Revlon transformed cosmetics marketing in the 1970s and 1980s, but it’s lagged behind upstart digital brands like Glossier in today’s influencer marketing competition. The lesson for all businesses is that you can’t count on past successes carrying you successfully into the future.

Brigitte Majewski, vice president and research director, Forrester Research

Cosmetic giant Revlon is exploring the sale of all or some of its business amid lackluster sales and a crushing debt of $3 billion. The iconic company’s 2016 acquisition of brand Elizabeth Arden apparently isn’t rescuing it from the Sephoras and direct-to-consumer businesses (DTCs) of the world.

Revlon’s tale is cautionary for leaders in all industries: Don’t rest on your laurels (or, in this case, your lashes).

A Pioneer In Influencer Marketing

An R&D innovator that saw its first successes with revamped nail polish formulas, Revlon also revolutionized cosmetics marketing when it hired famed Richard Avedon to photograph first brand ambassador Lauren Hutton in 1973.

Leading brands are skipping big-reach influencers for those with smaller followings but more authenticity.

In the ‘80s, Revlon then pioneered a new era of influencer by stoking the phenomenon of the “supermodel,” making the mass-adored faces of Iman and Cindy Crawford inseparable from the Revlon brand. These instantly recognizable supermodels had their aura only enhanced by Revlon’s incredibly sized contracts. Revlon mastered riding the culturally relevant for its own marketing purposes.

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A New Era Of Influencer Marketing Takes Revlon By Surprise

That MO worked for years, making it ironic that the company was slow to recognize and adapt to the next influencer era—one defined by self-made experts who build followings (and brand relationships) on social foundations. This era made Kylie Jenner a billionaire in three years.

Revlon trialed influencer campaigns relatively recently. Late to the game means late to insights and optimizations. And Revlon’s size and complexity certainly don’t help it adapt quickly to what it’s hearing from fans and influencers the way DTC cult brand Glossier does when it pivots product and packaging based on community feedback. The influencer game changed, but Revlon did not change with it fast enough.

Change Continues, Making Adaptability And Agility Keys To Success

Even as you read this, influencer marketing is changing again. Our latest research shows that leading brands are skipping big-reach influencers for those with smaller followings but more authenticity. Some even have no followers. Some are not even human, like Lil Miquela. Brands use influencer marketing systems to find, vet, contract, use, amplify, and monitor pools of influencers for marketing purposes across the whole customer lifecycle.

Revlon’s situation is complex, and the company’s slower adoption of modern influencer marketing tactics is likely one of many challenges contributing to its current struggles. But its influencer strategy signals a failure to keep pace with consumers, to recognize new trends, to change existing processes.

The lesson learned: While remaining unchanged works for Cindy Crawford, it does not for business—adaptability and agility do.

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Forrester Research specializes in market research and consulting relating to technology.

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