In the past year, we’ve all navigated massive changes in many aspects of our lives — how we work, how we shop, how we socialise. Even as businesses reopen in many parts of the world and people swap masks for makeup, 2021 continues to be a time of transition, with the rules of post-pandemic life still taking shape. 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-p
e-pandemic influencer posts was replaced by emphasising 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 four 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 Rihanna is the reigning queen of underwear with her Savage x Fenty line. Following steady momentum, the label boasted an explosive 153 per cent year-over-year surge in Earned Media Value (EMV) — Tribe Dynamics’ proprietary metric for quantifying the estimated value of digital earned media — from June 2020 to May 2021, garnering $331.0 million EMV. This growth was fueled by a 69 per cent 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. 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 $4.3 million EMV throughout the month (in comparison, Prada accrued $1.7 million 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. In line with the brand’s emphasis on body positivity and self-acceptance, it 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 (@bella.ramos) routinely flaunting the brand’s lingerie in flirty at-home posts. Altogether, mentions of #SavageXIRL garnered $3.9 million EMV from June 2020 to May 2021, more than doubling its $1.7 million 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 $61.9 million EMV, a 99 per cent year-over-year increase, while its community of 3.0k influencers marked a 94 per cent YoY expansion. The secret to the brand’s success? Strong relationships with content creators who used makeup less for glamour and more for avant-garde self-expression. Take the brand’s top EMV-driving influencer, makeup artist Linda Hallberg (@lindahallberg), who often finishes her vibrant cut-creases with 3D rhinestones and even artificial flowers. Hallberg shouted out Danessa Myricks Beauty in an impressive 119 posts from June 2020 to May 2021, generating $2.8 million 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, Hallberg 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 $4.6 million EMV via #CreativeMakeup posts from June 2020 to May 2021 — an improvement upon the hashtag’s $1.1 million 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: Insert Name Here. Bolstered by a network of 2.5k influencers, the brand powered $58.7 million EMV from June 2020 to May 2021, up 48 per cent from the previous year. Throughout the time period monitored, Insert Name Here sent wigs and extensions to popular TikTok creators, including Tatyana Joseph (@josephnica) and Avani Gregg (@avani on Instagram), 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 Valenzuela 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 No. 1 earner with $2.6 million EMV across 151 posts. Kosas blurs the line between beauty and wellness If the pandemic dampened consumer demand for makeup, the opposite was true for health and wellness products. In response to the stresses of a global crisis, influencers demonstrated a renewed enthusiasm for self-care, championing brands that promoted positive mental and physical wellbeing. No stranger to stepping across beauty categories, Kosas — known for its clean, hybrid makeup-skincare products — leaned into this shift in content creators’ preferences by introducing new, wellness-oriented items. For example, the brand’s AHA-powered Chemistry Deodorant garnered $591.4k EMV via 121 content creators from its July 2020 launch to May 2021, winning acclaim from beauty and fitness influencers alike. Following Chemistry’s success, Kosas partnered with CBD brand FLORA + BAST in October 2020 to create a CBD-infused edition of its Kosasport LipFuel lip balm. Skincare enthusiasts, including Amy Chang (@bondeavant), rallied around the soothing product, with mentions of the original and CBD LipFuels collectively generating $953.3k EMV from 156 influencers between June 2020 and May 2021. Thanks partly to the brand’s willingness to adapt to influencers’ evolving priorities, Kosas managed to significantly expand its overall earned media footprint during the time period monitored. From June to May, the brand posted $55.6 million EMV from 4.2k content creators, enjoying respective 53 per cent and 32 per cent year-over-year increases in these two metrics. 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, Insert Name Here, and Kosas, 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 more than 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 colours, such as #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 not 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 (such as e-girls), or capitalise on the latest hot trend (such as wellness), 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.