Comment Counts: How the beauty industry is trailblazing in digital

Brands should take note of how the beauty industry uses the power of digital and all its tools to enhance the customer experience, says Bia Bezamat of GDR Creative Intelligence. 

Urban Decay's Snapchat campaign

Urban Decay’s Snapchat campaign

Earlier this summer, Snapchat surpassed Twitter in its number of active daily users in the US (150 million). It’s also started to experience a shift in demographics, with older millennials starting to play catch up on the app with their stereotypically younger counterparts. In fact, the number of Snapchat users aged 25 and up is increasing twice as fast as the number of users under 25.

From a branding perspective, what also works is engagement – the typical sponsored lens (the augmented reality filters Snapchat has become increasingly known for), are used on average for 20 seconds.

All of that combined, and beauty brands have particularly been taking note. Looking to raise awareness and build new audiences, companies such as Urban Decay, Benefit and L’Oréal have recently launched their own lenses on the social app and, for 24 hours, reached a potential public of up to 100 million.

For Benefit, the biggest ROI in numbers wasn’t sales conversion, but rather usage and shares. As Nicole Frusci, vice president and digital marketing at the brand, told WWD: “We noticed there was a huge amount of usage from consumers to beauty influencers to other partners of ours. We saw a huge spike in the cross-sharing on other channels that was greater than we expected.”

In another creative application, beauty subscription retailer Birchbox recently invited followers to use Snapchat’s call feature to speak to its customer service agents.

Digital beauty Sephora

Sephora’s Pocket Contour app

The way these companies are using Snapchat is indicative of how beauty brands are putting their customers’ digital behaviours at the core of education, product discovery and experimentation. As digital has evolved, the always-on millennial beauty audience has grown accustomed to responding to visual, engaging digital content. This has been driven by the popularity of beauty vloggers, from grassroots names like Zoella to professional make-up artists including Lisa Eldridge and Charlotte Tilbury.

In 2015, leveraging the popularity of the contouring trend, partly thanks to the Kardashian clan, Sephora teamed up with beauty firm Map My Beauty to launch Pocket Contour, a mobile app that teaches customers how to master the sculpting look. Explaining the approach of hand-holding customers once they leave the store, Bridget Dolan, Sephora’s Innovation Lab VP, told USA Today: “We don’t want them to go home and throw the product in a drawer because the consumer can’t remember how the beauty adviser applied it.”

She added that women can buy the wrong foundation up to seven times before finding the correct shade for their skin. Teaching them how to buy and use the correct product first time around, helps avoid customer dissatisfaction, she explained.

Sephora’s strategy in the digital space is clearly rooted in insight about how its customers behave and what barriers might be stopping them from experimenting with new make-up. The brand has also recently launched the Beauty Uncomplicator online, which helps narrow down its extensive merchandise using a Mad Libs-style questionnaire, where users have to fill in blanks. By promoting interactivity, Sephora is trying to create “really fun, addictive shopping experiences”, according to Deborah Yeh, SVP of marketing and brand.

Shazam for beauty - digital beauty

Rimmel’s new Get the Look app enables users to virtually try-on other people’s make-up styles

Being fun is also key to how the beauty industry is approaching digital. This is particularly important for luxury beauty brands, who are notoriously less adventurous in the physical sphere in order to protect brand equity. Digital gives them room to play and to be experimental, which is perfectly exemplified by Burberry bringing its beauty license back in-house in 2012. When luring the millennial customer into buying an affordable piece from the label, quirky campaigns like Burberry Kisses from 2013, show flexible brand image, with a digital sensibility that matches its younger target audience.

And as brands play with digital platforms, from established social media apps, like John Frieda’s recent Instagram campaign, to the sci-fi world of bots (another Sephora initiative), there is one clear go-to tech when it comes to getting the best of both work and play: augmented reality. Spearheaded by industry leaders such as Modiface and Holition, AR bridges the gap between the experience of trialling a physical product in-store and doing so on your smartphone.

Brands ranging as far and wide as L’Oréal, Lancôme and Covergirl have taken on the technology to help customers virtually try on make-up (mimicking that Snapchat user behaviour), while Rimmel has employed it to allow users to ‘nab’ the look of others. Modiface even has a new chatbot that brings virtual lipstick try-ons to Facebook Messenger.

Max Factor meanwhile is using it to enhance access to content in-store; recently announcing a partnership with augmented reality app Blippar that allows customers to scan more than 500 of its individual products to see additional information, from peer reviews to before-and-after pictures.

Digital and tech are most successful when they enhance – and not replace – the shopping experience. Customers will only interact when they are willing, so getting the basics right first, such as customer-focused product categories, is essential. And the message from the beauty industry is clear: use digital as a tool to help customers navigate choice and facilitate trial and error. Make it ‘sticky’ and you will become their brand of choice.

Digital beauty Max Factor

Max Factor’s augmented reality app

Bia Bezamat is an innovation consultant at retail trends consultancy GDR Creative IntelligenceComment Counts is a series of opinion pieces from experts within the industry. Do you have something to say? Get in touch via info@fashionandmash.com.