Inside the revamp of Sephora Collection’s influencer strategy

As influencer marketing proliferates, Sephora is looking to get better returns on the partnerships it stakes out for its in-house line, Sephora Collection — which includes everything from skin care to makeup brushes, priced from $5 to $445.

A little over a year and a half ago, Sephora decided to revamp its strategy to focus more on longer-term relationships. In partnership with the content marketing company, StyleHaul, which helped provide influencer data, the retailer developed a tiered strategy that includes in-house makeup artist Helen Phillips, a select group of brand ambassadors and a larger pool of micro-influencers. The program will refresh with new faces every year.

“Developing [this kind of] partnership unlocks a lot more opportunities for us to be authentic and brings a level of continuity,” said Deborah Yeh, the company’s senior vice president of marketing and brand.

Sephora ambassador Kyrah Stewart promoting the brand’s lipstick on Instagram

Previously, the brand worked with influencers on a short-term, intermittent basis, usually highlighting one specific campaign or product launch. But that route lacked longevity and felt less genuine, according to Yeh.

Philips, who Yeh says serves as “an advisory voice,” has been the brand’s longtime makeup artist. And Sephora Collection now also enlists a number of paid brand ambassadors to promote its products each year. Fashion brands like Alala and Stone & Strand have adopted similar strategies in recent months, and industry sources believe that these influencer rosters will become more commonplace in the coming year.

In its second year, Sephora’s brand ambassador program has already grown: To kick off the initiative last year, it worked with only four influencers. This year, it’s selected 10 beauty bloggers to represent the brand, including Olivia Jade, Kyrah Stewart and Amy Lee of Vagabond Youth.

These ambassadors will be regularly invited to Sephora’s corporate headquarters for tours and information sessions, and will have opportunities to brainstorm with the product development team, with the hopes that it will help them feel more enmeshed with the brand.

But the program isn’t just about forging stronger bonds. Yeh hopes that, by playing a larger role in the lives of these influencers, the resulting content will be “more meaningful” and, with more voices on board, more diverse.

Sephora ambassador Faye Claire promoting the brand’s lipsticks on YouTube

The core group of brand ambassadors is complemented by a group of micro-influencers, like model Jess Megan (32,400 followers on Instagram) and YouTube star Shahd Batal (150,000 followers on Instagram). Although Sephora wouldn’t disclose how many influencers are in that group, Yeh said that, like the ambassadors, more were added this year.

From her perspective, the micro-influencers help to ensure that all consumers “see a bit of themselves [in the people we work with],” but, based on follower counts and lifestyle alone, it’s hard to differentiate between them and the other ambassadors. Responsibilities and payment, however, do vary, with Yeh only saying that some receive money while others are gifted.

When it comes to the brand’s criteria for these influencers, it’s focused primarily on millennials who are just beginning to play with beauty, said Yeh. Sephora also relies on StyleHaul’s data to analyze things like cross-channel reach and whether or not someone’s expertise is a certain beauty segment (like, say, hair or skin care).

For 2018, the brand is capitalizing further on the new strategy to promote its latest lipstick launch, a line of 40 different shades called #LIPSTORIES that debuted in mid-December. Like the lipsticks themselves, which are divided by four into 10 different themes, the brand ambassadors will be creating themed content every month or so to celebrate the line. First up was “Holidaze,” and now, they’re in the middle of the “Global Citizen” theme, which is centered on travel. The content — a mix of videos and imagery — lives on each influencer’s Instagram and YouTube accounts, and is occasionally reposted on Sephora Collection’s own channels.

Sephora ambassador Syria Jade at the #LIPSTORIES launch party

“Each of them is telling a larger story — in this case, travel — rather than just focusing on a product reveal,” said Yeh of the project. “More than anything, we want it to feel authentic to their voice.”

The new influencer strategy is part of a larger Sephora Collection rebrand that kicked off in 2016. Having been around since 1998, when the first Sephora store opened in the U.S. in New York’s Soho, the brand felt it was time for a refresh.

“We felt we didn’t have a clear enough point of view, which usually leads to better ideas,” said Yeh.

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