Ask any beauty buff in the U.S., and they’ll probably have heard of Glossier, a cosmetics brand that disrupted the beauty industry when it first came on the scene in 2014 as a direct-to-consumer player. Glossier’s popularity is fueled by the engagement and feedback of its millennial fanbase online, instead of celebrity endorsement, and it has set an example for other companies looking to establish authentic and lasting connections with their customer base. Now, digital native beauty is taking over Chinese consumers’ social media feeds, and many of the same ideas lie behind the brands’ viral success. But by now, most marketers know that a full-proof Chinese KOL strategy can make or break a brand, so what does this mean for a China cult beauty brand, especially when it comes to KOL marketing?
Hedone is a China cult beauty brand that everyone on Xiaohongshu and Weibo seems to be talking about. The color cosmetics brand, which launched in 2016, is known for its playful makeup collections, cute and cheeky packaging, and powerful campaign video, “The Grand Hedone Hotel”, all partly because of Hedone’s careful consideration when it comes to choosing online influencers. Below, PARKLU talks to Claire Xu, Hedone’s head of growth marketing, to learn more about how just the right blend of content, community, and product creation comes together in their creation of a China cult beauty brand.
Q: What is your process of finding the right KOLs to work with? What are you looking for in a collaborator or KOL?
A: We prioritize content quality when looking for influencers to work with. From our perspective, good content should meet the specific needs of consumers—a makeup tutorial, product endorsement, or just fun. This has little to do with a blogger’s production experience but instead is about his or her insights into their viewers. Our influencer marketing team filters influencers based on our content criteria, while they keep looking for rising stars so that we can build rapport with them from the very beginning.
Q: How much do you pay attention to a KOL’s sales ability? How do you quantify/qualify how engaged a KOL is with their audience before you work with them?
A: A good product speaks for itself. We select different influencers to highlight specific selling points of products. We evaluate an influencer based on his/her content engagement score (typically calculated with the number of ‘likes’, ‘comments’, and ‘shares’) instead of the total number of their followers. Different engagement algorithms are applied to different platforms. For example, ‘share’ is weighted more on Weibo than on Xiaohongshu because users are less likely to share posts from the latter.
Q: Do you have different KOL strategies for different platforms while doing KOL Marketing in China?
A: We strategize differently as consumers’ browsing behavior varies across platforms. Take Xiaohongshu and Weibo as examples. Xiaohongshu is built on feed algorithm. Most users only read upfront in their personal feeds instead of from their followed accounts. That’s why microbloggers frequently outperform celebrities on Xiaohongshu. Thus, we only work with micro or nano influencers on this platform. But like Twitter, Weibo is a place where users interact with friends or celebrities they follow. So we work with mega influencers on Weibo to reach their astronomical fan base.
Q: Once you find the right people to work with, do you product seed Hedone makeup to a wide range of influencers, or do you prefer to only work intimately with a small group of influencers on specific campaigns?
A: It depends on our product marketing strategy. For existing products, our marketing goal is to retain product awareness. So we seed them to a wide range of micro-bloggers spanning from beauty, fashion, travel, and food. When it comes to new product launches, we prefer to collaborate with specific influencers whose look and personality both reflect our China cult beauty imagery while doing KOL marketing.
Q: It seems that there are more and more D2C makeup and skincare China cult beauty brands, in addition to all of the Western / daigou brands that exist on the market. How does Hedone use social media and KOL marketing in China to really make sure their product stands out from the rest?
A: Our recipe is to instill sharing value into every product. Though it seems that the biggest social platforms are already overloaded with makeup posts, there is always explosive content. Our product managers study such content, dig out consumer preferences and incorporate sharing values into our products. Every product is designed to be posted.
Q: In the West, brands like Glossier were hailed for their ability to grow almost exclusively through popularity on social media via hype and feedback created by consumers. Is this a formula that Hedone is trying to achieve?
A: Currently, we reach almost all our target audiences via social media because they get information about makeup on social media and make purchases online. It is possible that we might transition to a brick-and-mortar business one day—as long as our consumers revert to offline retail. What remains constant is that we always take consumer needs as our true north.
Q: What do you think is important to the Hedone consumer when it comes to KOL marketing in China?
A: Authenticity, usefulness, and fun.
Q: Is it important to Hedone to create a community of consumers who build the China cult beauty brand?
A: Yes, we see community building as a crucial part of our brand strategy. Now, we are running a very small network of our seed users and did repost content from some of them. HEDONE targets advanced users at the beginning, so these early adopters are very good at making fantastic looks. There is a conversation going on between these users and us on a daily basis—topics are not limited to makeup, but fashion, school, relationships—literally everything.
As the HEDONE network has become part of their everyday lives, these users feel extremely connected to our brand. They voluntarily spend a lot of time doing amazing looks with HEDONE products and post selfies on social media. We found their content more attractive than some of the content we paid for. Good content entails producers’ dedication. This is where we can leverage our consumers’ obsession to drive value beyond sales.
Q: What are some of the challenges you face when it comes to working with beauty KOLs and influencers?
A: The biggest challenge we once faced was that our products could not stand out from our competitors. As is mentioned above, we prioritize product innovation in our China cult beauty brand strategy, while social media marketing improves our understanding of consumers. It’s our belief that if we could reimagine the beauty experience one day, the last challenge we’d face is product homogeneity.
Q: Can you tell me more about your video content? Do you work with widely-known actors or KOLs in China?
A: We produce all of our video content in house. We once co-created video with mega influencers to leverage their huge fan base but decided not to do so anymore. Often times, brands buy expensive media only to push unappealing content to millions of people. But the truth is, to build a China cult beauty brand, content deserves more investment (not necessarily monetary) than media. Great content itself drives wide attention.