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    ‘We’re mandating its use’: Estée Lauder turns to TikTok marketing after reach on Instagram stalls

    When Estée Lauder’s reach on Instagram started to slow across EMEA, its marketers turned to TikTok. 

    Obviously, there’s more to it. The early success of the brand’s global TikTok account, for one. But the crux of the brand’s decision to be on TikTok came down to Instagram.

    Estée Lauder’s marketers realized that no matter how big they tried to go in terms of reaching more people on the Meta-owned social network, they were stuck talking to a limited part of its desired audience, said Lubna Mohsin, the social media and content manager for Estée Lauder. Moreover, it was the same core people in the same cohort who were being reached over and again, she continued. 

    In short, brand marketing on Instagram across EMEA had reached a saturation point for Estée Lauder. As Mohsin explained: “We needed to reach more people.”

    So she started looking for alternatives, which very quickly took her to TikTok. Mohsin and her team had already been eagerly watching how their counterparts on the global team were doing on TikTok where they had set up an account last summer. Needless to say, they had scored some early wins — enough anyway to convince the EMEA team to give marketing on TikTok a try. Its first posts ran on the global account back in the spring, and they’ve been making up for lost time ever since.

    Most recently, Estée Lauder released its “My Shade, My Story” campaign, which has been running for a little over a month. In the first two weeks alone it reached 58 million views, said Mohsin. It was a litmus test of sorts for the brand’s growing confidence in marketing on TikTok. For starters, it proved the marketers were right to focus harder and longer on the casting process, said Mohsin who wanted the campaign to span a variety of communities, from CEOs to musicians, to talk open and honestly about the reasons why they use a particular shade of foundation.

    “Last year, Estée Lauder’s presence on TikTok was staggered whereas this year we’re mandating its use because recruitment is our top objective on social media,” Mohsin told Digiday at an event hosted by her agency FanBytes. “It’s already an always-on part of the marketing plan.”

    To be clear, this doesn’t mean TikTok is an always-on part of Estée Lauder’s media plan. Its marketers aren’t spending media dollars throughout the year in the way it might do for other media channels. They are, however, marketing on the app constantly. That’s through product gifting with influencers — or when brands send free products to select influencers in the hope that they will post about them. Sometimes those posts are boosted by paid ads, other times Estée Lauder will broker deals with creators. Neither are the cornerstone of the brand’s TikTok plan. That role is reserved for organic marketing — for now. 

    “Nevertheless, all our key campaigns have an element of paid partnerships whether that’s through a squad of creators that we put together at a regional level or with locally relevant ones if we’re working in specific markets,” said Mohsin. “We don’t have an owned brand channel on TikTok in EMEA so it’s important that we have voices who share the same values as we do.”

    Times change. And while there are no current plans for an EMEA account on TikTok, if history is any guide, then chances are it will happen. It did for Instagram, where Estée Lauder now has 15 instagram profiles across 17 markets. That said, it happened over a few years — time Mohsin doesn’t feel the brand has this these days. Not when the beauty category is so fiercely competitive. Sleep on TikTok too long and there may not be any space for Estée Lauder on the app.

    “A new brand can build a brand from the ground up to be relevant to younger millennials whereas a legacy brand has to try and figure out how they do the same thing without compromising its legacy and values,” said Mohsin.

    It’s a perennial problem for any legacy brand. Reinventing itself for younger audiences. Hard as this is to do, it’s not impossible as has been proven time and again by marketers. The key is to use cultural cues to plug that legacy into current trends. In some ways, that’s easier to do on TikTok where, thanks to the personalized algorithm, people are exposed to things they’re interested in, which fosters an environment where brand advocates are going to be more attainable — at least that’s the received wisdom. 

    “TikTok saw such momentous growth through Covid, and the pandemic and continues to show that not only does it do really great brand awareness work, but it also does really great performance work for DTC,” said Jacinta Faul, managing director at Gravity Road. “So we think it’s an amazing place to start, whether you’re influencing or trying to change the minds of consumers about your brand or your proposition. And we also know that it has great value in terms of conversion, because the creators and the authenticity you get on the platform leads to sales and to performance results that can actually be tracked and measured by brands.”

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