How Instagram has redefined brand communication
On 22nd February, US beauty brand Glossier posted on Instagram an email to its staff by founder Emily Weiss, announcing it had raised $52 million from two of its long-standing investors. An instance in which the direct relationship with consumers extended to the sharing of financial news. Glossier is indeed very adept at communicating on social media, and on Instagram in particular.
Founded in 2014 by Emily Weiss, Glossier has one million followers on Instagram. Though far from the 17.5 million followers of M·A·C Cosmetics (of the Estée Lauder group), Glossier's is however one of the most active communities. To the point that Glossier has become 'the' case study of how a label launched on the web can turn into a success. Traditional brand story-telling is a thing of the past, according to social media consultant Clara Autuly: "To thrive on Instagram, brands must abandon their traditional advertiser approach and, like a magazine, develop genuine editorial and content strategies."
Indeed, the photo app born on the US West coast, in its seven-year existence, boosted by the $1 billion acquisition by Facebook, has revolutionised image culture and, to all intents and purposes, the way brands communicate, especially cosmetics brands. According to social media analytics specialist Socialbakers, on Instagram, which now claims 800 million monthly active users worldwide, beauty brands generate nearly 3.25 billion interactions, topping the ranking of the most influential industries, just ahead of fashion.
According to Nilufar Khalessi, co-founder with Coralie Bergdoll of Future Studio, a Paris-based agency which analyses and produces future aesthetics strategies for the beauty and fashion industries, specialising in Instagram, the growing influence of Instagram mirrors a new societal paradigm: "Individuals have become media, generators of aesthetics. An entirely new way of exerting influence has developed, and brands can no longer talk the way they used to."
Glossier rose to the challenge: to make its products coveted worldwide, without [the majority] of consumers being able to actually try them, as they are currently only available via the brand's e-store in the USA, the UK and Canada. What was the key to this success? Staying in close proximity with customers, who relish products which appear to emphasise their natural beauty, and using highly 'Instagrammable' packaging, in 'Millennial pink' colour, customisable with little stickers.
Like Glossier, other beauty labels have played their social media cards well: among the most followed accounts are Anastasia Beverly Hills and Huda Beauty, names which are virtually unknown to the non-initiated, but which have respectively 16.2 million and 24.5 million followers on Instagram. Created in 2013 in Dubai by social media celebrity Huda Kattan, Huda Beauty has even attracted the interest of US investment fund TSG Consumer Partners, which bought a minority stake in the brand last December.
In France, according to a study by Facebook and Instagram, beauty aficionados are on Instagram 21 times a day, and follow four times more accounts than the average user. Figures which highlight the opportunity embodied by Instagram for brands keen to make a name for themselves.
"We have had a presence on Instagram since October 2017, initially for teaser campaigns, but we really launched on it at the end of November, three weeks ahead of the launch of [our] brand online," said Paul Petit, founder of emerging French fragrance label Made in Pigalle. Thanks to Instagram, the brand is keen to reach out to an international clientèle, as well as to key influencers. "In two months, we have reached nearly 800 followers, 65% of them from outside France, and 65% of them aged 25-45. The community is already very active, with an engagement rate well above average: more than 15% for each post," added Paul Petit, who would like to reach 5,000 followers within six months, and set up partnerships with quality influencers, consistent with the brand's market positioning.
"We set up the account in June 2015, at the inception of [French natural home-made cosmetics brand] Green Barbès. While nowadays it is unthinkable for brands not to have a social media presence, we launched on Instagram with no clear strategy or objectives. We chiefly wanted to share our project, and the various stages of our entrepreneurial adventure," said Clémentine Buren and Hélène Ségol, founders of the natural cosmetics brand you can hand-produce yourself. Green Barbès sees Instagram as a tool for talking about the brand and keeping in touch with customers.
To attract brands still reluctant to join the app, in September 2017 Instagram announced it had nearly 2 million active monthly advertisers, and especially that 80% of Instagram users followed brands on it. Instagram also keeps developing new communication tools: one of the latest is 'stories', live videos which allow brands to broadcast their events and show what happens backstage.
Yet, though Instagram seems to be a natural element in the communication strategy of emerging independent brands, well-established beauty names appear to approach it with a degree of prudence. Chanel, which launched its official Instagram account in 2014 (now with 26.4 million followers), chose to launch the specific Chanel Beauty account only last January. Chanel Beauty now has 243,000 followers, and at the time of its launch it was heralded by Chanel as "a platform for expression, which allows the label to regularly communicate its unique perspective on beauty and make-up (...)." Christian Dior inaugurated the Dior Makeup account in March 2016:it now has 2.6 million followers (Dior Official has 18.5 million), and the label uses it to showcase its latest collections, and to feature videos and images designed exclusively for Instagram.
"Within major luxury groups, because of their structure, it is more difficult for the message to sink in, and for [product] lines to move forward. They also fear losing control of their products, since Instagram requires [brands] to move well beyond products, to transcend them, to deftly showcase their brand culture on a daily basis, and to create a sense of intimacy with their followers/consumers," said Nilufar Khalessi, among whose clients are L’Oréal and LVMH. "Independent brands have introduced a revolutionary new language, in terms of content and images; it can be rough, quirky, sometimes featuring a new kind of beauty. This is of course very attractive and, at this moment in time, it opens a gap between luxury and independent brands. The challenge for luxury labels is therefore to dare as much as possible to find their points of difference, their own quirks," she added.
While Instagram has transformed the way brands communicate, the beauty industry as a whole has changed the way it operates. A make-up artist who has been working for over 20 years at a major French luxury label said that, backstage at catwalk shows, make-up artists are now only allowed to use the label's own products, "which must be turned towards photographers so that the brand name is visible." PR agencies too have had to rethink the way they work. "Instagram has changed a lot of things! Influencers have not only become a bottomless talent pool for us, we must plan dedicated events for them, with all sorts of formats, mostly gala evenings, and these must be proper dos, influencers must have fun and, above all everything must be Instagrammable! The first thing we ask now, whenever we brief caterers, set designers, decorators and florists, is that whatever they do, it must be Instagrammable," said not without a tinge of wry amusement Stina Masson, brand director at the Ohlala ! PR agency in Paris, specialised in beauty PR.
Besides being a must-have tool for brand communication and an essential source of product discovery, Instagram is constantly evolving in the e-tail direction. It is notably testing new tools such as purchasing tags, allowing brands to tag specific products with purchase information, and consumers to actually buy the products without exiting the app. The next challenge for Instagram will therefore be making the transition from editorial to commercial resource.
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