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Better Late Than Never: Luxury Beauty Brands Learn to Love Influencers

Until recently, many luxury beauty brands saw little need for a robust presence on social media. Here’s how one company built an influencer marketing strategy from scratch.
Aimee Song partnered with Clé de Peau on a recent campaign | Source: Jacopo Moschin

NEW YORK, United States — In 2016, as Glossier and Becca Cosmetics were making waves online with user-generated content and savvy blogger partnerships, the Japanese luxury skincare and cosmetics brand Clé de Peau Beauté was still among the Instagram sceptics.

Beyond the occasional one-off partnerships with a big-name celebrity like Amanda Seyfried or niche artist like Ashley Longshore, the Shiseido-owned brand was sending free products twice a year to a seemingly random group of influencers, with little to show for it.

Flash forward three years, and Clé de Peau, which in 2018 became Shiseido's second brand to top $1 billion in annual sales, has fully embraced social media, with a small army of influencers on its payroll. The brand crossed 100,000 Instagram followers around the midpoint of a monthslong partnership with Aimee Song, a "macro influencer" with over 5 million followers, who spent weeks promoting the brand on her social media channels.

“We were missing a digital strategy,” said Tomoko Yamagishi-Dressler, the brand’s senior vice president of marketing and sales. “We realised that we needed to be more thoughtful and targeted.”


We were missing a digital strategy

Clé de Peau’s experience reflects a larger trend among many luxury beauty brands, which embraced social media years after their lower-priced peers. Though SK-II was working with bloggers on online campaigns as far back as 2011, La Mer waited until 2015 for its first influencer collaboration, a campaign starring Olivia Palermo. La Prairie didn’t join Instagram until 2016 and never features influencers on its account.

Until recently, the thinking was that the older, wealthier customer willing to drop anywhere from $100 to $300-plus on a bottle of serum wasn’t taking her cues from Instagram. But the runaway online success of entry-level prestige brands like Glossier, as well as newer luxury entrants like Augustinus Bader, showed it’s possible to turn social buzz into sales even at higher price points.

The key to success for luxury brands on social media: treat customer acquisition as a long-term goal, rather than shooting for an instant sales pop.

“Influencers play a different role in their consumer journey – it’s not always going to be a direct-conversion influencer campaign,” said Holly Jackson, Traackr’s lead consultant for influencer strategy. “The path to purchase for Glossier is not as far out as it is for a brand like La Mer because it’s a lower price point and can be more of an impulse buy.”

Identify Your Objective

For Clé de Peau, influencers were initially used to increase brand awareness. The brand is sold in luxury department stores, on Net-a-Porter and at Cos Bar, which has about 20 US locations. Influencers were an affordable way to get products in front of potential customers without adding on new retailers, Yamagishi-Dressler said.

We were not trying to reach the masses nor did we have a huge budget to do so

“We were not trying to reach the masses nor did we have a huge budget to do so,” she said.

The brand hired Dialogue NYC, an influencer marketing agency, in late 2017 to develop its social media strategy. Dialogue spent two weeks zeroing in on the company’s values and target consumer (they settled on “aspirational, upbeat and tasteful”), then presented Clé de Peau with 100 micro-influencers (each with at least 50,000 followers) who fit the mold.


The brand currently works with 40 to 50 influencers, including conscious-fashion blogger Stephanie Arant and lifestyle blogger Christine Kong, most of whom were gifted product rather than paid. The message changes from month to month, but the faces don’t; repeat posts from the same influencer tend to be the most effective, according to Dialogue.

“There’s a halo effect that comes from higher quality and more frequent campaigns,” said Julianne Fraser, founder of Dialogue NYC.

This multi-pronged approach has been vital to the success of other luxury beauty companies. Benefit Cosmetics has invested millions of dollars in elaborate influencer activations and trips for brand launches. La Mer widened its distribution significantly by entering Sephora stores in 2017, and its bigger retail footprint helps amplify digital marketing efforts.

About a year into the partnership, Fraser said she began layering in more extensive partnerships, including one with travel blogger Van Le, who created 25 pieces of content for the brand to use on its own social channels. Clé de Peau also began testing the waters with higher-tier influencers by inviting them to get branded facials at department stores like Bergdorf Goodman which they were likely to post about on social media.

Vet Your Influencers

Dialogue vetted every influencer they worked with using platforms like WeFind, making sure that they had not purchased followers, likes or comments.

Fraser looks for red flags like high follower counts but few signs of engagement. She also scrolls through an influencer’s followers to see how many of them are bots, which can be spotted by their nonsensical usernames, starkly different follower to following ratios and weak or nonexistent content.

Brands should also assess the breakdown of where an influencer’s followers are coming from. If a “macro influencer” draws most of his or her followers from outside the world’s biggest cities, steer clear.


The quality of an influencer’s content is also crucial for these luxury beauty brands.

“We want them to be true creatives with an interesting point-of-view and photography style, and we steer away from working with people who are just copycats,” she said.

Beyond ensuring that an influencer’s values align with the brands (a common interest in sun protection, for instance), a “healthy social presence” that steers clear of controversy and an over-saturation of sponsored posts that can irritate followers is crucial for these higher-tier skincare brands, according to Jackson.

Launch A Macro Campaign

In September, Clé de Peau was ready for a large-scale campaign, which meant bringing in a macro-influencer (one million followers or more).

“We knew that in order to really compete ... we needed someone who could align with us globally and had international reach,” Fraser said.

After curating a list of 10 candidates, liaising with their agents and reviewing their audience breakdown, engagement, and growth rate, the brand settled on Aimee Song, an L.A-based influencer with over five million followers. With an estimated 44 percent earning a household income between $50-100,000, mainly clustered in major cities, she fit the aspirational bill.

The partnership kicked off in January with a five-day trip to Japan, where Song learned about Clé de Peau’s origins and ingredients, including a visit to a company lab and a kimono atelier. Song was expected to deliver three Instagram posts, 10 Instagram stories, one blog post, one YouTube video and 20 high-res images, but she ended up mentioning the brand in additional posts. An exclusivity clause prohibited her from posting competitor products, such as SK-II and Lancome, in the days before or after her Clé de Peau posts.

There's no such thing as too many influencers

The campaign resulted in 110 million digital impressions (or views), 2.8 million engagements (a combination of likes, comments, and follows that Traackr said is on the higher-end for this category) with an average engagement rate per post of 2.5 percent, and 33,000 clicks to Clé de Peau’s Instagram account (which also garnered 6,500 new followers).

A partnership like this likely cost around $120,000, according to Raveena Parmar, the head of digital at Nike Communications.

Cle de Peau declined to comment on what they paid Song or on how many sales Song’s social content drove. The company did say sales of its Enhancing Eye Contour Cream Supreme, one of the central products of the campaign, increased by 63 percent during January and February compared to a year prior.

Next up, Song will host an event in Los Angeles in June for a group of macro-influencers and roughly 40 local micro-influencers that Clé de Peau has been working with all year. Aside from product-filled goodie bags, the influencers in attendance are not being paid or asked to post about the event. With a headliner like Song, Clé de Peau is banking on plenty of organic content.

Although Song is a well-known influencer who people trust and who clearly drove brand awareness for Cle de Peau, said Jackson, investing more on its lower-tiered influencers is likely to result in greater returns going forward.

“There’s no such thing as too many influencers,” she said.

Take these insights to the next level and find out how to apply them to your influencer marketing with BoF’s Playbook How to Maximise Your Influencer Strategy.

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