Some social media stars have launched their own products and used their social prowess to promote their merchandise directly to shoppers while in some cases forging alliances with well-known retailers and brands. Here are lessons, positive and negative, from an analysis of three influencer-to-consumer brands.

Abby Katz, senior marketing manager, Mavrck

According to a recent study, the influencer marketing industry is projected to be worth up to $15 billion by 2022, representing a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 38 percent. Notably, the influencer marketing industry is growing at a faster rate than the direct-to-consumer industry, which Forrester forecasts to grow at a CAGR of 18 percent from 2018 to 2020.

As brands continue to find new ways to harness the full potential of influencer marketing, influencers, too, are pursuing new ways to diversify their offerings and contribute to the overall growth of the influencer economy. Throughout the past year, many influencers have successfully progressed from collaborations, to partnerships, to collections, to ultimately launching their own influencer-to-consumer (ITC) brands.

Brands can offer influencers access to their invaluable resources, business acumen, and experience to build better consumer relationships.

Below we take a look at three distinct ITC brands—each of which has become deeply disruptive within their respective industries—and identify key learnings from the successes of each. (All of the data in this article was collected by Mavrck from public sources for its “Influencer-to-Consumer Brands Index Report.)

1. Brand: Glossier

Founder: Emily Weiss
Revenue: $1.2B
Site Traffic: 1.25M
Company Size: 201 – 500 employees
Share of Voice: 3.12%
Brand Engagement: 2.20%
Brand Following: 1.8M

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Lesson Learned: Influencer insights can disrupt entire industries.

Emily Weiss is the CEO of Glossier, a beauty brand that found success and its cult-like following first as a blog, Into The Gloss, and later co-creating and selling products directly to its consumers. In 2018, the company brought in $100 million in annual revenue, marking its fourth consecutive year achieving triple-digit growth. Also in 2018, Glossier closed a Series C funding, bringing its total VC funding raised to $86 million.

How did Glossier achieve unicorn status and become deeply disruptive to the beauty industry at large?

It all started with its blog. In 2010, Weiss started her own personal blog, Into the Gloss, where she interviewed female mega-influencers from Kim Kardashian to Bobbi Brown and highlighted their daily makeup routines. Quickly, the blog became a popular destination for those interested in all things beauty. Women all across the world were going to Into the Gloss to learn about the latest skincare and makeup products, and eventually, the blog turned into a forum for them to communicate and connect with one another—sharing their favorite and least favorite products.

Weiss recognized a natural pivot into the product world, using the combined knowledge of her community to identify gaps and to create new products that women were actually seeking.

In 2014, Weiss launched Glossier. The company’s brand ethos focused on “democratic skincare,” where products are co-created and designed based on consumer feedback. This business decision was starkly different from other brands in the beauty industry at the time, since few beauty brands focused so heavily on sourcing and acting on feedback directly from fans and followers. One of the ways Glossier does this is through its Slack channel, where it invites its top 100 customers to share insights and advice for product developers.

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2. Brand: EM Cosmetics

Founder: Michelle Phan
Revenue: $1.5M
Site Traffic: 73k
Company Size: 2 – 10 employees
Share of Voice: 0.17%
Brand Engagement: 0.73%
Brand Following: 818k 

Lesson learned: Once launched, influencers’ companies must deliver on service and product promises.

While some ITC brands have achieved unicorn status, others failed to meet expectations. Upon its initial release, EM Cosmetics became a cautionary tale for influencers. Michelle Phan was the reigning beauty guru on YouTube at the time, with tens of millions of views on her most popular content and 8.8 million subscribers. Transitioning into an entrepreneurial role with her own makeup line seemed like a natural next step, especially since beauty giant L’Oréal was willing to help with distribution.

However, the products immediately fell flat with customers. EM Cosmetics was described as having cheap packaging, subpar formulas, and few, if any, of the characteristics that dedicated subscribers were hoping to see in the products. Phan’s fans and followers ultimately felt betrayed by Phan’s line because it featured so little of the feedback that they had given across social media, particularly in the comments section of her videos on YouTube.

While EM Cosmetics has since relaunched and reportedly is generating $1.5 million in annual revenue, the shadow of the brand’s initial shortcomings still linger. Influencers, even those with large followings, are not immune to failure, as social metrics alone do not guarantee business success.

3. Ankari Floruss

Founders: Moti Ankari and Marcel Floruss
Revenue: Unknown
Site Traffic: 27k
Company Size: 51 – 200 employees
Share of Voice: 0.00%
Brand Engagement: 3.08%
Brand Following: 8.7k

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 Lesson Learned: ITC brand founders must think critically about new collaborations and partnerships with brands.

Moti Ankari and Marcel Floruss are the founders of Ankari Floruss, a premium shoe company that has changed the men’s shoe industry game. Since its launch in 2016, the company has produced a variety of collections and, most recently, made its debut at Nordstrom, through which sales could account for 60-70% of overall business, according to the co-founders.

How did two male fashion bloggers create a Nordstrom-approved brand in just three years?

Built from a passion for footwear and their own experiences as consumers and influencers in the space, Moti and Marcel created Ankari Floruss to fill a gap that they identified in the men’s shoe industry that no one else was filling: an excess supply of options that made finding the “perfect shoe” near impossible.

With well over half-a-billion combined followers on Instagram, as well as their own blogs, The Metro Man and One Dapper Street, both men continue to be inundated with requests from brands to collaborate. As such, it’s been important for them to stay keenly aware of how their approaches to brand partnerships have changed after launching Ankari Floruss.

As Marcel stated, “We created a shoe brand, so we don’t have any friction with partnerships outside of footwear, and even within the sector. Moti and I constantly keep in mind what we offer, and will only work on projects where we can highlight other companies’ shoes beyond what AF offers.”

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As the number of popular influencers who are building multimillion—even multibillion-dollar–businesses of their own continues to grow, supporting and co-creating with influencers in these ventures remains among brands’ top opportunities for incremental value and investment. For the majority of influencers launching their own brands, they already have engaged audiences, but this is the first time that they’ve ventured into the brand space to truly monetize those audiences. As such, brands can offer influencers access to their invaluable resources, business acumen, and experience to build better consumer relationships.

Who knows, if they play their cards right, they could have a hand in creating the next Glossier.

Mavrck provides influencer marketing technology and services.

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