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The Face of Change: Social Media's Impact on Beauty Branding

By: Jamison Davis
Posted: September 5, 2008, from the September 2008 issue of GCI Magazine.

“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.

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.