1) Macy’s and Revolve graduate their influencer marketing strategies into more institutionalized forms.

What happened

  • Influencer marketing continues to blossom—in 2018, 84% of advertisers noted that influencers were included in their marketing strategy and in 2017, more ad spend was directed at digital platforms than TV. But as the trend has grown, it has also raised some red flags. Specifically, consumer brands have had to adapt to influencers’ rising service rates, the whims of social media sites like Instagram that can change their platform interfaces at any time, changing FCC regulations, and the way different influencers might misrepresent brand image.
  • Though many brands are using influencers to some degree, some companies are now taking steps to institutionalize the marketing strategy. Macy’s launched a pilot program called Style Crew in March 2018, incentivizing employees to market the brand on social media—the program now has more than 300 people on its U.S. roster. Revolve, a data-driven fashion ecommerce brand founded in 2003 that just filed to go public, created an “influencer relations team” back in 2014 that now allegedly accounts for approximately 70% of the company’s sales. In July 2018, SoulCycle also launched a talent agency comprised of its own instructor-influencers.

Why it matters

  • One of the main critiques of influencer marketing is the lack of authenticity in an influencer’s promotion of the brand. Macy’s set out to address this problem with its Style Crew, only giving pre-existing employees a megaphone to speak for its brand. Just as many brands hire some of their first adopters or most loyal customers in order to create positive company feng shui, using employees as brand ambassadors is a way to maximize authenticity—if these employees are happy at work, they’re more likely to enjoy talking about it. Plus, as “ordinary people,” they’re more relatable than a celebrity face. Macy’s has also established a section on its site to house social media videos from its Style Crew, providing links to the featured products to facilitate shopping.
  • Revolve, which started gifting clothes to bloggers back in 2009, now employs 2,500 influencers, both high- and lower-profile, whom the company pays to attend events like Coachella and represent the brand, in addition to hosting private events and parties for its influencer relations team. Together, these influencers come with billions of Instagram followers—a huge boost to Revolve’s own 2.6 million. Not surprisingly, the word “influencer” or “influencers” is mentioned a grand total of 79 times in Revolve’s public filing, highlighting the ability for influencer marketing to promote and expand the brand abroad. Though this seems like it would come at a huge cost to the brand, Revolve claims that 75% of its marketing spend is sent to other, more traditional forms of advertising.
  • The main difference between these two influencer strategies is that Macy’s is asking members of the Style Crew to do extra work while Revolve’s influencers can focus solely on marketing. Macy’s off-the-cuff Style Crew videos—makeovers in the beauty section, anecdotes or quick mirror-selfies—may be more authentic than a group of Revolve influencers at an exotic beach location, but the company might get more hurried videos than it would like, while Revolve’s influencers party at Coachella. Macy’s also mentions that finding influencers from within lets the company exercise more control over its social media, which could be problematic. The incentives that the company offers to its Style Crew are undisclosed, but it couldn’t be much given that most of its members have fewer than 1,000 followers and thus limited reach. On the other hand, Revolve’s attention to cultivating positive experiences for its influencers highlights that the brand values them highly and sees influencers as carrying the brand forward, especially now that it is filing for an IPO.

2) Re:Store merges affordable retail space for Instagram brands with a female-centric coworking space.

What happened

  • Re:Store will sign long-term leases and offer a tiered monthly payment system to digital-first brands in fashion, beauty or home whose founders want tangible retail space and/or a place to work. The startup just raised $1.7 million in a pre-seed round led by a VC from Sequoia Capital who also is part of the Female Founder Office Hours, a mentorship program for women in venture capital.
  • At Re:Store, brands will be able to access physical retail space for as low as $350 per month and 20% of their sales. For $550 a month, they’ll also get an on-location coworking spot. The highest tier—$850 a month—gets brands access to inventory and fulfillment management services. In total, the startup plans to have space for 60 brands, which have ideally been active for at least four years and have more than 10,000 online followers.

Why it matters

  • Re:Store’s ethos and business echoes Bulletin, the digital and physical retailer founded in 2015 that offers female-led brands flexible payment opportunities for shelf space, hosts events around women’s issues and donates 10% of proceeds to Planned Parenthood NYC. Both stores are ideal for smaller brands, many of which started on Instagram, to mingle. But Re:Store’s coworking space adds a useful way for the founders of these brands to mingle too, further actualizing a female network of entrepreneurs and giving them direct access to customers. For the founders living Re:Store’s vicinity (the first location is set to open in San Francisco), this enables brands to move from an easy, but ultimately limiting digital point of entry into something much more tangible that also has a personality. This helps Re:Store stand apart from WeWork, which provides a workspace for employees and founders of consumer companies, but doesn’t give them a space to display their physical products.
  • Aside from providing a brick-and-mortar footprint for smaller brands that don’t need or want their own retail spaces, the beauty of companies like Re:Store and Bulletin is their attentiveness to specifically female entrepreneurial needs. Selene Cruz, the founder of Re:Store, formerly ran a bag company and chose to offer inventory management services to Re:Store’s brands because she dealt with inventory problems of her own. Her decision to merge the shopping space with a coworking space for the entrepreneurs also takes a page out of The Wing’s playbook (Audrey Gelman of The Wing, an all-female coworking space, is one of Cruz’s mentors). It will be interesting to see if Cruz opens the coworking space up to other women in business or if, down the road, Re:Store enters The Wing, much like WeMRKT did at WeWork.

3) SoulCycle goes live, bringing the music festival to its workouts to keep cyclists coming to the studio.

What happened

  • SoulCycle, which launched a new media division in June 2018, is now debuting a handful of new programs. Cyclists can now listen to live concerts during classes, starting with the electronica band Louis the Child in New York this fall, with more events in cities across SoulCycle’s 88 locations on the docket for 2019.
  • The company will also make its in-class concert tracks, playlists and motivational speeches from instructors available via Apple Music and plans to bring new video to its Instagram channel, highlighting footage from instructors, music guests and classes.

Why it matters

  • SoulCycle combined music with fitness from the very beginning, but these moves show that the company is taking matters into its own hands to truly build the SoulCycle brand. It’s also a way for the company to differentiate as the wellness and fitness market becomes increasingly competitive, both at the studio and beyond it. In particular, SoulCycle must compete with Peloton, which unbundled cycling out of the studio and brought it into customers’ homes—Peloton also acquired a music startup in July 2018 in order to bring more content to its live streaming-based fitness program and is considering an IPO, a path SoulCycle backed away from in May 2018. For SoulCycle, the best way to challenge Peloton is to improve its in-studio experience, which it is attempting to do with live music.
  • Though SoulCycle also recently debuted SoulAnnex, a studio focused on cardio, yoga and HIIT, and SoulActivate, a cycling class that incorporates high-intensity interval training, its media efforts start to bring the SoulCycle experience outside of the studio. Likely, SoulCycle was hesitant to extend aspects of its experience beyond the studio beforehand, so as not to dilute the brand, and it will have to make sure its media programs don’t give away too much. But given the communality of its cycling classes, SoulCycle can ideally use media to attract new customers without diverting current ones away.

4) Ulta partners with men’s grooming brand Oars + Alps, growing its share of a burgeoning market.

What happened

  • Oars + Alps, a direct-to-consumer, digitally-native men’s grooming brand founded in 2015 and known for natural deodorant and charcoal soaps, has entered the doors of 300 Ulta Beauty stores, in addition to Ulta.com. The brand said that its customer base has grown 60 times in 2018—engagement with shoppers of other brands like Nike and Pelton has helped, but retailing at Ulta will give it a big boost.

Why it matters

  • Oars + Alps also sells on Amazon’s Luxury Beauty platform, but says that 95% of its sales are direct. Now, in its first retail partnership with Ulta, the retailer will help to draw attention to the brand’s individual products, rather than the bundles that make up most of Oars + Alps’ online sales. The partnership will also help steer Oars + Alps’ product development, as Ulta will feature the brand in its holiday sampling program, increasing engagement with customers, including female ones, many of whom buy products for men.
  • Bringing on Oars + Alps also helps Ulta in its quest to tap into the growing men’s and unisex markets. Between 2012 and 2017, the men’s grooming industry grew by almost 15% to $8.7 billion in revenue. Right now, Ulta has approximately 250 men’s products on its site, not including brands that sell both men’s and women’s products like Kiehl’s. It also recently partnered with House 99, David Beckham’s brand, as well as Baxter of California, a haircare and skincare product company. Though legacy brands like Gillette and Old Spice still reign, their share has been shaken by direct-to-consumer brands like Harry’s and Dollar Shave Club that brought razors and shaving accoutrements online, even though these companies now have to expand their product verticals to stay afloat (Harry’s also turned into a holding company for digitally-native brands and started selling its products at Walmart). In this landscape, brands like Oars + Alps that didn’t box themselves in from the beginning as shaving brands and are tapping into multiple channels will position themselves for more sustainable growth. Selling at Ulta, which is more mass market-oriented than Sephora will also give Oars + Alps a greater swathe of customers.