Years in beauty industry: 3
When I met Alex Cummins at Illamasqua’s HQ recently, it was clear to me that she lived and breathed the brand. No wonder really, seeing as she’s been with the company since its humble beginnings. Alex talks to Your Beauty Industry about being at the forefront of social media since 2008 and how this has contributed to the brand’s huge success in such a short period of time.
Illamasqua launched in 2008 and already it's achieved cult status. How has this been achieved?
Illamasqua is an independently owned beauty brand in a sea of massive conglomerates with numerous beauty brands under their umbrellas, so I think we were always going to come in with a fresh approach, because we are an independent brand. Illamasqua’s also a British brand, and when we launched in November 2008 we were actually the only British beauty brand in Selfridges, so that gave us a good point of difference.
When we first approached Selfridges we went to them with a concept – we didn’t even go to them with products! We said to them ‘we’re creating a brand that’s going to be marketed in a different way, it’s going to be an emotional brand that wants to connect with its customers on a deeper, more profound level’. I think that’s what they bought into – they hadn’t even tried the products when they gave us a £1million site in Selfridges. They took a massive risk. From the beginning it was always clear that we had a strong identity and a good idea.
The mentality of the brand challenged different ways of thinking in our industry - social media being one element of this. We did a lot of research into how women wear make up, how they identify with it, why there wasn’t any consistent brand loyalty in make up, which you would usually find in clothes, perfume and so on.
Two groups of people were found: the Night Time Divas; the girls who don’t wear any make up during the day, but when they go out during the night that’s when the lipstick comes out, the lashes, etc. And then you have your Dare to be Different; the sub-cultures who will always wear strong make up and won’t care what anyone thinks – they wear their identity on their sleeves. Those were the two groups of people that we identified to create make up that would appeal to them.
We got [make up artist] Alex Box on board as Creative Director, and I think she was a great starting point for the brand – she’s already been in the industry for 10 years, so we had her weight to help us start. Her type of look isn’t about a subtle smoky eye and a nude lip – it was about being a bit mental. Showing make up as an art form.
"I got my job through the medium of blog, which is pretty cool!"You’ve been with Illamasqua since the beginning – tell me about the journey.
I joined 3 weeks after they launched. I first heard about Illamasqua in Grazia magazine and I went up to London for the launch. It blew my mind - Selfridges had laid down a black carpet instead of a red carpet and there were alter-ego ballerinas – kind of like Black Swan – who were dancing around; there was so much fanfare you couldn’t help but be completely engrossed in it. And then when I tried the products I was like ‘wow!’ It was such great stuff. The make up artists were so extravagantly dressed – it’s like a culture that you want to be a part of.
I went home and wrote a blog post about it (I started my blog in 2007). At the top of my blog it said ‘Just graduated from university, looking for a job’. The MD of Illamasqua came across my post through a Google Alert and he got in contact to offer me an internship. So I got my job through the medium of blog, which is pretty cool!
We went from a little pokey office in Wardour Street to an office with 2 floors in Amwell Street, London with a head office of about 30 people, plus 5 people in our head office in Australia, and over 100 make up artists worldwide. In 2 and a half years, that’s pretty astounding.
"We were working with beauty bloggers and YouTubers from February 2009 - long before it was cool and fashionable"Illamasqua went Global a lot faster than anyone would have predicted. I think the online revolution has definitely had a huge impact on that. We were working with beauty bloggers and YouTubers from February 2009 - long before it was cool and fashionable.
How did you know about the blogging world to do that?
Well I was a blogger; I was from that world, I was already commenting on other people’s blogs. I had a sudden brainwave; I was in the office about 3 weeks after starting and I was reading a make up blog – Temptalia – and she said something about this new body oil that had come out. Then on my lunch break I went straight to Space NK and bought it and on my way back I suddenly thought ‘hmmmmm, that’s powerful’! I didn’t even question it; I just went out and bought it.
I thought that honest blogger reviews were genius so I sent off a few Illamasqua samples to some beauty bloggers and all the reviews started coming back really positive. Suddenly we were getting all this extra traffic to our website and it kept crashing. After being featured on Temptalia’s blog there was such a surge of interest and it prompted Sephora to get in touch with us – just 5 months after we launched – they said ‘we have to have you in our store’.
I couldn’t believe it. I had done a fashion marketing course but no-one had ever said bloggers would be the next big thing. I don’t think anyone knew what social media would become. Even now to a certain extent, this isn’t it. Social media is just going to get bigger. Estee Lauder only joined Twitter last month. Prada didn’t have a website until 2007. You can’t yet shop on Morrisons online and Asda only set up an online service last year - it blows my mind how slow some of the big corporations have been.
You manage Illamasqua’s digital marketing – what does this entail and how do stay on top of the continual developments in social media?
My sole job is social media; I am embedded in the internet all day. I do small things such as Twitter and Facebook updates, and then I deal with bigger things such as organising international blogger events. I work very closely with the website development agency as well. All social media platforms are intangibly linked; Twitter feeds off of Facebook, Facebook feeds off the blog, the blog feeds off of other bloggers, bloggers feed off other bloggers... and before you know it, it’s gone viral.
You have a huge Facebook and Twitter following – how do you keep your fans interested?
We’ve never used Facebook or Twitter to solely push our products; it’s always been more content-driven than that. I go out and source content where perhaps most brands wouldn’t, for instance we interviewed Boy George when we were writing about the New Romantics trend. It’s about providing ways for people to interact with our brand rather than just pushing product. Then on the occasions when we do talk about our products, people continue to interact with us as they would on our other content.
All our collections have a very strong narrative and the more narrative you give to a collection, the more you have to talk about. With the Toxic Nature collection we had interviews with the stylist, the hairdresser, the nail artist, Alex Box, plus backstage film and even the making of the backstage film! Plus we had the official film and images, we created a ‘how-to’ to recreate the look... rather than just creating static images we produce all this content that generates more and more interaction.
We also do competitions, giveaways, how-to’s, back stage catwalk interviews and we produce a lot of films.
What do you think are the most exciting things happening in digital marketing?
The speed that everything happens at is probably the most exciting aspect of digital. It’s gone from not a lot in 2008 to being at the top of everyone’s marketing agenda now. Every big beauty brand holds blogger events. What I think is really exciting is that it is probably the first media type that small brands have a shot at. We don’t have £50k to put an ad in Vogue, we don’t have the right contacts with TV execs that we can wine and dine to get something on TV, so it’s about being clever and a bit more strategic with social media.
We don’t make outrageous claims with our products and that’s what’s really exciting about social media as well; the brands that are hiding behind marketing claims, or who are charging extortionate prices for products that don’t really work are going to get found out through the freedom of speech on social media. In a way I think that’s what the industry needs.
There is also new technology called Aurasma [an augmented reality app] that I’m really excited about; you hold your phone over a static image in a newspaper or something and it becomes a video of the footage. So for instance when Rupert Murdoch recently got a cream pie thrown in his face, a photo of this in a newspaper would convert into a video of the full footage. I think Aurasma’s going to be massive.
If you'd like to learn more abou how social media can help your business, visit my website at www.stylewithsubstance.co.uk or email at firstname.lastname@example.org