The influencer marketing industry continues to grow as more influencers begin to enter the space and move up the ranks from micros to macros, making the space increasingly competitive for influencers. As marketers continue to prioritize micro-influencers over macro-influencers, there is growing pressure for macro-influencers to differentiate themselves and monetize their beyond their influence and reach, like through their knowledge.
Simultaneously, there are an increasing number of influencers across the funnel fed up with the control Big Social has over their ability to monetize. From unexplained algorithm changes that throttle influencers’ content to a lack transparency around what can be monetized, influencers across the funnel are looking to reclaim their economic power, largely stemming from the desire to self-monetize.
As brands continue to unlock the full potential of influencers and as more influencers move into the space, it’s likely we will begin to see more influencers enter the ITC brands spectrum – progressing from collaborations, to partnerships, to collections to, ultimately, launching their own ITC brands.
Below we take a look at three distinct ITC brands – each of which have become deeply disruptive to their respective industries – and identify key learnings from the successes of each.
1. Brand: Glossier
Founder: Emily Weiss
ITC Brand Index Score: 100 / 100
Site Traffic: 1.25M
Company Size: 201 – 500 employees
Share of Voice: 3.12%
Brand Engagement: 2.20%
Brand Following: 1.8M
Lesson Learned: Influencer insight can disrupt entire industries
Emily Weiss is the CEO of Glossier, an online beauty company that has found success in selling makeup directly to consumers through Instagram, where it has more than 2.1 million followers. In 2018, the company brought in $100 million in annual revenue, marking its fourth consecutive year achieving triple-digit growth. Also in 2018, Glossier closed a Series C funding, bringing its total VC funding raised to $86 million.
How did Glossier achieve unicorn status and become deeply disruptive to the beauty industry at large?
It all started with a blog. In 2010, Weiss started her own personal blog, Into the Gloss, where she interviewed female mega-influencers ranging from Kim Kardashian to Bobbi Brown and highlighted their daily makeup routines. Quickly, the blog became a popular destination for those interested in all things beauty. Women all across the world were going to Into the Gloss to learn about the latest skincare and makeup products, and eventually the blog turned into a forum for them to communicate and connect with one another—sharing their favorite and least favorite products. Weiss recognized a natural pivot into the product world, using the combined knowledge of her community to identify gaps and to create new products that women were actually seeking.
In 2014, Weiss founded Glossier. The company’s brand ethos focused on “democratic skincare,” where products are designed based on consumer feedback. This business decision was starkly different from other brands in the beauty industry at the time, since few beauty brands focused so heavily on sourcing feedback directly from fans and followers of the brand. One of the ways Glossier does this is through its Slack channel, where it invites its top 100 customers to share insights and advice for product developers.
2. Brand: EM Cosmetics
Founder: Michelle Phan
ITC Brand Index Score: 76 / 100
Site Traffic: 73k
Company Size: 2 – 10 employees
Share of Voice: 0.17%
Brand Engagement: 0.73%
Brand Following: 818k
Lesson learned: Once launched, influencers’ companies must deliver on service and product promises
While some ITC brands have achieved unicorn status, others have come up short. Upon its initial release, EM Cosmetics became a cautionary tale for influencers. Michelle Phan was the reigning beauty guru on YouTube at the time, with tens of millions of views on her most popular content and 8.8 million subscribers. Transitioning into an entrepreneurial role with her own makeup line seemed like a natural next step, especially since beauty giant L’Oréal was willing to help with distribution.
However, the products immediately fell flat with customers – even her dedicated fans. EM Cosmetics was described as having cheap packaging, subpar formulas, and few, if any, of the characteristics that dedicated subscribers were hoping to see in the products. Phan’s fans and followers ultimately felt betrayed by Phan’s line because it featured so little of the feedback they had given across social media, particularly in the comments section of her videos on YouTube.
While EM Cosmetics has since relaunched and generated $1.5 million in revenue, the shadow of the brand’s initial failure still lingers. Glossier was careful to source and incorporate feedback from fans in both product development and marketing efforts, likely in reference to EM Cosmetics.
However, it’s not just the original influencers who have struggled with launching their own brands. Arii, an influencer who had more than two million followers on Instagram, went viral in 2019 for failing to sell more than 36 t-shirts due to poor promotion of her own line. She didn’t create a thorough launch campaign, releasing two Instagram posts the day before her t-shirts were available for purchase and many of her fans were quick to notice the shirts were not unique or cohesive with trendy styles.
Influencers, even those with large followings, are not immune to failure, as social metrics alone do not correlate to business value.
3. Ankari Floruss
Founders: Moti Ankari and Marcel Floruss
ITC Brand Index Score: 28 / 100
Site Traffic: 27k
Company Size: 51 – 200 employees
Share of Voice: 0.00%
Brand Engagement: 3.08%
Brand Following: 8.7k
Lesson Learned: Once launched, ITC brand founders must think critically about new collaborations and partnerships with brands
Moti Ankari and Marcel Floruss are the founders of Ankari Floruss, a premium, direct-to-consumer shoe company that has become deeply disruptive to the men’s shoe industry at large. Since its launch in 2016, the company has launched a variety of collections and, most recently, has made its debut at Nordstrom, through which sales could account for 60-70% of overall business, according to the men.
How did two male fashion bloggers create a Nordstrom-approved brand in just three years?
Built out of a passion for footwear and their own experiences as consumers and influencers in the space, Moti and Marcel created Ankari Floruss to fill a gap that they identified in the men’s shoe industry that no one else was filling: an excess supply of options that made finding the “perfect shoe” near impossible. As Moti Ankari stated, ”We wanted to make it easier for guys to find that perfect ‘Chelsea boot’ [or] the perfect ‘white sneaker’ based on our experience of the market and what we did and didn’t like.”
With well over half a billion combined followers on Instagram, as well as their own blogs, The Metro Man and One Dapper Street, one can imagine that both men continue to be inundated with requests from brands to collaborate. As such, it’s been important for the men to stay keenly aware of how their approaches to brand partnerships have changed after launching Ankari Floruss. As Marcel stated, “We created a shoe brand, so we don’t have any friction with partnerships outside of footwear, and even within the sector, Moti and I constantly keep in mind what we offer, and will only work on projects where we can highlight other companies’ shoes beyond what AF offers.”
For more insights on influencer-to-consumer brands, check out our Influencer-to-Consumer Brands Index report. In the report, we analyzed the top 25 influencer-to-consumer brands with the highest equity as measured across six essential attributes: Revenue; Website Traffic; Company Size; Share of Voice; Brand Engagement; and Brand Following.