From content creators to brand creators: What is the future of digital influencers?
From The Blond Salad to Chiara Ferragni Collection: the way to success
More than 26 million: Chiara Ferragni’s followers on Instagram in 2022, almost 8 times more than in 2015. The Milanese blogger launched The Blonde Salad in 2009, a fashion blog dedicated to her lifestyle with outfits, travel shots and inspirational content. She quickly found her audience: 30,000 visitors a day (L’Express Styles, 2015) after one month and more than one million less than two years after its launch (Fashion Network, 2021). For several years, Chiara Ferragni cultivated her personal branding through her blog but also on social media. After Flickr, she joined Instagram two years after its launch in 2012 and multiplied her partnerships through sponsored content.
The Blonde Salad blog quickly evolved into a global lifestyle magazine and e-shop with exclusive and limited edition co-branded pieces with brands such as Levi’s, Iro and Giuseppe Zanotti (Business Of Fashion, 2016). This strategy was so innovative that the Harvard Business Review published a study about it in 2015. Having become a real platform for lifestyle brands including fashion and beauty, Chiara Ferragni also partners with her favorite brands to create capsule collections: Superga, Steve Madden, Lancôme, Ladurée, Tiffany & Co … Even more, she transformed her image into a fashion brand by launching Chiara Ferragni Collection in 2013, a line of shoes that is now a more global fashion brand including various products ranges: swimwear, kidswear, accessories, jewelry and makeup.
Chiara Ferragni is now a multi-hatted influencer: from fashion blogger to Instagram content creator and founder of her eponymous brand, she is also part of the board of directors of Tod’s since mid 2021. She is a media figure who regularly makes the cover of fashion magazines (Vogue, Vanity Fair, Harper’s Bazaar, …) and has been named several times by Business Of Fashion (500 BoF 2013 – The People Shaping the Global Fashion Industry), Forbes (30 under 30 2016 – 2017, Top Fashion Influencer 2017) to highlight her influence in the lifestyle sector. According to UK-based agency Hopper HQ, Chiara Ferragni is also the highest paid fashion influencer on Instagram after Bella Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski, with an average of $82,100 per Instagram publication. Although we know that estimates are never 100% accurate, this estimation confirms Chiara Ferragni’s influence in the fashion industry.
The French influencer’s lifestyle brand’s landscape
There are many examples of lifestyle content creators becoming brand creators in France. The most famous are probably Rouje by Jeanne Damas or Musier Paris founded by Anne Laure Mais (Adenorah). Recently, Sabina Socol and Zoé Bassetto also launched their ready-to-wear brands, respectively Pujka Paris and Contrejour Paris. To mention influencers who have made a name for themselves by creating content on Instagram (and not through a previous blog), we can also mention Jaspe by Diane Perreau or Pauème Edition by Pauline Torres and Maison Dorée Jewelry by Chloé Bleinc.
Even more recently, two new beauty brands have appeared on Instagram: Voilà Beauté launched in September 2021 by Noholita and Yolaine Paris, launched in October 2021 by Camille Yolaine. Some male lifestyle influencers are also trying the experiment, like Nicolas Simoes with his jewelry brand Simoē Paris launched in October 2021.
More and more content creators with strong personal branding are turning their hobby into a full-time entrepreneurial project and capitalizing on their digital community to develop their image into a real brand. A winning model that seems to be attractive to a large number of consumers, ready to support their favorite content creator.
Our research resulted in a list of 47 brands launched by French lifestyle content creators between January 2016 and November 2021, of which 6 brands have not been active for several months or have ceased all activities. Among these, different product areas were identified such as fashion (56% of the brands), accessories and jewelry (20%), beauty including skincare, hair care and make-up (11%) and finally, vintage curation brands (13%).
Although the topic is relevant, we have excluded vintage brands from our analysis and top lists, because it reflects more the rise of the second-hand market and online thrift stores than the opportunity for lifestyle content creators to bring new products to market. Our methodology* allows us to present a list of 29 brands as a database for analysis, made up of 3 product categories: fashion, jewelry and beauty.
1 – Fashion, the favorite segment for content creators to launch their brand
We can’t ignore that the women’s ready-to-wear segment is already very competitive, unlike the other segments where only one or two brands are currently present. Although they do not all have the same level of commitment, there is a desire to highlight certain values such as traceability, French or European manufacturing, materials and products sustainability, or even production in reasonable quantities.
From the most artisanal to the most commercial, more than half of the fashion brands have a Parisian origin that they claim directly in their name (Rouje Paris, Musier Paris, RECC Paris, Parisienne et Alors, NHLT Paris, Insima Paris, Pujka Paris, Syrah Paris, etc). More than ever, Paris is the capital of fashion (influencer’s brands)!
2 – Beauty, a growing sector where being committed is key
In 2022, the beauty segment is expected to grow. The fashion industry is becoming too competitive and there is a multiplication of beauty experts ready to help influencers to launch their brand. Thibault Fougeras, president and founder of Francelab, says that “influencers are reshaping the global beauty landscape” and that “fast beauty is the new paradigm” (Francelab, n.d). A trend that the French market seems to escape! Influencers offer “Made In France”, “Made In Italy” or “Organic” products with “Vegan”, “Cruelty Free” commitments in a price range that is not really like fast beauty. After dropshipping scandals and suspicions like the one with Maeva Ghennam beauty brand, consumers definitely stand out for transparency and quality.
3 – Jewelry, a sector where innovation is a real challenge for content creators
There are a few jewelry brands in France created by French lifestyle influencers. If some players like Kitesy Martin and Moune Paris seem to present very different concepts and a recognizable artistic direction, we notice that the art direction of the other brands like Maison Dorée, Glacé Studio and Klose have some similar aspects, probably because these brands all have the similar target. Indeed, this is a sector in which it is more difficult to innovate!
How to go from content creator to brand creator?
Being an influencer is not enough to launch a successful brand. They must also 1) have a well-established universe/identity ; 2) be able to couple community notoriety and engagement ; 3) have the required skills in product launch or be surrounded with professionals and experts. In fact, the majority of them need support, as Raphaël Simacourbe, who launched his brand Insima Paris in 2018 thanks to So-Lab, explains an interview:
“I’ve always wanted to launch an accessories or clothing brand, but I didn’t have the expertise or the skills for it. I had tried the experiment with T-shirts when I was younger and I quickly realized that it wasn’t something you could improvise,” (Fashion Network, 2018).
This is why Dorothée Rubinski and Axelle Aimée, with 20 years of experience in the textile-clothing sector, founded IT Collection: a “team of fashion and image experts who work on the development of influencer brands” (Journal du Textile, 2020). These include Musier Paris, the brand of Anne-Laure Mais or RECC Paris, the brand of Caroline Receveur and Parisienne et Alors, the brand of Laury Thilleman. Three ready-to-wear brands that are among the Top 10 most followed French lifestyle influencers brands on Instagram. These “were profitable from the very first financial year”, explain the two co-founders of the IT Collection company, in the Journal du Textile interview mentioned earlier.
Top 10 most followed French lifestyle influencer brands on Instagram
To meet the influencers’ need to be accompanied to launch their own brand, there are currently a few players on the French market. When it comes to fashion, IT Collection is the leader and well known actor specialized in supporting female influencers who want to launch their textile-clothing brand. We also know about Francelab, the Marie Claire Beauté group’s incubator for beauty brands. A company launched in 2015 that “creates and manufactures customized beauty brands and products across the categories of skincare, make-up, hair, home fragrance, and food supplements” (Francelab, n.d). It supports companies in their diversification or launch, but also influencers like Nabilla (Nabilla Beauty) and Jeanne Damas (Rouje Beauté). Some new players are coming into the market such as Shimmers who are able to support influencers in launching their brands end to end (from branding strategy, product assortment and development to retail operations while supporting the financing of the project).
However, many influencers are launching their own brand without the help of such compagnies and experts, for the following reasons:
- They were able to find the necessary help in their network ;
- They want to control the whole production chain and communicate transparently to their community about the ateliers ;
- They do not wish to be subjected to the pressure of large volumes that can result from the presence of investors, expecting almost immediate results.
The main keys success for influencer brands in the French market
1 – Product: short range and quality first
Lifestyle influencers (i.e content creators) as we have studied them must capitalize on a short range of products, at least for the launch. Firstly, this allows them to test & learn in order to consider the next steps. Secondly, it allows them to concentrate their resources and investments on a reduced number of products to ensure their effectiveness and promotion to the audience.
After the controversy linked to dropshipping, influencers must regain the trust of consumers and by proposing products with good value for money, or high quality products that are innovative in their approach (format, material, texture, cut, …) like Yolaine Paris did by reinventing lipstick as a painting tube or Cruel Pancake did by involving NFTs in the sales strategy, completely in line with his business man identity.
Also, the products must be designed for the influencer’s community and not for him/herself: the buying power and tastes of the influencer are not necessarily the same as those of his/her community. Involving and questioning their audience to find out their expectations is also a factor that ensures a significant match between the community’s expectations and the product(s) presented. Something that Diane Perreau knew very well how to do for her Made In France fashion brand Jaspe.
To be recognisable and identifiable, the influencer’s universe must be transcribed through a coherent artistic direction and a brand name identifiable by their community. A statement that can be nuanced when we see the success of Musier Paris and Rouje Paris, for which the clientele has largely exceeded the audience of its founders: 45% of Rouje’s Instagram audience comes from the community of its founder Jeanne Damas against only 27% of the community of Anne Laure Mais for the brand Musier Paris (Campaygn, Novembre 2021).
Finally, the influencer’s vision and values must be consistent with those that the brand will promote. Consumers today expect brands (but also influencers) to be committed and to produce in a reasoned manner (LSA Conso, 2020).
2 – Communication: social media storytelling and PR
“These brands all have their own stories, but what they have in common is that they use Instagram as their platform of choice”, (FranceInfo, 2021) said Clara Cornet, head of fashion and beauty partnerships for Instagram in Southern Europe. Our competitive mapping based on the global engagement rate of brands and the size of the community allows us to highlight several points:
Firstly, it seems important to explain that the more the brand has followers, the more the engagement rate tends to decrease. This is not necessarily due to a lack of engagement of the community but a consequence of Instagram’s algorithmic. In fact, the analysis of a brand’s success cannot be based uniquely on this type of competitive mapping referring to Instagram statistics. A rule that escapes some brands like Jaspe by Diane Perreau and Cruel Pancake by Hugo Philip, two brands known for their closeness to their digital community. In both cases, they are at the heart of the brand’s communication. They talk a lot about their brand’s backstages on their personal accounts and share their entrepreneurial adventure as founders.
Secondly, while it is not uncommon to observe brands with an engagement rate of less than 1%, in the case of influencer’s brands, engagement seems to be more important. In our study, more than 2/3 of the brands have an engagement rate higher than 1%.
To continue, the place of the brand founder in the overall communication of the brand seems to be an important point. This helps to humanize the message and make it more sincere. While founders need to embody their products, many content creators admit to not investing in influencer marketing for their brand.
Finally, the support of the online & offline press is still a key success for making one’s brand known to as many people as possible. The Rouje brand, for example, is regularly quoted in French and even international magazines, which gives it an undeniable and lasting reputation.
3 – Distribution and customer service: online distribution supported by the opening of pop-up stores and corners at retailers
The distribution of influencer’s brands is somewhat similar to that of DNVBs. While some choose to be distributed only online via their e-shop to offer a more accessible price, we note that a physical distribution at premium and well-known retailers is also a guarantee of credibility. They are also devoting more and more space to Instabrands (Fashion Network, 2021) in order to continue to have a panel of brands in line with market developments. For example, Le Bon Marché distributes Yolaine Paris and Maison Dorée, Galeries Lafayette presents Parisienne et Alors, NHLT Paris and Rouje Paris, while La Samaritaine offers Thomsen Beauty. Le Printemps recently opened a floor entirely dedicated to second hand, including Olde Paris brand.
Content creators are also opening pop-up stores. This allows them to combine physical presentation, event-based collections and meetings with their community in various cities. All this while freeing themselves from the logistics constraints of a year-round shop. This also allows product exclusivity to be maintained, as it is only visible for a short time. However, influencers also tend to present limited edition collection drops which no longer follow the usual fashion brand calendar.
Key learnings to remember
First of all, the figure of the influencer is constantly evolving. Sometimes decried, sometimes praised, influencers are increasingly involved in format that go beyond social media content creation: 27-year-old Margaret Zhang – an influencer with 1.4 million followers on Instagram – was appointed editor-in-chief of Vogue China ; Chiara Ferragni, the highest paid fashion influencer on Instagram, joined the board of Italian brand Tod’s ; fast fashion brand PrettyLittleThing appointed Molly-Mae Hague as creative director. The influencer, a figure whose fame is based on a digital algorithm (Instagram in our study), manages to combine their intangible influence to serve a tangible product.
Secondly, brands need a reason to exist today, which goes beyond the product. The product must exist through values and be part of a lifestyle. Above all, the product must meet the expectations of an identified and involved public to generate long-term commitment. By creating their own brands, content creators are aligned with this.
Finally, while there is a real “risk of stifling consumers and suffocating the market with the creation of too many social network star brands” (Fashion Network, 2018), the above examples also allow us to think that the content creator is not only destined to become a brand designer. His figure evolves in the long term and is part of new dynamics.
*This study was conducted as part of a Master’s degree in Fashion and Luxury Management at the Institut Français de la Mode. There may be some omissions due to the large scope of the phenomenon being analyzed. That being said, what do we mean by a brand created by a lifestyle content creator? We are talking about digital content creators who have a larger community on Instagram than on other platforms, and who cover different topics (lifestyle). For example, we did not study Otrera Beauty, Sananas beauty brand, because her community is bigger on Youtube (3,4M followers) than on Instagram (2,5M followers). We have also chosen to exclude brands created by reality TV personalities who are still too attached to this medium, like Nabilla Beauty. We also removed inactive brands because their lack of content on Instagram distorts their performance against other players. Finally, we did not study brands with less than 5,000 followers on Instagram, to have relevant statistics on the Campaygn platform.