AUTHOR: Kim Huynh, Tribe Dynamics Research & Reporting
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! You’re well on your way to becoming a savvy influencer marketer. To review the steps we’ve covered so far, let’s walk through what a successful brand/influencer relationship might look like. In this case, we’ll be looking at the collaboration between Tarte and content creator Nicol Concilio.
Step 1: Recognizing Influencers as Valued Consumers
Since she began beauty vlogging 15 months ago, Nicol Concilio has gained 1.0M Instagram followers, driven a total $22.1M EMV for Tarte across 525 posts, and collaborated with the brand on a brush set released this month. But when Tarte first contacted Nicol in 2015, she was just a fledgling influencer with 10.0K followers who thought Tarte was pronounced “tart-TAY.” Still, the vlogger demonstrated interest in the brand from the start, consistently tagging Tarte in her tutorials and #MOTD posts, while frequently remarking that it was the first brand she’d ever purchased at Sephora. When Nicol met Tarte social manager jentarte and “literally threw [her] iPhone in water with excitement,” the brand rewarded her enthusiasm with an elaborate product send a few weeks later.
Tarte took the important first step of identifying a potential brand ambassador: someone who was already posting about the brand and demonstrating an affinity towards its products, and would therefore be more likely to produce authentic content. By gifting Nicol a generous array of makeup, Tarte expressed its appreciation for the influencer, generating goodwill and encouraging further content creation.
In November, Tarte followed up on its initial product send by inviting Nicol to its #trippinwithtarte Turks and Caicos getaway. The brand designed the vacation to focus on influencers first and brand second, making its guests of honor feel like part of the brand “family.” Along with plenty of cosmetics samples and personalized luxury accommodations, Tarte founder Maureen Kelly treated content creators to dinner on the beach, thanking them for being a part of her “crazy” journey and voicing how surreal it felt to be in the company of these “rock star” influencers. The brand used the vacation to cultivate a “#squad” of support: influencers not only created content on their own channels, but promoted fellow #tartelettes by reposting their Instagrams and videos.
Rather than let its initial product send end as a one-time interaction, Tarte continued to reach out to Nicol and make her feel like an exclusive, valued member of its brand family. After the Turks and Caicos getaway, the brand sent additional invitations to special events, such as iHeartMedia’s Jingle Ball and another #trippinwithtarte getaway to Hawaii. These shared experiences can help a brand build and sustain a cohesive, loyal community of influencers.
When Nicol reached the one million follower milestone in September, Tarte celebrated her success with a specially designed cake featuring her Instagram profile — a thoughtful gift that showed how much the brand cared about her artistic and personal development.
In September, Nicol unveiled her $39 limited-edition six-brush Tarte collection on YouTube. The influencer struggled to rein in her excitement during the video, noting that though she had often “teased [Tarte]” about a collaboration before, it was “so freakin’ cool to see my name and my face on one of my favorite cosmetics companies ever.” To promote the product and further incorporate the influencer into its core brand operations, Tarte facilitated a fan meet-and-greet with Nicol at the New York Generation Beauty event on September 17.
Nicol explained that the collaboration had come about organically: “I went to Tarte’s office, just to kind of say hi…and then all of a sudden we were talking about collaborating and what products would be the best fit for me, and what I am kind of dying to give you guys.” The comment implies affection and familiarity between influencer and brand, the result of time and mutual investment in their relationship. It also reveals the care and attention Tarte paid to Nicol’s personal desires and ambitions, separate from the brand’s own interests. The vlogger was involved in every aspect of the product’s development, down to “picking out the tissue paper.” The PR kit displayed the brushes in a pizza box labeled “I [heart] NY” — an homage to the influencer’s New York roots. By involving Nicol in all steps of the production process and granting her the ability to make high-level decisions, Tarte elevated her personal stake in both the product and brand’s success.
Without a doubt, influencer marketing is an involved process — one that requires a sustained commitment to investing in authentic relationships with content creators. This is not a transactional process, nor can it be faked. Just as one might be wary of transparent sales tactics, followers can sense when an influencer’s endorsement has been bought. Instead, brands that excel in influencer marketing, both in the cosmetics industry and beyond, consistently invite influencers into their operations and make them feel important to the brand. Ultimately, it’s an influencer’s motivation that makes for both compelling content and sustainable relationships. These relationships take on a familiar pattern, as influencers move from valued consumers, to cherished family members, and finally empowered partners.