In July this year, Forbes published a story about how a 34-year beauty blogger created a billion-dollar empire. Huda Kattan, the Dubai-based beauty blogger, has over 27 million followers on her Instagram page which promotes her brand Huda Beauty. What started as a beauty blog of DIY videos in 2010 has turned into a billion-dollar brand in 2018 and global giants such as L’Oreal and Estée Lauder have given her multibillion acquisition offers which she has declined.
So, what really worked for Huda Beauty?
The answer is, a lot of things. Apart from her passion and commitment, a good product and the opportunity gap that existed in the Middle East market, it was her ability to use social media to her advantage that helped her become such a successful phenomenon. Imagine Kattan trying to run the same business in the absence of social media? She might have been moderately successful, but the effect of 27 million followers leading to her reaching billionaire status is unparalleled.
Kattan is not the only social media beauty influencer. The mother of them all is Kim Kardashian West. Standing at a lofty 117 million followers on Instagram, 59 million on Twitter and 29 million on Facebook, Kardashian’s grand total of followers is 206 million people. That is almost as much as Pakistan’s population. Even if we convert them to unique followers (excluding repeated ones), she probably has 130 million unique followers. Only 10 countries in the world have a similar or higher population size. Does this translate into dollars for her? You bet it does. If interwebs are to be believed, Kardashian charges $250,000 to $500,000 for a branded Instagram post and makes around $100 million every year from endorsements and appearances. And there are many more beauty bloggers and vloggers all over the internet. From Lisa Eldridge to Tanya Burr, they are widely followed, paid to endorse products and make money.
Women like to take care of themselves and that is something the category has used in its favour. Although men face social pressures to be muscular and athletic, they are not in any way comparable to the pressures women face to look good all the time.
A couple of months ago, I was discussing business with a friend of mine who happens to be the brother of one of the more sought-after fashion designers of Pakistan. Their business is good and they are expanding further. I remember saying to him that human need is basic; covering the body, even if it meant using leaves. So where did brands come in? His reply was simple: “thank God for women.”
Granted that there are many male beauty bloggers with millions of followers; however, they mostly target women. Women like to take care of themselves and that is something the category has used in its favour. Although men face social pressures to be muscular and athletic, they are not in any way comparable to the pressures women face to look good all the time.
In my article for Aurora’s November-December 2016 issue, I touched upon the notion of the brand purchase funnel becoming obsolete in the era of social media. The beauty category is the biggest example of this irrelevance, because in this category, advocacy is the second pillar after awareness. Consumers go to online reviews and beauty bloggers immediately after hearing about a brand. Celebrity endorsements are also one of the major drivers of the category. If one were to ask whether the beauty category is different from any other category, the answer would be ‘yes’. Not necessarily because other categories are less dependent on social media (they are), but because the magnitude of the role played by social media in beauty is far more than the role it plays among confectionaries or sugar-based drinks. Furthermore, with the advent of smaller, yet successful brands such as Huda Beauty, beauty has become a high-involvement segment more than ever before.
Tabs Analytics, a Nielsen partner analytics company based in Connecticut, reported that 58% of purchase decisions by heavy users of beauty products were influenced by social media posts (it was 42% in 2015). Interestingly, the increase was only four percentage points among light users of the category, increasing from 15 to 19%. The Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences & Research in a quantitative study in 2016, concluded that social media was doing more to change decisions about beauty care purchases. Put simply, consumers looking to change their current product are more likely to use social media compared to consumers who are not looking for a change.
How long will the Kardashians keep influencing the younger generation? How long will social media glorify beards and most importantly, how long will social media remain relevant? The pace at which consumer behaviour is changing is scary.
In this context, forget the new brands; products that were used by previous generations have been rediscovered by Millennials through social media. For example, according to Jane Hertzmark Hudis, Group President, Estée Lauder, the brand’s Double Wear foundation, a product that was launched 30 years ago, is experiencing double-digit growth rates. Conversely, the men’s shaving category has lost 5.1% of its global sales this year compared to last year, the reason being that beards are becoming increasingly popular.
The question, of course, is the longevity of these trends. How long will the Kardashians keep influencing the younger generation? How long will social media glorify beards and most importantly, how long will social media remain relevant? The pace at which consumer behaviour is changing is scary. If Nostradamus were alive, maybe he would have been able to predict if Huda Beauty will one day become a bigger brand than L’Oreal, thanks to its social media influence. As of now, we don’t know whether Huda Beauty will still be here five years down the line. That’s the beauty of social media success!
Sami Qahar is a Dubai-based Pakistani looking for excuses to write. Aurora gives him a few.