Do Popular Social-Media Personalities Really Help Sell Products?

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In today’s tech-driven world, there are dozens of marketing channels a brand can pursue in order to funnel sales. Between Youtube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, SEO, Pinterest, and LinkedIn, any company can make its internet presence known and thereby elevate the brand’s profile and boost product recognition. However, one of the quickest ways to launch a product is to put it in the hands of someone who is already a brand themselves – someone like Kendall Jenner.

For models like Jenner, Cara Delevingne, and Gigi Hadid, Instagram and Snapchat are more than just apps for showcasing selfies to the world; they are lucrative money-making platforms that are helping bankroll their extravagant lifestyles. As it stands, Jenner is the highest-ranking model on social media, with 55.3 million followers, while Delevingne is in second with 29.2 million followers. Hadid resides in third with 16.7 million followers and counting. These savvy business women learned early how to leverage their social-media presence into lucrative partnerships with luxury brands, and their strategies have all but redefined how major brands market to a new generation of consumers. It has been reported that, when Jenner, Delevigne, or Hadid post about a product or brand on their Instagram or Snapchat accounts, they are paid between $125,000 and $300,000.

When a brand pays Jenner $125,000 to post a picture of herself utilizing its product, it is hoping to engage consumers who view Jenner as an aspirational figure. However, when she is tasked with selling her glamorous lifestyle to the masses, are people buying in or just clicking “like”? Social-media engagement is very confusing territory for most brands to navigate. It is a relatively new field of marketing, with dozens of metrics that must be measured and assessed on a regular basis. Furthermore, it is very difficult for brands to track a social-media post to an actual point of sale. For most millennials, engagement with a brand doesn’t go much further than re-posting an Instagram post.

Let me give you an example: I consider myself to be an actively engaged fan of Gucci. I am obsessed with what Alessandro Michele has done at the brand, because it has proven to be such a unique move in the fashion industry. I feel like I “get” what he’s doing and, furthermore, I appreciate the new Gucci aesthetic for what it is. I can spot this season’s Gucci from a mile away, and I check in on all of the brand’s activity on social media on a near-daily basis (I especially love how it has been using Snapchat). For all intents and purposes, I am the perfect marketing target. I know the brand, I know the DNA, I know its history, and I anticipate its future. However, when it comes to buying into that hip, Wes Anderson world that Michele has so carefully crafted, I simply cannot justify purchasing Gucci products.

Gigi Hadid Kendall Jenner Jourdan Dunn Balmain
Photo: Courtesy of REX

This leads to a question that many in the industry have been wringing their hands over: Does social-media engagement really help sell products?

Although Calvin Klein is currently undergoing another change in direction thanks to a new President and the departure of Francisco Costa and Itallo Zuchelli, the brand’s marketing strategies last year involving Justin Bieber and Jenner make it an interesting case study. Over the past five years, Calvin Klein had been hemorrhaging money, but a new tactic that involved provocative ads with major stars and the popular hashtag #mycalvins righted the course. In what was a clear example of social-media engagement influencing sales, WWD reported, “The Calvin Klein North America men’s underwear business gained 300 basis points of market share in the first quarter” – the same quarter that Bieber first appeared in Calvin Klein ads. Meanwhile, Estée Lauder tapped Jenner to be the new face of the brand and bring in a new generation of shoppers. Like Calvin Klein, its strategy worked. As soon as Jenner’s ad hit, Estée Lauder saw 50,000 new followers flood its Instagram the same day. A few quarters later, the sales results were in: the brand saw a 200 basis-point increase in operating margins and net earnings for the quarter grew by 28%.

Some brands, like Balmain, have gone beyond leveraging the social-media powers of the beautiful and famous to create an entire squad of women who are more than genetically equipped to sell the brand’s body-conscious clothes. Over a billion social-media impressions were created by the Balmain x H&M collaboration, which featured #BalmainSquad members Jenner, Hadid, Jourdan Dunn, and many others hawking Olivier Rousteing’s glamorous wares. Although H&M doesn’t report sales figures, it did reveal that the Balmain x H&M collaboration was the most successful in its history.

As the fashion industry continues to explore new avenues of commerce and marketing, many brands are now repositioning their strategies. There is clear indication that increased social-media engagement by stars like Jenner and Delevingne directly benefits sales, which means that companies that are failing to embrace all of the opportunities presented by platforms like Snapchat and Instagram – and the women who use them best – will either need to make rapid adjustments or say goodbye to millions of dollars in potential sales.

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