The rise and stumble of influencer collaborations in the beauty industry have a lot to teach digital marketers. Here are a few things to remember. 

What’s the difference between influencer marketing and standard celebrity promotions? It’s all about trust. People recognize celebrity lifestyles as unattainable, but influencers, by and large, start out as regular people who build a following through their personal style, charisma, and ability to connect with an audience. We trust them as arbiters of taste and as our glamorous but faraway friends. For marketers, that trust equals money.

The influencer marketing industry is expected to be worth a staggering $15 billion by 2022, almost double its value in 2019. When an influencer mentions a sponsored product in a Youtube video or Instagram post, brands are hoping to unlock the holy trinity — prestige, exposure, and cultural relevance. Brands that collaborate successfully with influencers can earn as much as $18 for every dollar they spend on influencer marketing, meaning collaborating with big names is not only smart it’s also cost-effective.  

But how many brands that boast influencer collaborations are really making the most of its potential? Successful influencer collaborations require more than tacking on a big name to your product — it requires smart and considered marketing strategies. As recent trends in the cosmetics industry demonstrate, collaborating with an influencer in the wrong way can damage your brand in the long run. 

Influencers: Bursting the Beauty Bubble

Influencer collaborations are becoming an essential marketing channel for cosmetics brands. Beauty vloggers gain popularity by using, testing, and recommending products to their viewers. If Jackie Aina, a top Youtube beauty influencer, credits a company’s foundation brush for her flawless base, that organic promotion could be worth millions in marketing. In many ways, brand-influencer collaborations, limited edition products curated by the biggest names in beauty, are a natural progression of beauty marketing.  

2019 flooded the cosmetics market with new collaborations in the form of eyeshadow palettes — but the response hasn’t been unanimously positive. Multiple palettes released in such rapid succession, meant that everyday beauty buyers were running out of patience, not to mention space in their vanities. 

Anastasia Beverly Hills (ABH), a mid-range cosmetics company, is one of the main contributors to what Anna Hunter, in an article for Get The Gloss, calls, “eyeshadow palette fatigue.” In the first half of 2019, ABH released only two eyeshadow palettes — the “Riviera” palette and a palette in collaboration with drag queen Alyssa Edwards. In 2019, they released 19 distinct palettes. The Jackie Aina palette and Norvina Vol. 1 palette debuted in August within 11 days of each other, as did Norvina Vol. 2 and 3 in September. 

At $45 to $60 per eyeshadow palette, the average beauty consumer will struggle to keep up with ABH releases, especially since many limited edition palettes are launched and quickly removed from circulation. 

What’s more, it’s hard to get truly excited about a palette from an influencer knowing another one is coming out two weeks later. If cosmetics brands continue to value quantity over quality, they may find themselves turning off loyal customers and losing profits.  

Strategies for Successful Collaborations

Collaborating with influencers is an opportunity too lucrative to pass up, but it must be done in the right way. There are a few popular beauty brands that have mastered the art of influencer collaboration, and their successful strategies are applicable to a wide variety of industries. Boost your brand with these three tips:  

1. Know Your Audience

Consider Colourpop Cosmetics, a beauty brand that, like ABH, also releases high-quality eyeshadow palettes in rapid succession and collaborates with a variety of influencers, including Karreuche Tran. The difference between ABH and Colourpop is that Colourpop palettes are ⅓ the price of ABH’s. The brand is known for being inexpensive. Buyers love this brand because they can keep up with the latest trends and their favorite influencers without breaking the bank.

By knowing what their target audience wants — fast, high-quality, and affordable — Colourpop can constantly release products without worrying about palette fatigue. This doesn’t mean brands should lower their standards, rather, they should think about how they want to be known to customers and who they are marketing to. High-end brands like Hermes, who recently launched their own lipstick line, tackle the cosmetic space by producing expensive products with limited availability. Knowing your target audience makes it easier to create a strategy for collaboration that makes sense for your brand.    

2. Adopt a Relational Approach

Influencer collaborations are much more successful when influencers are treated as brand ambassadors and not product endorsers. An influencer becomes a brand ambassador in a relational approach, in which a brand picks a specific influencer who fits with their brand image, offers them a long-term contract, and invites them to participate in the curation of products and to help drive brand strategy. Product endorsers, on the other hand, are the equivalent of short-term salespeople who sign on solely to promote a product. The relationship is much more transactional.

L’Oreal Paris is a great model for how successful this approach can be. Their “Beauty Squad” of influencers develop new products and post makeup tutorials on L’Oreal Paris’s social media platforms— and their quality engagement has paid off. L’Oreal’s Beauty Squad went from 4.6 million to 6.3 million followers in just one year.  

In short, take the time to build long-term relationships with a few influencers instead of burning through them for one-off campaigns. It may be more labor-intensive in the short-term, but the rewards are well worth it.

3. Collaborate with Intention

Savvy companies should also look for opportunities to collaborate with influencers on products that fill a critical gap. Rihanna put Fenty Beauty on the map as the prestige beauty brand by addressing a need in the cosmetics industry  — diversity. She noticed that makeup brands tend to favor fairer skin tones when it comes to foundations and concealers, so she set her brand apart by curating 40 (now 50) shades that are more inclusive of people of color.

When looking for collaboration opportunities, try to seek out influencers who carry a positive message, or those who can offer your brand image something it currently lacks. If you collaborate with intention, you reduce the risk of your brand becoming just another company that has a partnership with just another influencer. Strive to stand out in revolutionary ways. 

Influencer collaborations began dominating cosmetic markets in 2016, and they show no signs of slowing down. Companies that take these strategies for success can lean into the zeitgeist, connect with a larger audience, and boost their brand power in a busy marketplace.