The rise, fall and reinvention of beauty influencers

When retail spaces closed at the beginning of the pandemic, the number of content creators promoting makeup and skincare products on social media platforms ballooned. But how has this form of marketing evolved?
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Traditionally, customers would rely on in-store consultations to collect product samples or to test products before committing to a purchase. But the rise of influencer marketing means that in-person interaction in a physical store has largely been replaced.

Beauty and skincare influencers are typically compensated for any sales that happen as a direct result of their content, and often share their own discount codes as part of an ambassador or affiliate program. If they're any good, followers can feel satisfied that a product has been vetted by a trusted source.

But this method is quickly becoming outdated. Oversaturation, heightened competition and a shared desire among brands for virality in exchange for sales means the influencer marketing model, which has worked for so long, is becoming difficult to get right. Viral products – just look up ‘TikTok made me buy it’ – are in the spotlight for only a short span of time, and brands need a marketing strategy to be more sustainable. For smaller brands, this approach might not be financially feasible: it's not immediately profitable to send out free products en masse, especially if there's no obligation on the influencers' part to post about it. It's hard to see the return on investment – and customers are starting to question the validity of paid sponsorships, too. 

Breaking through the noise 

The beauty and skincare influencing bubble might be about to burst. There's an excess of sponsored content in the beauty space, and Gen Z's trust in influencers also seems to be waning. Some beauty and skincare brands, however, are subverting the classic formula of just sending products out and hoping the influencer will do the work. Check out these case studies. 

• Functional benefits of beauty and skincare products can be hard to communicate on social media. But, for some brands, these benefits speak volumes – and result in huge amounts of organic sales. Beauty brand KVD's foundation, for instance, regularly sells out as TikTok users post about its flawless coverage. And when one user posted a video about how quickly a Peter Thomas Roth tightener made her under-eye bags disappear, stocks ran out almost immediately. 

• Customers are responding positively to micro influencers, because they feel much more real and relatable than those with millions of followers. Clean beauty brand Vintner's Daughter is taking that relatability one step further: with its new subscription program, customers can become micro influencers by choosing three friends to send samples to. And, since those samples are coming from a trusted source, it's likely that those receiving them will show more interest in the product and brand.

• Beauty brands are also branching out into more unconventional channels, showing up on Twitter, Twitch, online game platform Roblox and Reddit. Some brands are also partnering with more unusual influencers: take skincare and makeup brand Glossier, which launched a partnership with the Women's National Basketball Association. Dr Joyce Park is a dermatologist with 114,000 Instagram followers, who creates sponsored skincare content – with credentials that add more credibility than most mainstream beauty influencers.  

• Rather than sending an influencer a product as a one-off – and hoping they post about it – some brands have started to go deeper with their collaborations. Skincare brand Tula, for example, asked five influencers to curate regimes for specific skin issues, using its own product range. This way, the influencers have some skin in the game, too, and feel more bought in to the brand's long-term success.

A version of this article was published in the Courier Weekly newsletter. For more insights, analysis and inspiration, sign up here.

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