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“Girl, that shade of lipstick looks great on you!”
The beauty business has always enjoyed a certain word-of-mouth evangelism. The promotion of products designed to enhance one’s personal appearance is a practice made more believable when the advice is coming from a friend or acquaintance a consumer can trust. With that in mind, the beauty industry has tried an evolution of approaches that emulate, mimic or leverage the power of word-of-mouth product endorsement.
Department stores came of age at the turn of the 20th century, and consumers witnessed the introduction of the cosmetics counter, with its many brands and its experts in white coats who could analyze, prescribe and make over a consumer in one sitting. At the end of World War II, a time when more women were entering the workforce, the cosmetics industry saw the growth of the next iteration—home selling. This was social shopping in its infancy.
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With the birth and explosive growth of the Internet, the beauty industry had the first opportunity to establish direct relationships with consumers, and marketers created Web sites to drive traffic to retail, paving the way for e-commerce. The next innovation was that some of the functionality of the full Web site could be packaged “to go” and sites could distribute some of their content on other sites. One early contributor to this notion was the site Gloss created by Estée Lauder. In addition to being an impressive site, Gloss was formatted as a smaller distributable version that could be attached to an e-mail for a consumer. Combining the power and stature of a Web site with the personalization of a direct response campaign, this direct marketing strategy completely changed the way the beauty industry looked at advertising.
Consumer Created Content
While the first generation of beauty brand sites allowed marketers to showcase, promote and sell products directly, missing was the essential word-of–mouth authenticity that provided that extra assurance that a certain shade of powder really was “your” color. The absence of this important dimension to personalized selling was soon corrected with consumer-created content. Blogs, profile pages on social networks (such as Facebook and MySpace) containing consumer’s recommended brands and favorites, and the addition of consumer comment fields on marketer Web sites heralded a new dawn of peer recommendation. Many consumers started to take notice of these newfound opportunities, and developed a whole new category of must-visit Web destinations. Today, fashion forward, beauty conscious men and women have created more than 248 million pages of personal content on the Internet.
While the explosion of the beauty blogosphere constituted a powerful new channel for brands and afforded consumers unbiased, objective and timely information about the latest trends in beauty, consumers still couldn’t purchase the product immediately—a unique quality of the e-commerce capabilities of the brand-owned sites. However, in time a new generation of Web sites entered the scene, combining the peer-review authenticity of blogs and the e-commerce capabilities of e-retailers—social economics.
Social economics sites are Web sites that give a consumer the ability to review other consumer’s recommendations on products, read reviews and ratings, and then purchase the product directly from the site via links to the product’s landing page on its original site. While the social shopping site provides the description, reviews, rating and links, the brand’s own site or e-retail partners are responsible for the actual fulfillment and shipping of the product.
Examples of social economics sites for beauty include Polyvore, Shop Star Style and Fashmatch, where consumers can read what cosmetics are popular through recommendations from like-minded peers. If they like what they see, consumers can buy their own product instantly. This concept has been further advanced with the development of shopping widgets, fully-functional social shopping applications that can live on any site and dispense reviews, content and commerce.
Point of Recommendation
Social shopping sites and widgets constitute the next evolution of the shopping blog. Combining the authenticity and passion of consumer-generated content and editorial with the added capability for the brand to distribute its own content, such as video or web-based information, these sites offer the product for sale at the moment of recommendation. It’s little wonder among marketers that an important new buzzword eclipsing the traditional “point of purchase” is the new concept of “point of recommendation.” Consumers who blog and create content on the Internet enjoy adding widgets and shopping applications to their sites as a “cosmetic enhancement” to their content.
Shannon Nelson, beauty blogger (including “A Girl’s Gotta Spa” and “Make-up Minute”) and beauty publicist at Pierce Mattie PR, commented on this new generation of social shopping sites as marketing opportunities for blogger and brands alike. “People have short attention spans these days, and social shopping sites say ‘here are the top picks, here’s the price’ and link you directly where to get it. They are great examples of combining interactivity that generate buzz and tell you where to purchase a product with an embedded link. They write about products and link to each one,” says Nelson.
Social shopping also brings another benefit to marketers that was impossible before the Internet. The aggregate value of hundreds of positive comments about a product gives a brand a buzz that cannot be matched by promotion via advertising alone. Sites such as Lemonade.com and others afford marketers the opportunity to harness “the wisdom of crowds” the collective intelligence of the marketplace, which some marketing theorists believe will prove to be a more reliable barometer than individual experts in time.
Beauty marketers should certainly take advantage of the power and reach of social shopping with a couple of basic steps. First, have an affiliate program in place; second, search out social shopping networks to provide the widest exposure of the brand by involving consumers and third, have a definitive social shopping strategy as a component of an overall marketing and media strategy. There are also a number of social media consultancies that can provide strategy and planning.
Marketers seeking to leverage these exciting new trends should pay attention to social media, and social shopping sites in particular, as they represent the best opportunities to take full advantage of the changing face of the Internet.
Jamison Davis is chief experience officer of social economics software company Lemonade Inc. He serves as an advisor to many consumer, technology companies and nonprofits.