Like just about every industry, the influencer economy evolved significantly from 2020 to 2021. For many content creators and their followers, the aspirational ethos of pre-pandemic influencer posts was replaced by an emphasis on social impact and authentic connection. Meanwhile, the growing influence of Gen Z consumers, who deeply value individuality and creativity, paved the way for a proliferation of avant-garde makeup trends. In short, the old rules of influencer marketing were out—and to succeed, brands, like influencers, had to think outside the box.

In this article, we’ll dive into the innovative strategies setting three forward-thinking brands apart from the competition, and outline key takeaways other brands can use to replicate their success.

Savage x Fenty keeps it real with #SavageXIRL campaign

See you later, Victoria’s Secret. In 2021, lingerie’s old guard officially retired, leaving Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty the reigning queen of underwear. Following steady momentum, the label boasted an explosive 153% year-over-year surge in Earned Media Value (EMV) from June 2020 to May 2021, garnering $331.0M EMV. This growth was fueled by a 69% year-over-year expansion of Savage x Fenty’s influencer community, which swelled to 5.3k content creators.

It’s impossible to talk about Savage x Fenty’s influencer strategy without mentioning the brand’s blockbuster fashion show, which has effectively replaced the now-defunct Victoria’s Secret show as the lingerie event of the year. While many fashion brands struggled to take their shows digital during the pandemic, Savage x Fenty hosted a blockbuster virtual event in October, featuring cameos from the likes of Lizzo and Cara Delevigne. Mentions of #SavageXFentyShow powered $4.3M EMV throughout the month (in comparison, Prada accrued $1.7M EMV via content tagged #PradaFW21 when it showed online in February).

Savage x Fenty has also inspired a steady stream of high-impact content via its ongoing #SavageXIRL campaign, which—in line with the brand’s emphasis on body positivity and self-acceptance—invites influencers to share unretouched photos of themselves in Savage x Fenty pieces. Though hardly a new initiative, the inclusive campaign took off in late 2020 and has maintained momentum into 2021, with style bloggers such as Bella Ramos routinely flaunting the brand’s lingerie in flirty at-home posts. Altogether, mentions of #SavageXIRL garnered $3.9M EMV from June 2020 to May 2021, more than doubling its $1.7M total over the previous 12 months.

Danessa Myricks Beauty features in avant-garde makeup looks

There’s no denying that the pandemic was tough on the cosmetics industry—apart from the occasional Zoom happy hour, life at home offered few opportunities to get glammed up. So how did Danessa Myricks Beauty manage to not only evade the steep EMV declines experienced by many other makeup brands, but nearly double its EMV total? From June 2020 to May 2021, Danessa Myricks Beauty collected $61.9M EMV, a 99% year-over-year increase, while its community of 3.0k influencers marked a 94% YoY expansion.

The secret to the brand’s success? Strong relationships with content creators who used makeup less for glamour than for avant-garde self-expression. Take the brand’s top EMV-driving influencer, makeup artist Linda Hallberg, who often finishes her vibrant cut-creases with 3D rhinestones and even artificial flowers. Linda shouted out Danessa Myricks Beauty in an impressive 119 posts from June 2020 to May 2021, generating $2.8M EMV.

Notably, Danessa Myricks Beauty actively invested in its partnership with Linda by furnishing the influencer with opportunities to expand her own platform: in February, for example, Linda joined Danessa Myricks herself in a makeup demonstration at beauty convention The Makeup Show, which took place virtually this year. Danessa Myricks Beauty also featured more broadly in edgy looks from both established and smaller-scale content creators, netting $4.6M EMV via #CreativeMakeup posts from June 2020 to May 2021—an improvement upon the hashtag’s $1.1M total during the previous 12-month period.

Insert Name Here becomes e-girls’ it-brand

TikTok has introduced plenty of new trends to the social media landscape, from goofy dance videos to unlikely food combinations (Takis and cream cheese, anyone?). Chief among TikTok’s cultural contributions is the “e-girl” aesthetic, characterised by dewy skin, bold eyeliner, and colorful hair—or wigs. One wig brand in particular has capitalised on the age of the e-girl to drive significant growth on social media: Insert Name Here. Bolstered by a network of 2.5k influencers, the brand powered $58.7M EMV from June 2020 to May 2021, up 48% from the previous year.

Throughout the time period monitored, Insert Name Here sent wigs and extensions to popular TikTok creators like Tatyana Joseph and Avani Gregg, who proudly showed off their new ’dos. Both Gen Z stars ranked among the brand’s top 10 EMV-drivers, contributing a respective $635.3k and $611.8k, while mentions of #TikTok collected $637.1k.

In addition to building clout on the short-form video platform, the brand made a splash by teaming up with powerhouse influencer Liane Valenzueva for a clip-on ponytail product released in September. A longtime fan of Insert Name Here, the lifestyle blogger enthusiastically hyped her wig’s release and consistently sported it on Instagram, emerging as the brand’s top earner with $2.6M EMV across 151 posts.

As influencers and consumers begin to venture outside their homes and readjust to in-person gatherings, the social media landscape will continue to transform. That said, adaptability, innovation, and open mindedness will remain key to brands’ earned media growth. Drawing from the achievements of Savage x Fenty, Danessa Myricks Beauty, and Insert Name Here, here are some steps that all brands can take to inspire sustained, impactful conversation online.

  • Forge authentic connections with influencers (and consumers)
    In 2021, aspiration is out and authenticity is in. After spending over a year on Zoom, we’re all a little too familiar with the back walls of each other’s bedrooms—which, coupled with the collective trauma of a global pandemic, makes pretension feel a little out of place. Rather than returning to the larger-than-life glamour of circa-2019 Instagram, brands can lean into the warmer, quirkier energy of today’s influencer community by launching campaigns that invite content creators to show off their true colors, like #SavageXIRL.
  • Embrace creativity
    As social media moves away from filtered, flawless aesthetics, content creators are increasingly eager to celebrate their individuality through artistic self-expression. When partnering with influencers, brands should take care not to stifle their advocates’ inspiration with strict content guidelines. By granting influencers creative agency over their work and allowing them to take risks, brands stand to benefit from content that showcases the full range of their fans’ abilities.
  • Keep an eye out for emerging trends
    Conversation on social media moves quickly, and trends can emerge overnight. Being the first to win over a new subculture (like e-girls) can pay off immensely as niche aesthetics and interests become mainstream. By staying plugged into the online communities that matter to your brand, and quickly responding to emerging movements, you can ensure that your brand’s message remains relevant.
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