always new platforms!” exclaims Tonner.  “Social grows and changes very quickly, it's fun to keep up and it keeps us on our toes.” For instance, “Facebook Live is…shaping up to be a compelling channel for beauty,” she tells Cosmetics Design.

“We've also been developing approaches to using influencer content beyond social media--in e-commerce experiences, media buys, and even in-store!” Tonner notes.

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