How Indie Beauty Brands Are Diversifying Their Marketing Strategies To Counter The Effects Of Apple’s iOS 14 Update

In January, ModernRetail predicted that Apple’s iOS 14 update would upend the advertising strategies of e-commerce companies. The publication appears to have been prescient, but we decided to check in with indie beauty brands to see just how on point its prediction has been. So, as a part of our ongoing series posing questions relevant to the indie beauty business, we asked 23 entrepreneurs, marketing experts and executives at beauty companies: How has Apple’s iOS 14 update impacted your digital advertising and outreach? Are you trying any new advertising and marketing tactics as a result of the update?

Daisy Jing Founder, Banish

Apple's iOS 14 update has definitely shifted our digital marketing strategy. We are still advertising via Facebook and their platforms, but we're also focusing on Google, SEO and other social media platforms. For example, for SEO, we have been consistently working on high-quality blog posts and video content. For social media, we're consistently posting on Twitter, Pinterest and TikTok. For these strategies, it's more of a long-term consistent play as compared with Facebook ads as we won't see results until many months of consistent posting.

Lynette Lovelace Founder, Lifetherapy

As an indie beauty brand, we've always had to pivot as tech has changed, and the iOS update is no exception. We've been fortunate to build a robust mailing list that we've continued to add to, creating value propositions such as discounts and insider info for people who sign up. We've also found a lot of multi-platform success in having people find us through a Pinterest and Instagram presence, and are looking into accelerating our SMS marketing campaigns in the year ahead.

The biggest thing for us has always been connection. How do we make our customers want to be in conversation and communication with us? Because we are built from establishing a personal connection to the customer, I don't think that our business is necessarily as impacted by a third-party cookie collapse as perhaps larger companies may be. So much has changed in my decade-plus in the indie beauty business, but one thing has remained the same: When connection is at the core of what you do, you can withstand any tech shifts that may come.

Ada Polla CEO, Alchimie Forever

We have definitely shifted things around since Apple’s iOS 14 update. We’ve made better use of our first-party data by incorporating that audience into our digital ad campaigns. We've also increased the frequency and adjusted the strategy of our email marketing campaigns to make sure content is in front of those already bought into the brand. In the last month, we've launched an SMS campaign to collect more first-party data points and diverted a larger portion of spending into search engine marketing. I must admit, I don’t think we fully yet understand the impact of these changes, so we are continuing to review this with our digital performance marketing agency so we can tweak and adjust as needed.

Anne Beal Founder, AbsoluteJOI

We noticed an immediate drop in the effectiveness of our Facebook ads strategy. It now works only for retargeting, but the initial contact with new customers has had to move to new channels. Also, when looking at our return on ad spend (ROAS) metrics, the value from advertising on Facebook has plummeted. Getting good at Facebook took a significant investment in time and money, and this change is something that is hard to work around. So, as a small business, this change created a real challenge, and I am sure Facebook is seeing a dip in revenues for ad spend.

We definitely are working on other channels starting with Google, but Pinterest is also showing promise. The good news is these channels are still accessible to small businesses. However, the expertise for using them is entirely different than the expertise needed to manage Facebook. So, this is like starting all over again in many respects. The good news is these customers have a higher level of intent to purchase, so the ad spend sees a good return.

Samantha Silverman Digital Marketing Director, Teona Ostrov Public Relations

Apple’s iOS update impacts all of our clients and truly every brand that employs digital marketing and advertising. When the update initially rolled out, we saw a huge influx of questions from clients regarding what’s next. Many asked how they can continue to have the same ROI for digital ads that they currently had. We’ve encouraged our clients to take a deeper look at their strategies and implement a truly 360 marketing approach. This ranges from PR, affiliate marketing, influencer marketing, e-mails and beyond. There are lots of ways to reach your target consumer. With the new iOS updates, it’s just about reaching your consumers in a new way.

Nickie Nou Founder, Curls Dynasty

The update gives Apple users the ability to decline apps tracking them, so we’re not able to learn much anymore about their online interests and patterns. This means we can no longer accurately target and place ads in front of them, which affects conversion and sales.

We have added new third-party software that can still capture this type of customer behavior. A lot more hoops to jump through as we are testing, implementing and slowly seeing improvements.

Tamera Ferro SVP of Global Marketing and Growth, Sol de Janeiro

Like many brands, we’re seeing an impact on our Facebook marketing in terms of attribution accuracy and ability to reach audiences. In addition to the standard Facebook recommended changes to the account, one simple strategy we implemented to mitigate the impact was to enable daily CRM audience updates into Facebook with increased segmentation granularity. This gives us more control than the Facebook pixel events and allows us to target lookalikes of our highest LTV (lifetime value) audiences.

We’re also leaning into more tried-and-true initiatives based on first-party data with great success. Referral marketing has been a standout for us.

Jason Domangue Founder, Petal

This is been a big hit for all of our e-commerce brands. Our CPMs (cost per thousand impressions) on Facebook and Instagram have skyrocketed, and we have actually pulled back from that medium in a big way. TikTok has appeared to gain a lot of traction as their CPMs are quite lower, but we have struggled with conversions from that traffic.

We have diverted our attention and resources to focus on smaller, local retailers, including the Good Bottle Refill Shop in New Jersey, Conscious Living Shop in Colorado and The Zeroish Company in Minnesota as well as our affiliate program on ShareASale and doubling down on organic PR outreach/strategies with our agency Samantha Slaven Publicity, which has resulted in recent placements in USA Today, Apartment Therapy, Scary Mommy and Aedit that drove traffic to our site and Amazon.

Aleah Rae Founder, Rae of Light Digital

Just yesterday, an indie beauty brand founder sent a DM saying before iOS14 her Facebook ads were performing great...and now “awful." She stated, "I just stopped running them completely because they used to get such great results and now...nothing." This is a common sentiment that a lot of the e-commerce beauty bosses in my community seem to echo. Retargeting website visitors with Facebook ads was the holy grail for getting consistent conversions, and the iOS 14 update is making that nearly impossible because, even though potential shoppers are still making their way over to your site, 40% to 60% of them are now browsing incognito in a sense. And, unless they sign up for your email list, there's no way to follow up with them after they visit the way we used to be able to.

The interesting thing is that the iOS 14 update only really affects the tracking of actions captured by your Facebook pixel. Basically, whatever moves your ideal customer is making when they leave the Facebook and IG platform are less trackable because of the privacy constraints made possible by the update. Actions that your ideal customer makes while still on the platform, however, are still trackable and, most importantly, retargetable. My clients are finding huge success by creating Custom Audiences in Ads Manager from the people who watch their video posts on social (known as a "VIDEO" audience in Audience Manager) and those that engage in some way with the Instagram shop button when they tag an item on their feed, Stories or Reels posts (known as a "SHOP" audience in Audience Manager). These two audiences are great warm audiences to retarget with ads in the same exact way we retargeted our website audience pre-iOS 14 update.

Tim Jackson Founder, FlutterHabit

While many digitally native brands have seen significant impacts from iOS 14, we've been very fortunate to have accelerated our growth in part due to an already well-diversified marketing strategy. We grew quickly in our early years with influencer marketing and a very successful word-of-mouth flywheel, which gave us the freedom to stay away from Facebook ads and learn more about other lean marketing opportunities that exist outside their ecosystem. Eventually, we did begin to advertise on Facebook, though once Apple announced the upcoming changes earlier this year, we saw the writing on the wall and began to make adjustments.

We began to focus our marketing efforts at the top of the funnel towards influencer partnerships and other platforms (TikTok, Snapchat, Google, SEO, PR) and use Facebook more specifically for retargeting. So far, this is working better than expected. It will take time to dial in each channel, but, on the whole, we are very happy with our ability to consistently attract new customers in a cost-effective manner.

Divya Gugnani CEO and Co-Founder, Wander Beauty

The main impact we experienced was performance fluctuations in the months following the release of iOS 14.5 as the adoption continued to increase. This was largely due to an overall decrease in audience sizes as more people upgraded to iOS 14.5 since opted-out users were automatically excluded from certain targetable audiences, in turn, resulting in performance fluctuations, increase in CPCs, CPMs and CPAs.

As the main impact was the decrease in audience size, we ensured we made the following changes to counter this issue: Our prospective audiences were expanded with additional competitors and interests audiences. We added in additional retargeting audiences, which were not targeted before (All Time Customers). We expanded the dynamic product ads date range from seven to 180 days. Our ad set structure was updated to group together similar audiences rather than split them out per ad set. This ensured an overall larger audience size per ad set.

Lastly, we also reduced the number of ads we were running at one time to focus on top performers and have switched to a more fluid ad structure wherein the ads are updated more regularly to avoid creative fatigue.

Angelic Luong CEO and co-founder, Glacyo

The ROI on digital ads has been negatively impacted due to the changes of iOS 14. It has become harder to reach our potential clients and, sometimes, it feels like things are out of control. We have to allocate more of our marketing budget to email marketing, content creators, influencers, TV shows and especially public relations. For Facebook and Instagram, we now focus more on organic growth with more engaging content. Things are moving slower than before in terms of seeing the results, but we believe all of the current efforts will be paid off in the long run.

Aishetu “Aisha” Fatima Dozie Founder, Bossy Cosmetics

We haven’t quite cracked the nut of digital marketing, to be honest. We have largely focused on organic means to seek out and delight new customers via our website, social media, email newsletters and press. We have dabbled in paid social and recently ran a campaign that literally showed 0% ROAS. It really scared me because we’ve never had a return come back at that level. There is clearly much to learn about how things will change for advertisers, but it impresses upon the team that we need to be more aggressive with developing our organic channels of customer acquisition.

Rachel Roff CEO and Founder, Urban Skin Rx

[The update] has made our ads and outreach less effective. We are not a mainstream consumer packaged goods brand. So, if people can’t see ads relevant to them, then the brands that benefit the most are mainstream companies and bigger businesses. Small businesses that have a unique offering (like we do with skincare that improves the appearance of dark spots and evens skin tone for melanin-rich skin) have to now spend a lot more money reaching a broader, less relevant audience.

We’ve found success in building out our advertising funnel a bit more and also improving the consumer journey on our website. Before we could reach a more targeted audience that likely knew a bit about us before they even came to our site, whereas now, for many of our customers, the introduction to our brand, our core values and our skincare products begins in earnest after they come to our site for the first time.

David Miró Llopis Co-Founder and COO, ManiMe

Like many other DTC brands, we had to rethink our marketing strategy due to Apple’s iOS 14 update. Because social media advertising became less effective in targeting specific demographics, we redistributed our marketing budget to explore new channels like in-person events, paid influencer partnerships and sponsorships with more professional nail artists. We are also testing new communications strategies on existing channels such as email, SMS and more.

While the iOS 14 update disrupted our ongoing marketing efforts, it acted as a catalyst for us to reframe our approach and become more strategic as we look to retain existing ManiMe consumers and acquire new ones.

Ryan Wolfe Founder, Jaci

While I embrace the lead Apple has taken in providing user control over their user data, the subsequent impact has been unfortunately significant. Perhaps the golden era and formula of leaning into paid media as a primary marketing catalyst to get an early-stage DTC off the ground while using this leverage to build out additional channels is coming to an end. Prior to the IOS 14.5 update, with a good amount of testing and refinement, we were able to achieve viable, productive ads even in light of the increase of CAC by more than 50% over the prior four years. Once the update occurred last April, 96% of iOS users opted into privatizing their data which in turn, crippled productivity given that 85% of our traffic was from iOS devices.  Paid ads as we knew it quickly came to a halt namely because they became significantly unprofitable and untenable. As a result, we eventually reduced our paid ad spend to $0 and have embarked on other tactics.

Shifting our media mix is critical for a small DTC brand. Most of the more established digital brands that have reached a higher level of scale that I’ve spoken with had the resources and time to diversify their channel mix and navigate through the turbulence. The difficulty for early-stage and other brands that had a higher dependency on paid media has been really difficult.

As a result, we shifted our focus and investment into earned media, owned media and Amazon. Reaching and connecting with potential or existing customers doesn’t have to end with Facebook or Instagram ads. In addition, we’ll commence further testing of additional ad platforms such as Pinterest, Snap and TikTok to see if we can deliver a viable and sustainable level of productivity. While our sales are still relatively down in excess of 30% post the update, we’re adapting to the new normal.

Longer term, I’m a big believer that success will be defined by connecting with customers and meeting them where they are at rather than being defined by a particular sales or marketing channel. Further, I’m bearish on the concept that social media users are simultaneously the product and the customer, and don’t think it has a viable future, but I’m optimistic that incentivizing and allowing users of social media to participate in the value of their data where they can choose where, when and how they would like to be presented with ads is hopefully not too far away.

Rooshy Roy Co-Founder and CEO, Aavrani

The iOS 14 update had a direct impact on our ad performance. However, as paid ads have become increasingly expensive over the last year, we decided to revisit our strategy 12 months ago. In parallel with our new Aavrani brand launch last year, internally, we pivoted to a more holistic approach to marketing. By focusing more on our existing customers versus acquiring new ones, we have created more intimate customer relationships and an authentic community.

At the same time, we changed our angle on ads to focus more on storytelling and education behind the culture that inspired our trade secret formulations and less on your classic performance-type ads that focus on conversion alone. These kinds of changes have substantially improved our paid ad performance, and I believe that this longer-term strategy will continue to benefit the Aavrani brand going forward. The iOS update was just another indication that we're making the right decision to restrategize away from paid ads over time.

Martha Van Inwegen Founder, Life Elements

Regardless of the iOS 14 update, advertising is still the wild west of communication, particularly for skin and body care brands like Life Elements that produce CBD and non-CBD formulations. At this time, we have not been actively advertising due to the inconsistencies and cost of CBD advertising since the policies are vague and inconsistently enforced. The same holds true for Facebook. We have seen success in doubling down on PR, referral programs, influencers, SEO and partnerships to expand awareness and grow our customer base. A good example is our recent announcements regarding our partnerships with Rachel Zoe's Curateur and the use of our product formulations at the newly reopened Two Bunch Palms Spa in Desert Hot Springs.

David Dundas COO, YGN

Apple has essentially blocked Facebook from tracking users around the internet, which means that Facebook no longer has user behavior outside of the Facebook apps being Instagram and Facebook. As a result, Facebook can't target users who have visited from ads, it can’t target potential “look-alike” based on users browsing behavior, and Facebook ad reporting is no longer accurate

Ultimately, this means that we have to tell better stories about our product. Having a strong creative strategy is a must. We should be testing lifestyle produced content as well as User Generated Content (UGC). In addition to revisiting the brand's creative strategy, understanding our data also matters more than ever. Comparing third-party tools like Google analytics and Shopify’s dashboard to Facebook’s performance has given us the best read on how effective our marketing is.

Rachel Lambo Co-founder, Sade Baron

[The update] has affected our efforts in digital advertising and conversion of new customers. We have decided to pause and determine how we move forward that ensures we still reach our consumers.

I think we are going to focus some of our efforts more on video content, which is really focused on our brand and story. The social landscape is always changing, however, content, especially personalized, is still very important. We want to definitely engage more with consumers, clients and the audience. We started to experiment with video, short, and mixed media. It's still a work in progress.

Ben Van Handel Co-founder, Heraux

As the first anti-inflammaging skincare product based on a decade of stem cell research, it’s important for us to educate our consumers on our proprietary HX-1 biomimetic lipid in our facial serum. Part of our marketing mix was Facebook advertising which helped us convey how HX-1 shields stem cells from the effects of stress and promotes their overall youthful function essentially stopping the inflammaging process in its tracks. Since Apple's iOS 14 update, we have paused our Facebook advertising because customer acquisition got too costly following the rollout of the update.  As a pivot, we committed strongly to the Talkshoplive live streaming platform, in which we can directly interact with our audience in real-time and provide them expert insight into the brand ethos while allowing them to engage with the stem cell researchers behind this scientific breakthrough alongside well-respected experts in the beauty industry. This has been a richly rewarding experience and we are looking to do similar live events (both virtual or in-person when appropriate) with our retail partners and their customers.

Jennifer Carlson Marketing director, Shiko Beauty

Our ability to retarget iOS 14 users who opted out has become incredibly limited, which has impacted our audience reach and we are not able to spend as much as we used to on retargeting campaigns.

We’re readjusting our goals and choosing the best attribution window based on our objectives. We’re only able to partially track one-day view and seven-day clicks data. The one-day click remains is low, but it’s the only attribution window that will cover iOS 14 users who opted out.

Since we’re a new brand, the retargeting and tracking capabilities have decreased and personalization has also been impacted. Campaigns that were previously performing well for us are now very limited.

Boris Oak Founder and CEO, Evolvh

Apple's iOS 14 update is a serious challenge to the effectiveness of Facebook/Instagram advertising. The reality is that it’s very important to have a diversified multichannel approach to marketing and this change is a great reminder of this. You can still win on FB/IG but the execution has to be just right and with a lot of testing and ideation, especially around creativity.

First and foremost, our goal is to educate our consumers on our biology-driven, science-based, high-performance line of hair care products using natural and organic ingredients—for transformative visible results in all hair types. When sticking true to this message, we continue to see growth, with our creator community partnerships leading the way, and also seeing results from other platforms like TikTok, which is obviously exploding, and Pinterest too. We are also exploring Podcast advertising which has really evolved over the past year to leverage our clean beauty heritage. Most important of all, we are keeping our customer base activated as nothing beats organic growth fueled by our customers spreading the word about their love of EVOLVh.

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