Leading Beauty Marketers On The Limits Of Performance Marketing

For beauty marketers, the struggle of figuring out when to push short-term results or focus on long-term brand building is real. 

“Sometimes one of the things that you’ll want to do might not have the best ROI,” said Anncy Rowe, CMO of StriVectin, during a panel discussion at Beauty Independent trade show Uplink Expo last month at New York City event venue Convene. “It might seem crazy to someone, but in your heart it could change the conversation and move the needle in terms of driving visibility. The creativity and beauty is that some of it, yes, is going to be a science. Some of it truly will be that creative understanding of what you’re going to get back on what you’re spending.” 

Rowe was joined on the panel by Sochima Mbadugha, VP of strategy and business operations at Topicals, and Lauren Edelman, global CMO of Victoria Beckham Beauty. Edelman emphasized that long-term brand building “takes patience and investments that don’t turn around ROI tomorrow or the next 30 days. I’ve been thinking a lot about brand marketing versus performance marketing spend, and what does that right balance look like depending on the brand?” 

A subset of digital marketing characterized by results measured through conversion, click-through, cost-per-acquisition rates and other key performance indicators, performance marketing has become an indispensable tool in the modern marketer’s toolbox. While performance marketing tactics are effective in reaching a brand’s target customers, Rowe argued they can limit a brand’s reach beyond them. 

“What keeps me up at night about performance marketing is that you are only targeting this pool of consumers,” she explained. “You’re only fishing where the fish are, but how do I fish outside of the pond? If I want Carrie in Manhattan to buy my product versus Joe in Louisiana, maybe Carrie is going to be more expensive, but it’s so important for long-term health to be able to go there.”

Beauty marketing executives from Topicals, StriVectin and Victoria Beckham Beauty gathered to discuss the challenges they face in balancing spend between performance and brand marketing at Beauty Independent’s Uplink Expo trade show last month.

Influencer Marketing

Topicals decided to shift its influencer marketing to micro-influencers after it wasn’t realizing the return it wanted from larger influencer partnerships. Although Mbadugha pointed out that the brand hasn’t abandoned larger influencers, she shares the micro-influencer strategy has positively impacted its bottom line, Currently, Topicals’ influencer community consists of about 5,000 brand ambassadors. 

“Large-scale influencers definitely have their place in some of these flashy campaigns, and I think that’s where that bounce between brand and performance marketing gets blurred,” she said. “With influencers, sometimes it is more of a brand thing where you’re not going to pay them $10,000 to make this post and then see $20,000 in sales. Sometimes you’re willing to trade that budget to know that you’re tapping into a new community.”

Victoria Beckham Beauty harnesses its famous founder’s sizable social media following, a clear brand awareness advantage, to activate its top-of-funnel influencer strategy. Fashion designer and singer Victoria Beckham boasts 33 million followers on Instagram and 2.5 million followers on TikTok. 

“I have Victoria’s authentic point of view and her words in my marketing arsenal,” said Edelman. “She is in many ways our No. 1 and ultimate influencer, and she comes with what I call ‘friends at the house.’ They are people who love her or have true organic relationships with her as a person, who love to talk about our brand.” 

Available at Ulta Beauty and Costco, skincare brand StriVectin utilizes different playbooks for success at each of the retailers.

Retail Strategy

Exclusive to Sephora, Topicals differentiates itself at the retailer by not adhering to a traditional product launch playbook. Instead of churning out consistent newness, Topicals doubles down on promoting its hero products. Mbadugha admitted that Sephora buyers often need to be convinced of the brand’s assortment strategy.

“Sephora loves newness. They’re always introducing new brands to their assortment, and they also dictate that based on how much those brands are launching,” she said. “We really do have to sometimes have those tough conversations. We think that there’s a lot of ways that we can talk about our core SKUs in a really informative, engaging way, so we kind of walk them along that journey. I think a lot of times the burden of proof is on the brand to make Sephora excited.”

StriVectin is stocked at Ulta Beauty and Costco, and it tailors its retail approach to each of them. Costco represents a substantial part of the brand’s business, but it spends comparably less time fine-tuning its assortment for the warehouse club chain. A destination for everything from steaks and sandals to books and televisions, Costco customers are typically shopping beauty as an impulse purchase before they check out, explained Rowe. If product prices don’t resonate, shoppers will simply not convert.

At Ulta, StriVectin’s assortment is bigger, and it concentrates on nailing visual merchandising at the beauty specialty retailer in order to guide the customer through the shopping experience. “We are making it as easy for her as possible, which is very different from the Costco strategy because the environment is completely different,” said Rowe. “For us, it’s about customizing for the retailer and knowing where we want our growth to come from.”