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29.04.16 / Architects of Next: Being a positive difference / Nikki Towler, Bare Escentuals

How do you use social media and digital engagement to build a challenger brand, in a fiercely competitive sector, to a savvy customer base? Lots of people talk about it, but Architect of Next Nikki Towler does it as Bare Escentuals’ Senior Online Manager for Europe. 

Bare Escentuals is the beauty brand which launched the mineral makeup revolution with bareMinerals. The brand’s USP around natural-looking skin with good-for-you ingredients means the marketing has to be equally natural, authentic and inspiring. The brand sets out to make a positive difference in women’s lives, and ensuring the brand is driven by real, inspiring advocates, is key – therefore social media and digital engagement form natural components of this.

Nikki’s passion runs deep. She remembers deconstructing her mother’s dressing table to get at her makeup, aged three. Her first teenage job was in Boots, working on the makeup counter whilst spending all her wages on the makeup. Having studied marketing at university she joined Bobbi Brown Cosmetics, and so her professional career embraced makeup.

When pushed on what fascinates her, professionally about makeup, she responds around the speed of adoption: “Marketing in makeup sees such customer responsiveness. You have immediate, tangible evidence for what you’ve done. Related sectors like fashion are much slower to respond to marketing shifts. That customer passion and speed keeps you engaged and driven.”

That focus on results reflects her belief in marketing as a core business function. “Digital marketing is a key part of our business – I live and breathe our online offer – but you have to keep a holistic view. Our bricks and mortar offer remains the bigger part of our business.” She cites this as one of the key benefits of having studied a broad, rather than digital-specific degree.

Where Bare Escentuals stands out is for its embracing of the customer lifestyle. Nikki sees the focus from online “as much about tips and advice as about sales. Customers want to be engaged and involved, really feeling part of the product offer. That goes right back to our origins as a girlfriend community in San Francisco.” This customer-centric focus is something they share with Asos, the online fashion retailer. “They’re absolutely brilliant for what they’ve done as a pure play brand – the way they act as a mirror to the customer’s best life.”

No discussion of beauty in 2016 is complete without touching on the topic of blogger and vlogger endorsements. “Working with bloggers and vloggers has undoubtedly got tougher – they’re not ‘free publicity’ anymore, as they have careers. We have a keen strategy and budget behind it but I think it’s fair to say no-one in the beauty space has entirely cracked this yet. That’s not least because it can be hard to identify the best route: working with fewer established names, or a greater number of up and coming names?”

“The introduction of blogger’s own ranges has really changed the dynamic in recent years, too. These more indie and discrete brands change the way everyone markets, to focus more on engagement, and not just promotion. Digital marketing in the sector as a whole used to be much more about straight price/product promotion. It’s much more sophisticated now.”

Nikki cites her biggest challenge for digital and social engagement as being the age-old classic of business ‘ownership’. “Digital touches so many parts of the business, and yet people have to allocate resources and responsibilities. Yet the customer doesn’t care. They really just see you, the brand, and want it to work.” At the same time she sees ever more exciting change ahead: “the ongoing rise of UGC continues to present huge opportunity. The intimacy and authenticity of Snapchat is exciting for a brand like ours in that respect.” With a new website launch around the corner, she continues to be enthused: “it’s the constant, rapid evolution of digital which makes it so relevant and exciting. We’re never standing still.”

On that note, appropriately, she’s gone, to tend to the Bare Escentuals online ecosystem.

If you want to get ahead, read/do:

  • Top Twitter follow: I have to admit that I’m not big on Twitter – I spend enough time on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram already!
  • Top Instagram follow: madeleine_shaw_ – love the healthy food inspiration and pics
  • Top blog subscribe: mummydaddyandmemakesthree – I have a one year old so basically any mummy blog!
  • Productive habit: to-do lists… I am totally a list person and have one for everything (and everyone) – much to my husband’s annoyance!
  • Unproductive habit: My commute disappears as I get a little too absorbed in the entertainment tab on the Mail Online app
  • Favourite brand: The White Company – I could quite happily live in one of their shops!

This is our #ArchitectsOfNext series, where we aim to inspire others with firsthand insight into how people shaping innovative digital engagement models think and deliver their work.

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