Beauty brands have figured out something that eludes most brands: How to turn TikTok viewers into paying customers.
Emerging brands and established luxury players have struggled to turn casual viewers into buying fans through the ads they place on the platform. Many of them have had better luck engaging users with their non-paid content. Often, that doesn’t guarantee more than increased exposure.
But in a July report, social media management platform Dash Hudson observed that five beauty brands — including body care brand Tree Hut, Millie Bobby Brown’s makeup line Florence by Mills, Kylie Cosmetics and skin care labels Laneige and Tatcha — drove more than 100 percent year-over-year sales growth in the back half of 2022. These brands were able to convert users who watched their videos on TikTok and Instagram Reels to buy goods in their online stores and through their retail partners.
Beauty brands, which arguably benefit the most from TikTok’s demonstrative nature, have translated content into explosive sales growth by creating videos that garnered higher views, likes, comments and average watch-times than their peers in adjacent industries.
This year, those same brands have made short-form videos, especially on TikTok, an essential part of their marketing strategies. Lines like Tree Hut and Florence by Mills are releasing content that features their team members to appear more relatable to consumers, hopping on viral trends in real-time to promote their product launches and making it clear that they want viewers to buy the lip glosses and face masks featured in their videos.
A Peek Behind the Curtain
Beauty start-ups that have generated the most sales from TikTok content often spotlight their employees in videos to create a veil of genuineness and establish trust with the Gen-Z audiences who populate the platform.
Some of Florence by Mills’s highest performing videos feature Millie Bobby Brown behind-the-scenes at commercial shoots or footage of certain items being made in a factory. Although the brand usually releases this content to TikTok only once or twice a month, the number of likes and comments on these posts outpaces other content on the platform. One from August 2023, where Brown is lip-syncing to Doja Cat’s “Attention,” has nearly 100,000 likes and over 3,000 comments. A previous post that shows a team member opening the brand’s peel-off mask has nearly 14,000 likes and almost 400 comments.
In 2023, the line has made sure to capture more behind-the-scenes content than in previous years, enlisting one of its social media employees, along with a team member from the social media agency The Edit, to go on every shoot to capture such footage. Florence by Mills’ overall likes and comments on TikTok has increased nearly 40 percent year-over-year this year.
Our TikTok followers “love seeing behind the curtain,” said Sam Fiock, vice president of marketing at Florence by Mills. “Part of our brand ethos is to be transparent.”
But a brand doesn’t have to have a famous face to keep viewers locked in. Skin care brand Tree Hut puts its staffers front and centre in most of its content.
The Naterra-owned brand works with more than 200 influencers, who receive free gifts or are paid directly for a minimum number of posts, that contribute around 30 percent of the company’s content on TikTok. But the majority of the TikTok videos that promote Tree Huts goods are filmed by and stars the company’s three-person social content team, who make about six videos a week.
Since this team created Tree Hut’s social media presence, they understand the brand’s audience and are the best at communicating the company’s products without it feeling too much of a sales pitch, said Dillon McPherson, senior digital marketing manager at Naterra, who also appears in the brand’s TikTok videos. Viewers connect better with Tree Hut because these familiar faces become stand-ins for the consumer, he added.
“That’s really one of the biggest things about our social success is making sure that it’s us,” McPherson said. “The three of us have distinct personalities, and we cover a wide gamut of the Tree Hut user.”
Beauty brands aiming to sell products from their TikTok videos will frequently put their own stamp on viral trends.
One of the pillars of Tree Hut’s success on TikTok is “staying on top of the trends and finding how you can fit organically into the trend,” said Zoe McKinley, Naterra’s senior community specialist.
The brand recently jumped on the #throwingicecream trend, where people post videos of themselves getting hit in the face with ice cream; the hashtag has over 10 million views on TikTok. In August, to promote Tree Hut’s sweet cream whipped body butter, McKinley starred in a video where she is sat around the brand’s various scrubs and is handed an iced coffee scrub. When she decries that she wants the brand’s newly released cream, she is hit in the face with it instead. The video got over 300,000 views and more than 26,000 likes. Tree Hut has averaged around 80,000 video views this year.
Florence by Mills tries to exercise similar dexterity as trend cycles on TikTok get shorter.
The company has an internal employee on standby, ready to identify the relevant products and create content within one or two days of a hashtag catching fire, Fiock said. In previous years, before dedicating a staffer to the task, it could take the brand up to a week to make and release a video based on a viral trend.
In July, the brand posted a video featuring a member of The Edit’s team using various products, including the brand’s $18 Cheeky Pop blush stick, to exemplify the #tomatogirlmakeup trend, which shows people in muted makeup looks with pink and reddish-hued lips, eyes and cheeks. The brand saw an immediate uptick in visitors to the Cheeky Pop product page on its online storefront in the following days after posting the video.
“If your content is engaging and people are watching it longer, that’s where we’re seeing that correlation between sales,” said Kate Kenner Archibald, chief marketing officer at Dash Hudson.
Capturing Content at the Point of Sale
Brands also make it easy for viewers to take the hopeful next step after watching a TikTok video: Make a purchase.
In many of Florence by Mills’s TikTok videos, the company puts a link to its online store or a specific product page in the first line of the caption or as a pinned comment on the post. The brand will also put a link to its website’s homepage on lifestyle content, such as behind-the-scenes videos, and will feature product page links for videos that focus on a specific item.
“It’s really having that call to action that’s very simple, straightforward, easy to understand,” Fiock said. “[We’re] making sure that that linkage is very, very clear to the customer.”
Tree Hut takes an even more straightforward approach to driving sales from its TikTok videos.
In the fall of 2021, the brand started making videos of items that were newly available at Target to increase the brand’s sales in the retailer’s stores. Nearly all of the brand’s sales, which reach north of $10 million annually, come from its retail partners, which also includes Ulta Beauty and Walmart. Tree Hut now films videos in all its retail partners to promote newer products. One video from July features influencer Savannah Kathleen, who has over 150,000 followers on TikTok, filming herself filling up her cart at an Ulta Beauty store with Tree Hut’s latest launches, the Ocean Glow body scrub, wash and butter.
“We have such a dedicated community, they want to go out and smell the new smells,” Tree Hut’s McPherson said. “Short form content changes from just awareness to call to action [with] ‘Hey, go try this in store. Go smell it.’”