Estée Lauder Companies is doubling down on its web presence to entice college-age customers and their cash-strapped wallets to its portfolio of brands.
At the center of the push is Unidays, a website offering discount codes across beauty, apparel, fitness, tech and more exclusively to college students. Since February, Estée Lauder has added three brands — M.A.C., Too Faced and Clinique — to the Unidays platform, which has over 10 million college-verified students globally signed up for its platform. Collectively, Estée Lauder has seen over 69,000 code requests and plans to launch Origins on the platform later this summer. Estée Lauder is leaning on Unidays to help it understand which brands are resonating with which people and is applying the feedback it receives to other digital strategies. Considering Gen Z spends more on beauty than apparel and ultimately contributes approximately $830 billion to U.S. retail sales annually, the importance of targeting this customer group speaks for itself.
Estée Lauder’s first learning from the partnership is the affirmation that M.A.C. is hugely popular among Gen-Z customers. M.A.C. became the first Estée Lauder brand to launch on Unidays, in February, and has seen over 45,000 requests for codes so far, taking 65 percent of the market share in Unidays’ beauty category on launch day and outpacing other brands on the platform, like Lime Crime and The Art of Shaving.
“We want to make sure are serving the right consumer at the right time, in the right way. We need to make sure we are serving them with a valuable and right message. And we have to make sure we serve them differently,” said Tara Sparks, director of online marketing for Estée Lauder.
Estée Lauder views its partnership with Unidays not as offering discount codes, but instead as offering personalized marketing, Sparks said. Estée Lauder and Unidays are exploring how they can add extra incentives such as larger discounts for students around the back-to-school season and during the holidays. Unidays also has the ability to verify college status through an app, which means offering the codes in-store is a possibility, Sparks said.
“We see this as allowing students to access our products at an introductory price point and get them that value, and get to know our brands,” she said.
For some brands, like Clinique, the Unidays partnership represents a continuation of its longstanding targeting to college-age shoppers, but for the digital age. Clinique has had on-campus counters at university bookstores like Yale University and Ohio State University for the past 25 years, but is no longer focusing on this as a way to engage Gen-Z consumers and is moving more toward experiential activations. The brand will host an immersive pop-up experience later this month in conjunction with 29Rooms from Refinery29 in Chicago, for example, where over 17,000 millennials and Gen Z’ers are expected to attend.
“Clinique has a great product set so, by way of participating in Unidays and raising student awareness, they can get [students] to be loyal followers,” Sparks said.
Creating loyalty among millennials and Gen Z proves to be an increasingly difficult task for brands, as those customers are more likely to experiment with different products and brands, according to industry sources. Beauty brands used consistently by the cohort for five or more years are usually more affordable brands that are available for purchase at non-specialty stores, according to e-commerce agency Corra. The only high-end brand to receive above-average scoring for how many people used the brand for five or more years for loyalty and the number of years customers based on a survey of 1,000 women was Clinique.
As Estée Lauder continues to expand the brands available on Unidays, it is also shifting its focus on how to take what it’s learned about Gen-Z customer behavior and apply it to other digital offerings, such as IGTV and Facebook’s new augmented reality ads. Bobbi Brown, NYX Professional Makeup and Sephora have signed on to use the AR ad feature later this summer, and Estée Lauder is closely watching the space.
“We are interested in seeing how [AR on Facebook] works, how consumers react and what learnings they get, like what products resonate and what groups are interacting,” said Sparks. “We see Unidays [and more] as great customer acquisition plays and ways to introduce a great audience to our brands.”