Sneha Bhatnagar doesn’t buy any beauty product till she has watched review videos of it on social media. “There is more authenticity in what the influencers say,” reasons the 29-year-old Mumbai resident. Moreover, the different techniques and looks the creator offers give Bhatnagar, a marketing specialist, a more wholesome experience of the product she’s eyeing. “The make-up that I have bought post-reviews has worked like a charm,” she says.
Her buying strategy—purchasing both Indian as well as international beauty brands based on the feedback of influencers across the globe—has only been reinforced since last year’s lockdown. Every time we were looking for an escape, we would open social media apps, especially Instagram, and spend hours watching a content creator tell us how to style a crop top in 10 ways or how to get a no-make-up make-up look.
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Small wonder then that beauty and fashion brands and e-commerce sites, like Nykaa, Kay Beauty, Estée Lauder, Dior and Kama Ayurveda, are increasingly using the services of influencers, “regular” persons on social media, with skin tones and body types matching those of potential buyers. “With influencers, it’s the people who are the marketers instead of the brand,” says Amit Mondal, founder of Pulpkey, a creative and technology-backed marketing company. The consumer, too, feels this person is like me. “The pandemic made brands understand that an influencer could not just promote a product but also engage a community and build a continuing conversation around it, all while sitting at their dressing table,” he notes.
Established as well as young indie brands are using influencers like Ankush Bahuguna or Natasha Luthra who can, they believe, both establish an emotional connect with followers and act as their ambassadors. For, most ads and posts are targeted at millennials, consumers who do not watch regular TV and are probably looking at their phones rather than billboards when they are entering airports.
Companies like Pulpkey help beauty brands identify the target group and choose the influencers using data collected via Artificial Intelligence learning, such as the influencer’s content pattern, their followers’ habits, age range and demographics.
Building a profile as an influencer, or content creator, takes time and effort, with a sponsored brand post earning them anything from ₹5,000 to over ₹1 lakh; the sponsorship has to be declared. It may all start with a barter deal, a post done in exchange for products (and tagged #gifted in posts). While this could lead to a deluge of PR packages from brands, all sides seem to agree that the most effective post is the organic one; say, on a product an influencer happens to buy and review, without any association with a brand.
Aruna Chawla, a Delhi-based buyer psychologist and founder of the Indian vegan condom brand Salad, explains the pattern: “Even before the pandemic, we would always aspire to certain ideas and a lifestyle. Pre-social media, it was the thought leaders and the crème de la crème of society who would be the influencers. But with social media burgeoning, anybody can be a fashion or beauty influencer, showcase a certain lifestyle and consistency in choices and influence people to make (shopping) decisions.
“Internet has democratised access and reach. Two years ago, we would have never had a name like Sakshi Sindwani (a “plus size” influencer) shoot for a campaign for Manish Malhotra. The pandemic has brought influencers home, especially when it comes to beauty and fashion,” she notes.
The right look
Using influencers makes a great deal of sense in the skincare and make-up category, says Mondal. For, “however big a star you have, if the product doesn’t work, it will not generate sales”. An influencer, though, can track the change brought about by something like an over-the-counter acne product, video-documenting the acne-healing journey across months. “As a brand, when you are part of a healing journey that has been documented, where you can see the scars reduce, it’s so much more powerful that the consumer starts believing in the product. It’s an ad that walks the talk,” he says.
It’s easy for brands to understand whether sales are being generated; they just need to track how many people have used the coupon codes an influencer shares. Influencers can also share insights, such as how many people used the swipe-up link shared in the Instagram story.
Given the renewed focus on self-care, brands are ready to bring on board more influencers, says Mondal. Though neither brands nor influencers were comfortable revealing their spending or charges, Mondal claims at least 75% of young indie brands have tried this route. One such brand is d’you, which launched during the pandemic and used influencer marketing for its niche, all-in-one serum that lets you cut down on your beauty routine.
“When you don’t have budgets for traditional media and marketing, influencer marketing is a great tool to reach today’s digital-savvy audience, which is what the influencers have acquired,” says d’you founder Shamika Haldipurkar. But she too draws a distinction between organic and sponsored publicity.
“The brand got a lot of organic publicity because influencers tried the product on their own and really loved it. When we did start sponsored influencer marketing, it showed us that when influencers organically talk about something they love, it works far better than when it is sponsored.” Tier 1 city audiences, she believes, are smart enough to understand the nuances of influencer marketing and base decisions ultimately on their own research and learning.
Venu Bhanot, head of content and brand development at The Ayurveda Experience, an Ayurveda-based skincare and wellness company, understands the potential of influencer marketing. “An emotional connection develops between the follower and the influencer, which makes for an effective marketing tool. Sights of their personal life and home make them far more relatable and the brand does not remain a large, distant company any more for the consumer,” says Bhanot.
Such is the power of influencers in the beauty space that when celebrity make-up artist Namrata Soni recently launched her own brand, Simply Nam, she associated not with a beauty company but a Scandinavian influencer brand incubator, Bozzil, which would help her with product curation, manufacturing and logistics.
Luxury fashion and beauty content creator Natasha Luthra echoes Haldipurkar’s point on organic content. A fashion-only blogger, Luthra would often have followers asking her to share her make-up and skincare routines; she started posting organic content while tagging the brands. “It’s easy to do beauty content more as you receive many PR packages. But not everything can be a sponsored post as the audience today is smart and doesn’t just want to see brands. You can’t speak about using a serum one day and another the next as that is not how the product works. I saw views on my stories grow too when I did organic content,” says Luthra, who has over 260,000 Instagram followers and has collaborated with about 100 brands.
“Brands know that we aren’t just here to post, but to build a community. Today, it’s not just about one post, but brands are also creating brand key members (who have shown them conversion to sales in the past), who will constantly talk about the brand in a systematic way via their accounts,” she notes.
“It’s an ongoing relationship, much like an ambassador.”
Dhara Vora Sabhnani is a Mumbai-based journalist.