Beauty marketing in the age of influencers

The beauty industry is one of the few that continues to grow and keeps its share of the pie when it comes to how women spend their money. Even though the face of the industry is slowing shifting, there are some ways the beauty industry and the marketers that shape the narrative refuse to evolve at the same pace as their consumers.

It wasn’t that long ago that glossy magazines and TV were the playground of big beauty brands. Stunningly shot double page spreads used to reign supreme, then advertorials had their moment in the sun. Now that influencers are the ones driving trends and consumer interest, it would make sense to think the narrative for beauty brands would be different, but is it really?

“Beauty brands in South Africa are still doing very generic social media campaigns, using influencers with no real differentiating qualities. Brands want a little video tutorial ‘this is my morning skincare routine’ and a flat lay post of products. It’s contrived and I don’t know how effective it is because they all blend into one after a while,” says Mathahle Stofile, independent beauty editor and founder of The Matte Project (@thematteoproject).

 

DEMOCRATISING BEAUTY Democratising beauty

As technology moved us into a world where everyone who had a smartphone and an internet connection had a voice, the conversations about beauty expanded. For the first time in history, the conversations weren’t just happening between beauty editors, marketers and models.

Voices that had not been considered before were all of a sudden bringing up realities that millions could relate to.

“I always though black girls can’t wear red lipstick.”

“I was made to feel ugly as a little girl and spent a chunk of my childhood avoiding the sun.”

“My 4C curls don’t look like the girls on Tumblr, somebody help.”

The response was a resounding, “Girl, me too.”

In one of the Asante Blush sessions we host with various women of ranging backgrounds and age groups, democratising beauty was one of the main themes that emerged. With many options presented to them, the women say they take great care in deciding how to physically represent themselves.

There is a push to be beautiful in your own way, natural or not. This growing trend aims towards celebrating all kinds and levels of beauty. It’s about beauty no longer being exclusive.

The desire for authenticity and a realistic view on beauty is something that is becoming increasingly demanded by consumers. Women know what is real and what is manufactured. Now that we have tools in our own hands that allow us to filter, edit and colour correct our own feeds, there is a tacit agreement that we all know where reality stops and filters start. The illusion has been shattered and thankfully so because girls can now know that even their faves don’t look like their filtered versions.

 

Influencers are not apolitical

While the shift in power being given to influencers, there are some concerns about that model as well. There is a tendency of brands going with well-known influencers while not delving deeper into whether or not the person is the correct fit. Even though micro influencers are growing in demand, brands can do more to find voices that match their stance.

That a brand manager doesn’t know a certain influencer cannot be the measure of whether someone fits the brand or not. There are amazing influencers who are going unnoticed when they have the potential to really elevate certain brands.

The issues that have always plagued the beauty industry, like colourism and conventional beauty being hyped as the highest ranking, have not disappeared despite the shifts in how beauty is marketed.

“The South African influencer tends to be very generic. It’s the same type of look, same hair, same complexion, same Gucci belt, same Dior perfume, same eyebrows. The content is not targeted or niche in any way – except the hair influencers.

“Sinovuyo Mondliwa is a great example of an influencer who sticks to one subject, produces helpful and practical content and always puts her reader’s interest first. Because of this, she has real influence, people go out and buy what she says is working for her,” Stofile adds.

 

When tech & IRL collide

The line between real life and digital life keeps fading. That is extending to influencers too.

As a business, Asante Blush started engaging with South Africa’s first virtual human, Kim Zulu. She’s making her mark as an influencer and because she is an anomaly in a sea of influencers, she and other virtual humans will also affect beauty marketing.

Kim Zulu believes that tech is bringing brands ever closer to their consumers.

“The global pandemic has hastened our pathway to more technology driven solutions, we see it across all consumption of media. Brands dealing directly with influencers enables them to get to the consumer faster in a wider variety of platforms. South Africa has some amazing tastemakers who engage their audiences consistently and authentically. They are an inspiration, giving me the confidence to express myself. Impact is always important as I believe that most want to make a difference in society,” she says.

The bottom line can never be excluded from beauty marketing or any kind of marketing. As budgets go to influencers instead of publications, the status quo is shifted.

Many local influencers are making a good living off their platforms, which is a positive shift towards financially empowering female entrepreneurs. The thing that remains to be seen is how sustainable this will be. It’s also important for marketers to be smart about their influencer selections. You want to go with people who will lead to campaigns converting into sales. You also want to create content that is authentic and interesting. Consumers will not be accepting generic feeds that look the same for much longer.

As beauty marketing decisions continue to be made in boardrooms across the country, there is an exciting conversion that is happening in South Africa that will give big brands a. run for their money.

Young entrepreneurs like Vuyi Zondi, who is the founder of Corium Beauty, and Mbali Sebapu, who founded cosmetics brand Hermosa Flor, are making their presence felt.

Whether big brands view these local brands as competition or not doesn’t change the fact that these brands are getting Rands that used to go to the powerhouses. Everyone, no matter how big and reputable, has to level up and has to connect with their consumers. That evens out the playing field in some ways and encourages excellence in how brands move forward.

 

Zama Nkosi-Mabuye and Cuma Pantshwa are the founders of Asante Blush, a women-led marketing agency with a strong focus and specialisation on female consumers.

Pantshwa started her career path in the field of television producing after completing her Journalism and Drama degree at Rhodes University. Her career was kick-started in one of South Africa’s iconic production companies, Urban Brew Productions in 2001 where she co-produced some of South Africa’s biggest television shows such as Yo.TV, Shift, Road to Riches and South Africa’s first live interactive show, Wildroom.

Nkosi-Mabuye is a creative director who has had a career in the publishing, ideation and marketing industry. Her love and dedication to storytelling, building genuine connections between brands and their consumers, as well as women-centric issues have been the common thread in all the roles that she has worked in.