Influencers have never been more central to brands’ marketing strategies, and some fashion and beauty companies are going the extra mile to take advantage of their, well, influence.
Of course, going big with such partnerships isn’t a failsafe plan. With even big-name influencers buying followers, and high-cost macroinfluencers posting for followers who aren’t exactly on-brand (for example, men, rather than other style-savvy women), dedicating a large percentage of marketing dollars to the group is risky business.
Ipsy — the 7-year-old subscription box service delivering five personalized beauty products to members for $10 per month — has charted a unique, though elaborate, path that looks to bypass many of those issues: a multi-tier influencer program centered on a pool of influencers who work in-house. (The company uses “creators” to describe its partner Instagram and YouTube stars.)
Today, Ipsy counts more than 3 million people as active members, and works with more than 1,000 brands, from emerging companies like Luxie Beauty to known names including MAC. A menu of influencer programs is a key item it offers those brands, along with its sampling program, the Ipsy Shopper e-commerce site and a handful of live events.
“We’ve really built our company around what we’re calling the influencer revolution,” said Spencer McClung, Ipsy’s evp of media. “There’s been this massive shift in influence in the industry, where influencers are changing the way people discover, develop and distribute beauty; they’re replacing traditional media and retailing. So content and creators really drive everything we do.”
A crucial element of Ipsy’s strategy is a 20,000 square foot studio in LA, built for content creation. It features five sound stages, an audio room, multiple editing bays and a green room, and is home to a 60-person team, made up of talent managers, producers, directors of photography and editors hired to work with in-house influencers and those approved to use the space. In total, the studio produces an average of 300 videos a month.
Ipsy also hires influencers who work independently. Altogether, Ipsy has 8,000 influencers who attract half a billion content views per month, according to the company. “There’s an art and science to matching our partners with the brands they care about, and vice versa,” he said. “Millennial audiences today know when it’s a true connection or an influencer is just getting paid.”
Here’s a breakdown of how each of Ipsy’s influencer programs work.
Ipsy Open Studios
Open Studios is a community of Ipsy member influencers that vary from micro to macro level. They are admitted by a number of criteria: Are they serious about being a beauty influencer? Do they have a passion for beauty and creating beauty content? Are they active on social?
“It’s not about how big they are,” said McClung. “It’s very much a pay-it-forward type of investment in the community, and it’s no strings attached: We don’t take part of their revenue, they have 100 percent control over the content they produce, and they don’t have to tag us — but they often do.”
Members are allowed to film in the studio and reserve time with the in-house crew, plus they can partake in the variety of educational opportunities Ipsy offers, meant to help them build their brand and audience. That includes live webcasts and live mentorship sessions on topics like how to edit videos and set up lighting. Ipsy has also set up a Facebook forum for these influencers, where 2,500 of them actively share tips and feedback.
“What we get out of the relationship is: We learn what’s trending, what they care about and what next in beauty, “ said McClung. “We want to be at the forefront of what’s happening in beauty.”.
The in-house influencer program is an immersive, 360-degree program for about 10 influencers — often selected from the Open Studios pool — who’ve been hired on to join the Ipsy team for three years. They create about two videos each per week in studio. Ipsy provides them with production resources, the same way it does with Open Studio influencers, as well as talent management support.
In addition, the company’s sales team introduces them to five to 20 brands a month.
“They’re growing, they’re relevant, and they have tons of engagement,” said McClung, of the in-house influencers. “When they join the program, they’re typically mid-level influencers. By the time they graduate, they’re big, influential creators and have amazing relationships with brands.”
Finally, there are external influencers with large followings, which Ipsy considers leaders in beauty. Along with alumni of the in-house program, like Christen Dominique, they include Manny Gutierrez (known as Manny MUA), Patrick Starr, Kandee Johnson and Mario Dedivanovic.
“We look for ways to support them wherever we can; it allows us to stay relevant in the ecosystem of beauty,” said McClung. “They come to our biannual Generation Beauty event in LA, they collaborate with us on content, and they sometimes work with our brand partners.”
A tutorial by Ipsy Open Studios influencer Nura Afia
Most content is created for Instagram, McClung said, but he noted that much is made for YouTube and that Facebook is becoming increasingly important. The subject matter is either educational or news-related: A permanent Ipsy U content umbrella features series including The Mane Event dedicated to hair and Nailed It for nails, while a news show highlights beauty trends, new brands and upcoming product releases.
“Our content is meant to enhance the user experience, to give them more value out of the products they’re buying” McClung said. “We weave content throughout the member journey — from social to e-commerce — where it makes sense.”
And, he said, featuring a diverse range of influencers and ideas is the goal, rather than driving engagement and views: “Our mission is to inspire people around the world discover their own unique beauty, and that’s at the center of the content we’re creating.”
What other brands are saying
Kathryn Retzer, co-founder and creative director of 11 Honore:
“11 Honore is creating content that has never existed before, and we’re setting ourselves apart by doing so. To put it simply, if you search for stock imagery of a woman tying a scarf five ways, you’ll find thousands of pages of a size 2 or 4, but none of a woman above a size 10. It’s incredibly important to us that this content is being created in a beautiful, elevated way, and we want complete creative control to ensure it’s being done right. We’re thrilled to have a platform that shows this previously underserved customer living her best life in these amazing clothes that she now has access to for the first time.”
Michael Natenshon and Adam Lynch, founders of Marine Layer:
“Our content, from what’s in our stores to our emails and catalog, is how we express our brand and is critical to building emotional relationships with our customers. With so much noise out there, you have to have a unique voice, and more importantly, you have to be authentic and stay true to who you are. People are smart and can sense when you’re faking it or trying too hard. It’s a delicate balance and one that we ultimately feel is best achieved with our in-house team that lives and breathes the brand every day.”
More Glossy reads on in-house content teams:
How Net-a-porter’s 70-person content team operates online and in print
“Today, the customer expects content over straightforward advertising. What retailers can offer, that no one brand can, is industry context. That’s why content sounds fluffy but is so critical.”
Inside Ssense’s efforts to build up its editorial team
“Editorial is an important part of building up the company. You could blow up the budget by doing advertising, but this is more interesting. The customer of this generation is immune to advertisements. If they see that a company produces meaningful content that’s smart, then the company benefits from that.”
How Glossier uses data to make content and commerce work
“While we now consider Into The Gloss as our biggest social platform and part of our core community, we treat our readers and our Glossier customers as two very different entities. However, we know there’s opportunity to use data to better understand how we can create an optimized reader and customer experience across platforms.”