The Beauty of Social Media: How Cosmetics Companies Leverage Beauty Bloggers to Build Brands
Introduction: Cosmetic Playground
1.1 Introducing the ‘Major Players’
In 2011, the top 20 global cosmetic companies produced over $155 Billion USD in sales; among them, The Estée Lauder Companies placed in the top 5 (Matusow, 2012). However, competition from emerging markets collectively accumulated more than 60% of global cosmetic retail revenues in 2011 (Global Cosmetic Industry, 2012), posing a threat to the top 5 major players. This is largely attributed to increases in e-commerce and online disruption of traditional cosmetics retailing (Chein, 2012). Increasing importance of the online environment in the cosmetic industry confirms the significance of building successful online brands; lagging behind in offline traditional advertising leads to catastrophe in today’s cosmetics industry (Ciocan, 2012). Cosmetics companies must leverage the most popular online tools in order to brand effectively.
1.2 The New Rules of the Playground
Traditional offline cosmetics branding was constructed by advertisements, product placement, cosmetic campaigns, sales staff, and word-of-mouth; once a woman tried and liked a product, she would tell her friends (Antioco, Smeesters & Le Boedec, 2012). The majority of the top 20 major players in the cosmetics industry still utilize mainly offline touchpoints as a way to control brand image (Viveiros, 2011; Ciocan, 2012). Conversely, the post-Internet stage (Wind, 2008) has transformed cosmetics branding because consumers and online participants are empowered to challenge the image of the brand (Gill, 2007; Johnson & Taylor, 2008); anyone with Internet access is able to create videos and write or parody companies on cosmetic Web forums. Social media is defined as platforms online that integrate networks of digital foundations that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2011). This content is available to a mass audience and pulls visitors to alternative Web spaces, rather than going straight to companies for information (Scott, 2011). Subsequently, cosmetics companies must compete with fragmented marketspaces (Kietzmann et al., 2011) to keep consumers engaged and loyal to their brands (Ciocan, 2012). Women still talk through word-of-mouth, although it is now online and available to a mass audience.
Industry research indicates that cosmetics companies utilize social media as platforms to promote their products (Chein, 2012; Ciocan, 2012), although only a few top corporations, such as The Estée Lauder Companies, successfully promote interactivity with their brands (Murphy, 2011; Viveiros, 2011). While academic research shows that interactive and cultural exchange (Deighton & Kornfeld, 2009), co-authoring brands with consumers (Christodoulides, 2009) and creating brand relationships (Fournier, 1998) promotes symbolic meaning, most cosmetics companies are still lagging behind in successfully leveraging this deep level of engagement (Chein, 2012). This conflicting gap demonstrates there is a misunderstanding of how social media can be leveraged to construct a positive brand image for cosmetic companies.
1.3 Purpose and Research Question
A benefit of cosmetics branding is that the industry is driven by fashion; cosmetic brands hold the potential for high levels of social media consumer engagement due to popular interest in trends (Viveiros, 2011). Blogging has been claimed to be one of the most effective forms for social media engagement in the cosmetics industry (Brown, 2012). Beauty Blogs, such as Cupcakes and Cashmere, are among the fastest-growing online destinations for women (SheKnows, 2012). Because beauty Blogs have steadily increased in popularity over the past few years, this paper will contribute by examining how one of the top players leverages beauty Blogging to construct a positive brand image:
How does Estée Lauder construct their brand online through leveraging beauty Bloggers?
Answering this question will help other cosmetics companies answer their own questions of brand construction when it comes to social media.
Theoretical Framework: Brand Personality and Augmented Image
2.1 Constructing Cosmetic Brand Personality Online
The Web 2.0 evolvement of push communication to complex communication paths involves both companies and individuals, and is outlined by the many-to-many multi-model communication framework (Muniz & Schau, 2011). It includes balanced power relations among social media users and brands involved in the post-Internet stage (Wind, 2008). The discussion around brands now comes from both consumers and brand managers.
The multi-model communication approach (Muniz & Schau, 2011) can be paired with the concept of cosmetic brand personality (Hernandez, 2007; Murphy, 2011; Barson, 2009). Hernandez (2007) states that cosmetic brands have a personality, a moral standing, a temperament, and desired physical appearance. A brand's personality is one of the main points of competitive advantage in the value chain, and a memorable one is key to making the brand stick in the consumer's mind (Hernandez, 2007). Consumers have to identify with the brand and share common values in order to condone that brand image. Murphy (2011) states that cultivating personality into relationships depends on using the right channel; one that allows personal feeling, such as a Blog. However, building a brand personality with a high level of engagement is critical online, and can be done through live Blogging question and answer periods (Barson, 2009). A multi-model communication approach aids brand personality to be built through transparent communication levels between brands and their participants. By constructing a brand to embody human personality promotes acceptance by consumers that they are communicating in a post-Internet space with a brand of personable essence.
2.2 Augmented Image in Brand Management
A brand is defined as a name and logo that distinguish the brand’s products and services of one company from all others (Kenton, 2005). The strategy behind most brands is to differentiate itself in order to increase the perceived value of the brand (Chernatony & McDonald, 2003). If successful, the brand will add value through the brand equity chain and ultimately make profit (Keller, 1993; Feldwick, 1996). Kotler’s (2008) value model suggests that there are three different levels at which the value chain goes through for a brand. The framework is appropriate to adapt to the cosmetics industry, since most of the perceived value of cosmetics is based on Actual Product and Augmented Image (see Figure 1). Brand personality is key in the cosmetics industry as it raises the intangible perceived ‘Augmented’ value of the cosmetic brand. The price differential is mainly set on this level (Kotler, 2008), as it is the brand image that reflects the product’s prestige and status.