It looks like Benefit Cosmetics is surpassing Anastasia as the top spot in the brow category, thanks to social media and a slew of new products. The LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton-owned brand is getting a bang for its buck this year with a collection of eyebrow-centric products that came out earlier in June — and industry estimates project this range alone could soon become a multi-hundred-million-dollar business.
The success of this launch nailed down the new order: digital and social media drive launches. A digital influencer event held in Las Vegas this spring started to generate buzz six weeks before any product even went on sale, and campaigns on both Facebook and Snapchat far surpassed industry benchmarks, according to Nicole Frusci, senior vice president, U.S. marketing, at Benefit. Also instrumental were Google search ads, a series of native and display advertising partnerships with PopSugar and Refinery29, as well cross promotion online from participating retailers, she said.
"We knew we were announcing [the launch] early with the big influencer trip, but also knew we had to sustain excitement and buzz knowing that we weren't going to have the collection for sale until late June. That's a really long time to keep people excited, especially in a time when people want instant gratification," Frusci said, noting that 90 influencers from more than 20 markets published 848 posts between May 13 and June 24 — garnering a total of 387 million impressions during this period. For her, sustaining that momentum through the summer and fall, and now as the brand enters the holiday season, is paramount.
Frusci declined to give sales figures to date or projections for the new eyebrow offering, which includes nine core products, but a source with knowledge of the company said Benefit is on track to surpass the target of $100 million in retail sales in the first six months, with the potential to reach nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in sales during its first year. The brand's brow category is said to be growing 30 to 40 percent year over year and is carried at Sephora, Ulta Beauty, select Macy's, Benefit's own boutiques and its e-commerce site at benefitcosmetics.com.
Frusci said Benefit, which has 1,850 brow bars and 4,000 aestheticians worldwide in 39 markets, took an existing five-product assortment and gave it a reboot. Two items — Speed Brow and Instant Brow pencil — were retired, another three were repackaged and reformulated and six new products were introduced. They include: Browvo, a $28 conditioning eyebrow primer; Goof Proof Eyebrow Pencil, a $24 "easy" brow-filling and shaping pencil; Precisely, My Brow Eyebrow Pencil, a $24 ultra-fine defining pencil; Ka-Brow Eyebrow Cream-gel Color, a $24 cream-gel brow color with a brush; Ready, Set, Brow Clear Brow gel, a $24 invisible shaping and setting gel for brows, and 3-D Browtones Eyebrow Enhancer, a $24 wand that gives subtle brow-enhancing highlights.
While Benefit's success here could be attributed to its multipronged launch strategy that combined paid digital ads, social media, influencers, in-store partnerships and traditional print ads — timing can't be ignored. Brows are hotter than ever — and the more prominent the better.
The company quoted NPD Group figures, which named Benefit the number-one brow brand worldwide from July through September of this year (based on estimated total global prestige brow product retail sales). NPD also reported earlier this month that brows and lips were among the fastest-growing makeup categories during the third quarter of this year. Brow related items saw a 37 percent bump in sales, driven by innovation.
Digital research firm L2 released a report in early November, "Brow Wars: The Battle for Market Share in an Emerging Category," that crowned Benefit and Anastasia Beverly Hills as the market leaders online in this fast growing category. Benefit is currently the most searched brand for eyebrow related inquiries on both Sephora and Ulta's web sites, according to L2.
But when asked which initiative yielded the biggest return on investment, Frusci was quick to point to the Snapchat and the Sponsored Lenses that were available to users during the day of launch.
The brand reportedly spent about half a million dollars on its efforts with the ephemeral messaging platform, which included Chain Geofilters in addition to the Sponsored Lenses, where a wand appeared to "magically transform" a user's eyebrows. Results from a Millward Brown Lift Study showed that the campaign had 78 million impressions.
In 24 hours, the overall campaign got 36 million views, and users played with the Lenses 38 million times, spending an average of 26 seconds engaging with the product, according to Snapchat. Additionally, the partnership generated an 18-point lift in brand favorability — 4.3 times higher than the benchmark — as well as an 18 percent lift in purchase intent, which is seven times greater than the mobile norm.
Frusci also spoke to a "pulsed" Facebook approach started with a brow referral program in early June that gave access to three of the new products to fans who referred friends to benefitcosmetics.com. Tens of thousands of units intended for a 10-day initiative ran out in just three days.
The next phase, a four-week brow campaign that kicked off on June 24, drove a 10-point lift in purchase intent for Benefit, said Karin Tracy, Facebook's head of industry, beauty, luxury and retail (this number is reportedly 10 times the average lift of one point).
The campaign included two eyebrow transformation videos and then retargeted video viewers using six different mixed media carousels. The carousels were tailored to the target demographic from the type of model (age) to brow-related issues, said Tracy, who noted that building brand awareness — and not driving users to the e-commerce site — was the goal of the campaign. But despite this, traffic to benefitcosmetics.com was three times higher in July than it had been all year, Frusci said.