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Thursday December 8, 2011

Virtual beauty

Skincare companies now use social media to create a community and connect with customers.

NOT so long ago, the most important beauty device a woman could carry around in her handbag was a compact mirror. These days, however, you’re just as likely to see her whip out a mobile device; not just to send a text, but for beauty advice or ideas.

In our increasingly wired world, it was only a matter of time before beauty companies caught on to social media. More beauty brands are using new technology, not just as a way to keep in touch with their customers, but to create a community. With Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and phone apps, they are allowing consumers to engage and create experiences with their brands.

Estee Lauder Malaysia lets its Facebook followers virtually experience its products with games, how-to videos, skincare and make-up tips and exclusive samples. Its page currently has almost 29,000 fans.

The main advantage? Unprecedented interactivity.

Kal Joffres, director of social media consultancy Tandemic, points out that social media offers a way to connect directly with the intended audience.

“With newspapers or television, you have no way of knowing who is on the other side,” says Joffres. “Social media allows you to communicate with people as individuals, as you can e-mail or Tweet them. It also enables you to bring these individuals together in a common space to accomplish something, such as sharing tips on innovative approaches to beauty. More significantly, social media communities can be an opportunity to connect with like-minded people who share the same interests or goals as you.”

For most brands, a Facebook page has become a necessity. The Body Shop Malaysia, for instance, which has over 60,000 followers on the social networking site, uses its Facebook page to share information on products and promotions, communicate with fans, and offer exclusive contests and giveaways. The brand also used its Facebook page to collect petition signatures for a recent campaign to stop human trafficking.

Estee Lauder Malaysia lets its followers virtually experience their products with various Facebook apps. For example, there’s a game that predicts your mood based on the Estee Lauder lipstick shade you choose. Its page, which currently has almost 29,000 fans, also features exclusive content such as how-to videos, skincare and make-up tips, and exclusive samples.

Beauty brand Sephora’s app for iPhones and iPads allows users to browse and buy products, track launches, read product reviews, locate stores with GPS and look up previous purchases.

Estee Lauder Malaysia’s senior communications manager Jean Loh says social media has opened up a whole new way for the brand to engage with consumers on a more personal level.

“Social media gives us more direct interaction with our consumers. They can instantly interact with the brand and share comments, feedback, questions, get advice and learn about new products. It is one of the most effective tools used to send out brand messages and information, which generates almost immediate response,” adds Loh.

M.A.C Cosmetics Malaysia’s senior marketing manager Angeline Foo agrees, adding that its various social media platforms make interactions with customers more believable and experiential.

“Social media is important because it’s not only cost-effective, but immediate, interactive, vibrant, dynamic and viral,” she says. M.A.C, which uses Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to share product information, beauty trends, video tutorials and “backstage experiences”, is touted globally to be one of the most successful beauty brands on social media (its international Facebook page has over two million followers).

By actively responding to its Facebook fans and creating exclusive offers for them – such as a special makeover campaign – M.A.C has managed to create a strong community of followers and users.

Skincare giant L’Oreal Paris also connects with its customers by giving away exclusive freebies and featuring its latest products, beauty tips and games via Facebook and Twitter. Additionally, their Facebook page is constantly updated with inspiring quotes and photos of their brand ambassadors.

The hottest new thing when it comes to beauty brands, of course, is mobile phone applications or apps.

As more and more consumers use smartphones with customisable apps, beauty companies too are coming up with innovative ways in which they can use this new platform.

Beauty retailer Sephora is one such example. Touted as one of the best beauty apps for the iPhone and iPad, the Sephora To Go app allows users to browse and buy products, track launches, read product reviews, locate stores with GPS and look up previous purchases. Particularly attractive is its “Scan” feature that lets the user scan a product in store to access information, videos and reviews.

Skincare brand Clinique’s iPhone app gives realtime weather, UV and pollution information, to help you protect your skin accordingly with its skincare products.

Another fun feature of the app is the Virtual Polish Change, that lets users virtually try on different nail colours.

Fashion and beauty brand Dior offers an iPhone/iPad app that gives users ample opportunity to both interact and get added value from its products. The app features the latest news from the brand, including newest collections, trends and sneak previews.

Under its Make-Up section, Dior beauty product users are given a handy guide in the form of step-by-step instructions and video tutorials, and expert advice from Dior’s make-up artists.

The Skincare feature provides an ultra-personalised experience, which introduces various regimens using Dior products depending on skin types and needs, and even has details on ingredients and how they work. Finally, the app provides a fun touch by letting users download wallpapers of Dior products along with brand ambassadors like Jude Law and Marion Cotillard.

Stila’s Get the Look app for iPhones and iPads lets you have fun with its eyeshadow palette, by providing a colour wheel to create the perfect colour combination for your skin type. There are also how-to instructions from Stila make-up artists on all products, and a shopping list that you can create as you try out looks, to later purchasing products directly with the app.

Ultimately, the consumer is given more access to information and choices on how they can access it.

“The experience that can be delivered through social media and web is much richer than traditional media,” points out Joffres. “Consumers can explore as much or as little content as they like, and they can explore it in photos, or text, or video. There is no need for one-size-fits-all.”

Tivien Gan, Clinique Malaysia’s manager of CRM (customer relation management) and new media, agrees, explaining that its Facebook page and iPhone app lets the company carry out its campaigns in a more focused and personalised way.

“With easily accessible Internet connectivity and the increase in smartphone usage, we are able to offer our customers a completely new experience. Product information is more personalised, and campaigns are more targeted towards various segments,” she says.

Clinique’s Facebook page, for instance, not only provides beauty tips, but also runs polls and surveys to suss out their fans’ opinions. It also offers exclusive giveaways and promotions.

The Clinique iPhone app, on the other hand, is a handy and practical one that gives you real-time weather, UV and pollution information, in order to help you protect your skin accordingly with its skincare products.

Gan emphasises that the ease of communication with their customers is one of the main advantages of using social media.

“‘Over the counter information is faster, and the reach over a short period of time is phenomenal. Imagine receiving over 34,000 replies about a new product within an hour, or executing a promotion in a single day! These allow us a more personal touch with our customers, and to understand their needs better.”

Interestingly, most beauty companies view social media as more of a platform to build a community of followers, rather than an “advertising” medium. This ties in with the general perception of social media platforms as being more personal compared with traditional media outlets.

“The hard-sell approach to social media doesn’t work very well,” says Joffres. “In many cases, brands gain the most benefit from social media by offering consumers something value-added or a product for free, like interesting content or special discounts. Self-taught make-up artist Lauren Luke, for example, built a huge fan base by providing her fans with YouTube videos on make-up tips for free. She’s now able to sell her fans her own brand of make-up, simply because she didn’t start off trying to sell them something.”

It’s easy to get carried away with the virtual world, but it all boils down to that human touch. What’s important when it comes to maintaining a positive social media relationship, says Joffres, is that continued personal attention.

“Brands need to find a voice. We’re accustomed to communicating with real people, so brands need to have a personality to sound genuine, like real people.

“More importantly, they need to find something that their audience is really passionate about and communicate that, and social media provides a personalised, targeted way of doingit,” he concludes.

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