How complex variables equaled trouble for a really expensive brush kit

Beauty influencers across YouTube recently tore Kylie Jenner’s make-up brush kit to literal Dollar Store powdered filth. If you have no idea what I am referring to, give THIS Perez Hilton post a good once-over. The $360, 16-piece set dubbed “limited edition, luxury and perfect” did not “set” (going for the pun here) well with bloggers nor their audiences. What could have simply boiled down to a product quality issue quickly turned into a noticeable marketing strategy gone awry. But why though?

The issue lies with flawed influencer relations… and, thus, this equation:

> Influence = Audience Reach (# of followers) x Brand Affinity (expertise and credibility) x Strength of Relationship with Followers

… so to say that a person’s overall influence, or what makes a person particularly influential, is dependent upon the number of social media followers, that person’s expertise/credibility with a brand, and their relationship with their followers (Sorry, Cover Girl, but, in this instance, it’s not ‘easy, breezy or beautiful’).

The above equation, widely used and supported by PR practitioners and platforms, was recently a subject point of a piece by Cision on succeeding with influencer relations. Theoretical at best, the equation has a few gaping variables.

The equation does not consider the scrutiny needed when determining reach. Audience reach is a deceptive vanity metric*, usually based on follower counts and video views. Some influencers buy or even cushion their numbers with fake accounts to establish and maintain their own personal brand. It is a vain measurement that has become less and less empirical as social media has evolved. Thus, it is difficult to deduce whether or not Kylie Cosmetics based their influencer selections solely on this metric.

*A vanity metric is any numerical statistic such as social media follower counts, video views, and page visits not backed by raw, contextual or demographical support.

One could argue, however, that the Kylie Cosmetics brand did not know which influencers they needed exactly target. Establishing the difference between brand versus category affinity needs to be emphasized; this variable can be easily confusing. Kylie Cosmetics seemed to have specifically targeted beauty bloggers (i.e. Laura Lee, Manny Gutierrez, Jeffree Star) whom they thought would only speak to the good of its product; however, the beauty brand actually targeted versatile influencers who understood and regularly discuss the make-up category as a whole. They basically targeted makeup critics who know their stuff. This would be like inviting acclaimed movie critics to see the movie Gigli. Maybe just invite consumers who start at a 100% rating than critics who start at 0%. The movie wasn’t actually so bad, but we aren’t movie critics. See the difference?

Finally, gauging the strength of relationship with followers variable boils down to a vague and problematic process of analyzing even more vanity metrics such as likes, shares and comments. The dilemma is that the first measurement can be purchased; the second can circle back to reach; and, the third can be falsified. Unless Kylie Cosmetics applied a team to sift through their potential list of viable influencers, this variable becomes too laborious to calculate correctly.

Influencer relations, and the equation derived from the concept, explains Kylie Cosmetics’ faux pas. Plain and simple, if they were looking for influential beauty bloggers to essentially preach about the $360 make-up brush set, they should have double-checked their math.

Consumers are scrunching their brows more than ever over corporate brand messaging. Instead of listening to the Coca-Colas and MAC Cosmetics of the world, masses, especially younger demographics, are tuning into the Jeffree Stars and Laura Lees of YouTube and Instagram for the honest truth on products and experiences being advertised by the corporations they are expected to love and trust.

Our message: even though Kylie is an “influencer,” she is biased to her own brand. Her followers would have gladly and blindly bought her product as her fans. BUT, where they thought they could target more of an audience through extended influencer reach, they thought wrong. Her brush set was sent to makeup critics as part of their launch strategy, who quickly deemed the set as overpriced for the quality, among other issues.

This dependence on friendly recommendations is where their faith lies; and this shift is wherein the necessity and complexity of influencer relations flourishes. As PR professionals, especially for brands like Kylie Cosmetics, we need to recognize this.

The solution? Send products that are already tried, tested and true to the brand influencers who fit neatly into the “equation” to review. Send new launches to trusted test groups and ask them to provide feedback before the product launch to appropriately make tweaks!