New faces: Estée Lauder grows younger in China

17 July 2018



Estée Lauder has successfully revamped its image in China, from a luxury brand for older women into a youthful brand positioned for a younger audience. In doing so, the company recorded a 40% increase in sales there, compared to a 5% rise in its other global markets in Q4 2017.


Originally considered a sophisticated brand for older women due to its range of anti-ageing products, Estée Lauder decided to revamp its image in China to make the brand more appealing among the rising population of young women there with high spending power, given that women formed 44.3% of the country’s workforce as of 2016. And with China accounting for 17.1% of the global cosmetics and toiletries industry in 2017 and forecast to emerge as the fastestgrowing market by 2022, it was a prime target for a brand relaunch.

To do so, Estée Lauder invested a great deal of time and effort to understand the Chinese cosmetics landscape, consumer behaviour and social media preferences before embarking on its new strategy.

The market research

The importance of social media in product choices for beauty and grooming in China was highlighted in a 2016 GlobalData consumer survey, in which half of Chinese female consumers aged 18–24 stated that social media often or always influences their product choices when purchasing beauty products, therefore making it an important channel to leverage with this age group.

Another factor, is that luxury cosmetics are popular among Chinese women for their perceived superior performance. Considered a premium brand, Estée Lauder was already among China’s top-ten cosmetics players in 2017, and so could leverage this envied position.

Additionally, social media is certainly popular. In 2016 China had the highest number of new social media users globally – a whopping 134 million – and millennials are often influenced by the trends on this platform.

Estée Lauder also leveraged its US origin in order to market itself in the country. With research from GlobalData showing 44% of female respondents associated high-quality beauty/grooming products with the US. Foreign-origin products are perceived favourably in China, with 43% of Chinese females saying they are interested in and actively buying beauty and grooming products from a foreign country, while a further 47% stated that they are interested but as of now, not yet actively buying such products.

The campaign

Once the company had the information on the landscape, they decided to use Chinese celebrities to endorse the brand through an interactive social media campaign. This way, it could speak directly to their desired millennial market through an ambassador it trusted.

In 2016, it recruited Chinese supermodel Liu Wen for an interactive WeChat campaign named ‘EyeQ, which focused on Estée Lauder’s eyecare products. The WeChat ‘EyeQ’ post depicted the contents of Liu’s handbag – make-up, a smartphone and her personal diary falling out. Consumers were then prompted to open the diary, which contained handwritten notes by Liu Wen describing her favorite Estée Lauder eye-care products, along with images. Liu Wen’s diary also featured Estée Lauder’ products that the supermodel felt she ‘could not live without’. Fans could flip through the pages and complete a brand-related quiz at the end for a chance to win surprise gifts from Estée Lauder.

Yang Mi is one of the most influential women in China, especially on Weibo. We see her as a really obvious choice to inspire and engage with Chinese women and beauty consumers.
– Tricia Nichols, Estée Lauder

By providing consumers with an ‘up close and personal’ experience with Liu Wen’s eye-care routine, Estée Lauder made its eye-care range more relatable to young consumers often influenced by celebrity recommendations. Following the company’s digital campaigns, Estée Lauder emerged as the most-mentioned brand by online influencers on WeChat.

In 2017, Estée Lauder signed Chinese actress Yang Mi as its brand ambassador after Eternal Love, her television series, went viral. Yang enjoyed a huge following on China’s popular social media platforms – WeChat and Weibo. They used Weibo, where the actress has 70.9 million followers, to engage Yang’s young and impressionable audience. The announcement of the partnership on the brand and the actress’s official Weibo pages generated excitement around Estée Lauder and its Admiration Charm colour lipsticks.

This was followed with a campaign featuring the Colour of Yang Mi lipstick, a shade used by her television character, which received a million retweets.

With young female consumers in China highly swayed by celebrity influencers and demonstrating a willingness to emulate the trends set by them, Estée Lauder’s strategy made the brand an instant success among this cohort, as well as driving confidence in the brands product offering, particularly among 25-34 year olds. As many as 39% of Chinese women in this age group say that celebrity endorsements are important to enhance trust in a personal care product.

With a strong fanbase across popular social media channels, Yang was credited with creating the most buzz for Estée Lauder, as the announcement of their partnership generated 86.5 million impressions on various social media platforms, along with 1.2 million discussions. Similarly, supermodel Liu Wen’s interactive ‘EyeQ’ campaign has been credited as one of Estée Lauder’s most successful attempts to appeal to young Chinese women, catapulting the brand to being one of the most active to use WeChat as a ‘branding platform’.

The results

Within the first month, sales of its Admiration Charm colour lipsticks had risen by over 170%. Estée Lauder then used the momentum generated by the campaign to increase its sales through online channels. Using WeChat and Weibo in order to carry out sales to the online Chinese retail website Tmall, the brand’s cosmetics business saw its online sales jump by a considerable 50%.

The growth of social media influencers has changed how consumers purchase products in recent years. This is evident in that 70% of Chinese women agree that they are more likely to trust blogger and user reviews over brand claims. This sentiment is evidentally strongest among millennial women – 73% – whose desire for authenticity is satisfied when viewing a real person giving a review of a product or service, regardless of whether they have been paid to do so.

Therefore, online influencers represent a highly important avenue for reaching these consumers, especially as they are the most likely generation to be influenced by social media and video blogs/demonstrations when purchasing beauty and grooming products.

Using a local influencer, whose style or trends consumers may identify with, is an important consideration in driving brand credibility. Estée Lauder’s decision to capitalise on the popularity of a national social media influencer paid off, with the brand’s cosmetics recording more sales in China than any other region in 2017. Manufacturers must therefore be sure to collaborate with social media influencers whose values are aligned with that of their brand, in order to ensure consumers receive the intended brand message.

The persuasive power of social media

The nature of social media often impacts the purchase decisions of young, image-conscious consumers who follow the latest styles and products trending on these platforms as a way to express their individuality. Brands can capitalise on the popularity of social media platforms when promoting their products, while engaging with consumers in real time to boost brand appeal as well as gaining insights into changing consumer preferences. Although high quality and product functionality are the key to long-term success, rigorous social media advertising and interactive campaigns are also important to draw attention to – and spread awareness of – not just new launches, but also to revive interest in existing product lines. Brands looking to reach a larger audience can use popular social media platforms to emulate the success of Estée Lauder. To take the Chinese market as an example, Weibo boasted 340 million monthly active users in Q1 2017 alone, while WeChat, a Chinese micromessaging app, announced in March 2018 that it had reached a billion monthly active users globally, the majority of whom are Chinese.

With rising spending power, women have emerged in China as a key target for luxury brands. Appearanceconscious women with money turn to luxury brands for their superior performance and Estée Lauder tapped into this consumer desire to spend more on cosmetics for better results, repositioning its products to appeal to this consumer group. With the idea of US cosmetics as a symbol of luxury, the future is bright.


Top ten influencers by followers, 2017

1. Xie Na – 90.5 million

2. He Jiong – 83.8 million

3. Chen Kun – 81.1 million

4. Angela Baby – 80.6 million

5. Yao Chen – 80.5 million

6. Zhao Wei – 79.4 million

7. Ruby Lin – 74.5 million

8. Yang Mi – 70.9 million

9. Guo Degang – 67.6 million

10. Jimmy Lin – 66.9 million

Estée Lauder brand ambassador supermodel Liu Wen.
With a strong social media presence, Yang Mi created a lot of buzz for Estée Lauder.
Estée Lauder launched Colour of Yang Mi lipstick in conjunction with the actress’s television show Eternal Love going viral. The lipstick matches that of her character.
Xie Na is the most prominent influencer on the social media, with 90.5 million followers.


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