I recently put together a round-up of great content marketing examples from beauty brands. Birchbox stood out as one of the best, effectively using its online magazine to help customers make the most of their monthly subscription box.
But how exactly does Birchbox create and execute its content strategy across all its digital channels?
I recently caught up with Savannah Sachs, who is Birchbox’s UK managing director, to gain more insight into this – plus her perspective on personalisation, influencers, and customer experience. Here’s a run-down of our conversation.
Using content to shape the customer experience
I first asked whether Birchbox sees content as a key differentiator, and something that sets it apart from competitors. Savannah agreed, explaining exactly how this is the case in relation to the brand’s ‘try, learn, and buy’ business model.
It all starts with the monthly subscription box, she said, with customers signing up and filling in a beauty profile that includes details such as skin and hair type, beauty concerns, and individual style. From this data, Birchbox is able to send customers five beauty samples every month.
The customer experience doesn’t end there. This is where the ‘learn’ part comes in, as each box contains tips and tricks relating to the products inside. This then continues across all of Birchbox’s social and digital channels, allowing customers to tap into content related to the products they’re using in real-time.
— Birchbox (@BirchboxUK) June 20, 2017
Savannah explained that this is important because – while beauty is part of their life – customers are also likely to be busy and looking for more convenient ways to make beauty easy and fun.
Finally, the ‘buy’ part of the business model is how the brand offers a really seamless path to purchase, with its relating ecommerce store offering an easy way for customers to buy full-sized items they might have tried in a box.
We really see Birchbox as offering a 360-degree customer experience, with content being one of its core elements.
Creating personalisation that disappears
So where does personalisation come into play?
Savannah explained how the beauty profile allows Birchbox to serve the most relevant content to individual customers. By stipulating what beauty products will suit them or that they’d like to try, Birchbox is able to tailor products and recommendations, also meaning each person will get a different box to their best friend, for instance.
Alongside the benefit for customers, this also gives Birchbox’s brand partners a really powerful opportunity to target new customers.
For example, Birchbox recently worked with Estee Lauder to specifically target a younger demographic in the UK. It sent products to customers between the ages of 24 and 34, as Estee Lauder particularly wanted to focus on millennials.
As well as introducing younger consumers to something they might not have considered before, the initiative was hugely beneficial for Estee Lauder, allowing it to align a new product launch and marketing strategy with a super-targeted demographic.
Birchbox also takes a channel-by-channel approach to personalising content. For example, it recognises that Instagram Stories is more fun and playful, so it uses this channel to post raw, unedited, and spur-of-the-moment content.
In contrast, it typically uses a more educational approach for its online blog, perhaps taking a deep-dive on a specific product. Essentially, it takes into account how long users spend on a particular channel as well as what they’re looking for from each.
Another example of this is how Birchbox recently created a personalised email campaign focusing on skin type.
Customers are able to pick a product in their beauty box each month – in July, it was offering the chance to pick between two different shades of a Benefit tint. In order to help customers choose the right shade for them, each email contained an image of a woman with a skin tone that matched the customer’s own, based on data from their beauty profile. From this, they could then easily see which product might look the best on them, without too much thought or deliberation.
This is an example of what Birchbox calls ‘personalisation that disappears’.
It is seamless, easy and feels right. It doesn’t require any work from the customer other than filling in their beauty profile – we then make use of that data throughout the customer journey.
The importance of user generated content
User-generated content is also critical for Birchbox. Savannah explained how the brand considers its subscribers to be its influencers, and a powerful way to help its growth. This is because Birchbox drives a good amount of acquisition organically, but also because word-of-mouth helps to make its paid acquisition activity much more efficient.
In order to generate this type of content, the brand is focused on creating a monthly box experience that customers love and will want to share with friends on their social channels. In also means asking questions like ‘what’s going to make this month’s box design super Instagrammable?’ or ‘why would a person feel proud to show this off?’
Next, it focuses on amplifying this organic word of mouth – and that’s typically been done via Facebook and Instagram, where the brand focuses the majority of its paid acquisition work. That being said, Birchbox is not entirely against using paid influencers to help attract new customers, doing so on a relatively small scale.
Interestingly, Savannah said that the reason that it prefers user-generated content over paid influencers is all down to targeting. It aims to target a different kind of customer than other traditional beauty brands.
Instead of the ‘beauty junkie’ – someone who is knowledgeable, trend-aware, and who follows all the top influencers – Birchbox is going after the ‘beauty majority’.
This is because while the beauty junkie spends a lot of her disposable income on cosmetics, research indicates that she only makes up about 20% of women. In contrast, the more casual beauty consumer – who is willing to invest but needs help to figure out what’s right for her – makes up the rest. This consumer truly values having Birchbox as a sort of ‘beauty editor best friend’, to recommend and steer her in the right direction.
In terms of appealing to this customer profile, Birchbox strives to be approachable, meaning it makes more sense to focus on the everyday woman rather than the expert influencer.
Translating the CX offline
Birchbox has a physical retail store in New York City, with imminent plans to open one in Paris.
I asked Savannah how Birchbox is able to translate the customer experience into physical retail, especially considering that part of its USP is all about the convenience of delivery and laid-back discovery. In this sense, will customers seek out physical stores?
Savannah assured me that, as a company which is about driving discovery and purchase online, Birchbox will always be digital-first. However, taking into consideration everything it has learned about its customer-base, it also realised that it has something quite unique to offer in terms of a bricks and mortar experience.
The main innovation of its physical stores is that it does in fact mirror the online shopping experience. Its stores are merchandised by product type and category rather than brand.
The reason being is that it does not believe the beauty majority has enough expertise to walk into a department store, with tens of thousands of products merchandised by brand, and know where to start. Instead, the beauty majority walks into a store and thinks ‘I’d love to get a new mascara’ or ‘I’ve never used a highlighter – where do I begin?’.
It’s much easier to go to a shelf with all the mascaras side by side, to touch and try and compare. And albeit without the touch element, that’s exactly how customers navigate online shopping.
An online customer will click into make-up, then eyes, then mascara – they would not typically navigate by brand. Our key innovation is bringing that online experience and navigation into the brick and mortar store – to make it easy for the customer to find the right product for them.
Channels of focus
I finished by asking Savannah where Birchbox’s content strategy might be heading next.
Interestingly, she cited Facebook Live as a big focus. The brand currently streams on the platform once a week, typically using a casual, Q&A-style format to encourage interaction. Videos are always fronted by Birchbox employees to make it feel authentic and approachable.
It’s clear the channel is proving successful. Birchbox now sees about 4x the engagement on Facebook Live than it does for other types of Facebook content. What’s more, its Facebook Live content is getting about 5x the views and engagement as it did a year ago.
A recent Facebook Live called ‘Three ways to mermaid’ generated 18,000 views, proving that there is an appetite for this kind of fun and lightweight content.
Finally, mobile is also an incredibly important focus for Birchbox, with 65% of UK traffic coming from mobile devices. Savannah emphasised that everything the brand does from a content perspective has to be mobile-first. While cutting down on copy, making sure images are optimised, and limiting vertical scroll is not rocket science, these elements are vital to the customer experience.
Similarly, in order to truly engage customers, the content needs to be relevant to where they’re going to view it, and that is increasingly on a smartphone.
Something that’s core to our overall strategy, but specifically in terms of digital content and social, is making sure everything we do is optimised for mobile.