Beauty bloggers have already changed the face of the beauty industry worldwide. Brands are now scrambling to adjust to this new normal, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the Middle East and Africa, one of the world’s fastest-growing markets that will be worth an estimated $25.1bn by 2022.
From an agency perspective, we have seen first-hand changes in the way that beauty brands conduct their marketing. From product placement to brand ambassadors and collaborations with some of the region’s top beauty influencers, the role of the beauty blogger is now more prevalent than ever and shows no sign of abating.
In an age where buying ‘likes’ and being part of influencer ‘pods’ is almost the norm, however, understanding the true value of an influencer post or story is not easy. Simply measuring the effectiveness of an influencer based on numbers, can lead to brands spending huge sums of money with very little return on investment, and in some cases a brand’s reputation can be damaged if its content is deemed inauthentic – or worse, untrustworthy.
The Middle East matters
In comparison to markets such as the UK and US, which have developed their digital presence through online portals and apps, the Middle East has been much slower to develop its digital footprint for traditional media outlets. As a result, a mass influx of savvy bloggers and influencers saw a gap in the market and established a strong social media and online presence of their own, creating content and offering news that weekly publications just couldn’t match. With brands needing to drive their own online presence and push their channels too, the partnership between ‘blogger and brand’ became the new norm with many companies investing their time and budgets in relevant beauty bloggers who could communicate their message clearly to a likeminded audience.
With the decline of traditional print media and our insatiable thirst for instant updates, live streams and authentic content, fashion, style and beauty bloggers are now as influential – if not more so – than magazine editors. Influencers are fast replacing models in editorial shoots, taking front row seats at fashion weeks, and securing lead roles in advertising campaigns. As a result, bloggers and influencers are shaping today’s landscape and we cannot ignore just how important and ‘influential’ they have become.
“Our message is a powerful one, but this is an ‘always on’ conversation and sustaining this messaging through traditional PR methods isn’t always possible,” says Hend Barakat, PR and marketing manager at The Body Shop, which is working to impress upon customers the value of ethical beauty – that is vegetarian, vegan and cruelty-free products.
“Working with influencers has proven an extremely positive tactic,” she continues. “When we have been able to identify and work closely with the right influencers, who are passionate about The Body Shop brand and everything we stand for, we have seen an amazing increase in numbers for our ‘against animal testing’ petitions and an undeniably positive impact on sales and footfall.”
What works for you?
We now have a huge cross section of beauty bloggers and influencers here in the Middle East, with new personalities popping up on a daily basis. The number of digital beauty bloggers is growing so rapidly that assessing their performance and tracking their influence is a full-time job in itself.
Whatever a brand’s focus – demographic targets, markets of interest, or type of channel – the real question is how to tell if a beauty influencer is the real deal, and the right fit for your brand? What does this blogger have in common with my target consumer? And how do we build a relationship beyond a single post?
Given the meteoric rise of influencers, we can all be forgiven for a little skepticism as to their true power. In my opinion, there are two sets of beauty influencers with genuine credibility: those who have been around for a long time and have garnered a strong following for their honest reviews and beauty tips, and the newer micro-influencers whose content is both visually appealing and authentic.
Heavy hitters in this region include Kuwait’s Dalal Al Doub and Ascia, and, in the UAE, Maya Ahmed and Fouz Al Fahad of The Real Fouz. And, of course, for the most successful influencers out there, it’s about more than just getting paid to post – high profile names such as UAE-based Huda Kattan and America’s Kylie Jenner have combined careers as social media stars and makeup moguls. Taking on global giants at their own game, these household names have come from nowhere to outsell established operators.
Entrepreneur and TV host AlReem Saif can count on 163k followers and has the added experience of having worked in traditional media before moving online. A former beauty editor at Zahrat Al Khaleej, she has become an active participant in the seismic shift that has taken place within the beauty industry.
“People do not turn to their favourite magazines to get the latest in beauty, but rather check the latest posts and videos of their favourite influencers for a thorough review and ‘personal experience’ with the products,” she says. “Influencers have definitely been able to add a ‘face’ and a human element to the overall review, which makes it more genuine and relatable.”
Honesty is important
Presenter and brand ambassador Shereen Mitwalli Butler agrees that working with influencers to generate honest conversation around your brand is key. “Working with the right influencers can give brands access to the type of reach that just isn’t possible anymore across other media touchpoints,” she stresses.
“It enables brands to partake in genuine conversations with real consumers who are highly engaged, in real time,” she continues. “Consumers are so savvy, opinioned and know what they want, so working with bloggers that consumers genuinely trust and listen to is valuable to brands.
“Ultimately all consumers want the same thing, to be served content that is real, authentic and relevant,” she adds. “Therefore, it is essential that brands work with influencers who share the same DNA and work with them to develop organic and authentic content if they want to see the best results.”
The stark reality, however, is that many brands just do not have the budget to partner with the region’s most high-profile influencers. Reaching and accessing key beauty influencers can set a brand back anywhere between $8,000 to $50,000 for a sponsored post, and with many influencers now represented by talent agencies who charge their own fee on top, a brand’s influencer budget can be swallowed up almost instantly.
In addition, one social media post is rarely enough to engage a follower. As an agency, we prefer working with bloggers on a longer-term basis with an agreed number of posts, interactions or activities that reach different touchpoints as part of an overall campaign.
Influencer access in the region can also be challenging due to pre-existing exclusive brand contracts. That’s why many influencers split their contracts into sectors from haircare, skincare, makeup, mass and luxury as a way of being able to work with multiple brands and maximise their earning potential.
Small is beautiful
With this in mind, a number of companies are now working with a selection of micro-bloggers who can bring something new to the table. These influencers enable a brand to access multiple touchpoints and reach a good combined audience overall, driving a halo effect.
So don’t fixate on the number of followers a blogger has: when you delve deeper in terms of engagement, you’ll find that some of the up-and-coming micro-bloggers offer a genuine engagement rate of 12 to 18 per cent, versus some of the bigger names that have only 2 to 3 per cent. Moreover, 60 to 70 per cent of bigger beauty bloggers’ followings are not based in the Middle East – so if a brand wants to communicate with this market, they will actually only be relevant to 30 to 40 per cent of the blogger’s worldwide audience.
We have adopted this strategy with some of the 60+ beauty brands we represent, and we’re seeing great results. “For me, it’s all about creating beautiful content”, says Donna Roper of Donna Hearts Beauty. “It isn’t about unboxing my latest gifts, it’s about having real opinions and showing tried and tested beauty products in an interesting and arresting way.
“On any given day I will receive between 10 to 20 direct messages, asking for advice and recommendations, and for me, this proves I am doing something right,” she continues. “Responding and interacting with these women is such an intrinsic part of my responsibility as a beauty influencer and I take it seriously.”
While the path to identifying, negotiating and bringing influencer collaborations to fruition may not always be straightforward, the role of the beauty blogger in the Middle East is more important than ever.
There is space for everyone, from the beauty heavyweights to the up-and-coming micro-influencers, but the beauty landscape is a dynamic one – and consumers are savvy. For brands to collaborate successfully with an influencer, they need to look beyond the numbers and ask themselves a few vital questions. Because if carried out correctly, a careful brand partnership with the right influencer where both are fully aligned, can be a win-win situation for both parties.
Natasha Hatherall-Shawe is founder and managing director of Dubai-based agency, TishTash Marketing and Public Relations