We live in a digital world. More people are online, streaming, scrolling and posting than ever before, and as a result, has flipped the relationship between brands and the consumer upside down. More power has been given to the consumer and this, in the meantime, has forced brands to listen in.
This new consumer power has been facilitated by the phenomenon that is the ‘influencer’. An influencer is someone with an engaged following on a social platform in which they are able to ‘influence’ their followers in a certain way. Whether it’s what to purchase, where to go on holiday, or where to shop.
Influencers are now infiltrating almost every industry, spreading the word online about the products they love and hate, the trends they are interested in and the lifestyles they follow. This is influencing consumers to follow their ‘online guides’ on how to shop, think and live. You just have to see the statistics of the growth of the vegan lifestyle (987% in 2017) alongside the growth of plant-based influencers such as Loni Jane and Freelee to see the true power influencers have.
This power is demonstrated best within the beauty industry. Something that started nearly ten years ago, with the likes of Juicystar07 posting make up tutorials on YouTube, beauty influencers are now the top dogs in the world of social media, representing huge brands and teaching the everyday person how to apply make-up like a pro and helping us question what we have always deemed ‘beautiful’.
With the help of the influencer, beauty brands are having to listen up. ASOS opting for untouched images on its site, the newest Boots summer campaign using ‘normal’ sized models and Victoria Secret’s decline in sales, all prove that the consumer is now less likely to follow the age-old beauty ideals once plastered over billboards and sold in the beauty halls of department stores. Influencers have given a voice to the consumer. By providing knowledge and tools about the industry to their followers, brands have been forced to mould themselves around the ideals of the consumer and not the other way around.
But why is it that the beauty influencer has managed to conquer such an old, institutionalised industry so set in its ways?
THE INDUSTY PRO TURNED SOCIAL MEDIA STAR
Knowledge will always mean power. For those who are not immersed in the industry, little knowledge on how products are made, tested and even what ingredients go into them is ever translated to the consumer and therefore, was never really questioned – until now.
In came the social media accounts of professionals, where beauty journalists, make-up artists and skincare experts became social media stars, almost overnight. They shared their favourite products, gave advice on skin conditions and taught their fans and followers what to do to look good and feel great.
Take Sali Hughes for example – although a journalist with a weekly beauty column in the Guardian, she is probably most well known for her activity on her Instagram account and YouTube channel, which combined has a following of 182,960. A full-time working mother, she has spread the word on where to and where not to spend money on products, what ingredients to look out for and even beauty tips for first time mums and those going through chemotherapy. Caroline Hirons, another big name in the industry with 20 years experiences as a facialist, is now best known for her informal blog and bolshy Instagram stories that have taught her 273,000 followers to double cleanse and to NEVER use face wipes.
This kind of knowledge was never available before. Customers would stroll the beauty halls of Selfridges and John Lewis, vulnerable to sale assistants behind the counter. Even magazines, with journalists of a wealth of beauty know-how, are sometimes met with restrictions brought by advertising compliancy. Today, consumers are better educated on products and what they are looking for. Brands are now dealing with consumers that know their stuff. They have been forced to improve their formulas, change their ranges and cut the BS from a lot of their previous branding – all because of influencers online, who have been free to express their true opinions and advice without constraint.
MAKE-UP TUTORIALS FROM HOME
Influencers also exist from outside of the industry. These are women and men who started make-up tutorials from their bedrooms or shot video hauls of their favourite products and recent purchases. The power of these influencers didn’t come from their knowledge and expertise of the industry but from their followers who related to them, whether it was because of their age group, their ethnic background or simply their disposable income. Take Shani Grimmond for example, who attracted a huge following due to being a teenage girl people could relate to, or Patricia Bright, one of the first black influencers to start doing YouTube videos.
With a strong following behind them, these types of influencers have formed a ‘fan’ base who truly trust their opinion. Influencers can be anyone, which is why consumers are more likely to identitfy with them and follow their recommendations. The ‘normality’ of these influencers became their power and was something beauty brands could never archive with their traditional advertising methods of using perfectly airbrushed models or celebrities.
The importance of relatability has forced a dialogue of change to occur within the industry. Influencers of colour opened up the discussion of the importance of inclusivity and this is now something that is not simply an option but a criterion. Influencers who represent groups that were once ignored in the beauty industry have led consumers to demand some of the largest beauty houses to change their ways – or expect a backlash from customers. For example, the lack of diversity in the foundation shades launched by Tarte cosmetics in 2018 received criticism online and sales were affected. Now, most brands wouldn’t dream of launching a base collection without at least 25 shades available. This is miles away from the Caucasian only options which were available a mere 10 years ago.
Inclusivity is not the only area in which beauty Influencers have fuelled change. Topics such as sustainability, non- ‘toxic’ products and uni-sex branding have all caused debate online which subsequently has changed the ‘make up’ of what the industry looks like.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR PR?
The phenomenon of the ‘influencer’ is hugely important for us here at Little Red Rooster. In fact, it could be argued that influencers are stirring up power relations throughout most of the industries we work with, whether it be in the media, technology sector, fashion or interiors. They have forced us to think about how we communicate out client’s products through the press and have given the once silent consumer a voice.