Influencer partnerships are fundamental to Benefit Cosmetics’ marketing strategy, so when the brand transported a group of its “Benebabes” to Hawaii for an influencer event promoting the launch of its Box O’ Powder blushes, it left no stone unturned. Nearly 60 global influencers from 18 countries were treated to four days of excursions, luaus, pool parties and meet-ups across The Four Seasons, Lanai, where product education was toned down and personalized moments were dialed up. The campaign tagline: It’s a wanderful world.
Upon arrival (after deplaning a private aircraft), influencers were greeted by Benefit director of brand outreach Maggie Ford Danielson and other staff in a welcome suite. During check-in, they received a COVID test, branded room keys and a glass of bubbly to get the party started. Then it was on to a hula-themed welcome party where the influencers got a chance to meet and mingle for the first time.
The Box O’ Powder launch took place on the second day of the trip with a performance by Aerial Arts Hawaii, which presented a custom-choreographed, Cirque-style performance during which each performer represented a shade of the new blush collection. The reveal was followed by a traditional Hawaiian luau dinner that included a hula and fire dancing show, a hula lesson and handmade Haku floral hair pins.
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Throughout the influencer event, May 16-19, attendees were treated to a number of customized experiences, from massive room drops, to one-on-one brow consultations with Benefit’s global brow expert, to a gifting suite, to a content creation studio open nearly 24 hours a day, to myriad island excursions, like helicopter rides and horseback riding.
To wrap the event, Benefit gave each influencer the opportunity to release a Monarch butterfly with the help of Paradise Monarchs, a local organization committed to helping increase the wild population of monarch butterflies in Hawaii. The experience was part of Benefit’s broader sustainability strategy for the trip, which also included supporting local businesses. The night ended with an over-the-top, hot-pink-infused closing party featuring a dj, branded photo ops, aura photography and a Hawaiian shaved ice station.
“We see a lot of direct sales results from our influencers—surprisingly a lot more than any big-scale consumer event,” says Sol Lee, head of global p.r. and communications at Benefit Cosmetics. “We believe they’re influencing our consumers to actually purchase the product because at the end of the day, the goal is to generate sales. And they’re one of the most impactful tools to do that.”
All told, Benefit’s Hawaii influencer squad created more than 1,400 posts that raked in 152 million impressions and had a reach of over 255 million people (Agency: DPEM).
It seems Benefit is on to something when it comes to crafting influencer strategies that move the needle, so we tapped Lee for her tips on producing meaningful influencer events that, ultimately, impact the bottom line.
1. Align Content Expectations Ahead of Time.
Benefit worked out a mutual agreement with its influencer partners before the event to ensure they captured the type of content it was looking for and that both parties’ expectations were aligned. It wasn’t part of a formal contract, just a common understanding designed to avoid confusion.
“We had a list of content for the majority of the guests assigned prior to the event so that everyone knows exactly what to create that will help the brand and the business,” Lee says. “And then all the rest was up to them. By doing that, we learned that it actually guarantees the minimum content. Then outside of that, if they’re happy with the experience, we get a lot of additional content. Compared to our 2018 [influencer] event where we were a little shy about speaking up about exactly what we wanted, we garnered more than 1.5 times more EMV (earned media value) on this event where we were straightforward with them.”
2. Create Pre-event Sampling Opportunities.
When it comes to launch events, it can be challenging for influencers to simultaneously create sufficient social content and enjoy the live experience that the brand has built for them. So Benefit switched up its typical strategy and sent the blush collection to its partners ahead of the trip to provide ample time for them to get familiar with, and post about, the product.
“In the past, because they’re pressured to create content announcing the new product that they’re discovering for the first time at the event, they don’t get to fully enjoy the experience that we prepared for them,” says Lee. “So this time, we did it a little differently, and we’ve gotten a lot of additional content on top of what they created for us before the event.”
3. Personalize. Personalize. Personalize.
Everyone seeks tailored experiences these days, but personalized touchpoints are an absolute must-have for influencer events. After all, these are people who have built a living off of being uniquely themselves.
“We try to build intimate and personal relationships with influencers through various activations that are very customized for various types of influencers,” says Lee. “That’s one of the unique approaches that we have with our partnerships. They really value the personalized experience our brand provides.”
4. Make it a Multiday Affair.
Where budget allows, hosting multiday events creates opportunities for influencers to build a more personal relationship with the brand and its story.
“We continue to do influencer events because they really help the brand nurture the relationship with these people,” says Lee. “And instead of doing one-time events, spending a few days together naturally helps build the friendship.”
5. One Impactful Photo Moment.
We’ve all seen the influencer events that are built like Instagram playgrounds with a new photo or video op at every turn. Benefit sees it as overkill. For the Hawaii event, the brand intentionally crafted one signature photo moment.
“Instead of having multiple photo moments where people are confused, we had one great moment that was an archway with colorful ribbons that led to the main venue. It was incredibly impactful because all of the influencers lined up to take a photo. Everyone took pictures and everyone posted about it,” says Lee.
6. Provide Ample Downtime.
Destination influencer events like Benefit’s are more or less business trips for attendees, but the brand wants it to feel more like a vacation. Over the years, Benefit has learned that nobody wins when the agenda is jam-packed and attendees are swamped with product information. So for one full day of the event in Hawaii, the brand “intentionally didn’t have any product moments,” Lee says, and instead, set influencers loose on the island to participate in the excursion they showed most interest in pre-event.
“We want to avoid putting too much product and brand information in front of them because they know why they’re there,” Lee adds. “I think that just hurts the relationship and it puts too much pressure on them. So it’s about not overemphasizing the new product multiple times. They know why they’re there, they’re all professional and they need more downtime.”
7. Incorporate the Local Community.
A key objective of Benefit’s influencer event was to be mindful of its impact on the local community and environment. To that end, the brand incorporated local Hawaiian vendors—including artists, florists and weavers—into its programming wherever possible.
“I had multiple guests come up to me and say that they loved how we worked with some of the local vendors and they could tell we weren’t speaking to ourselves, that they could really tell we were trying to be intentional,” says Hayley Gurwitz, senior manager-marcom events at Benefit Cosmetics. “So, for destination events especially, don’t try to hide where you are. Don’t try to create a white box. Just embrace where you are and work with the local community as much as possible.”
8. Give Attendees a Plus-one.
The all-powerful beauty influencer’s “Instagram boyfriend” (read: a photographer who is always by their side) is an essential element of many influencers’ success, so offering attendees a plus-one is a good way to ensure they’re on their content A-game. But just as important, Benefit says influencers tend to spend more time engaging with brand touchpoints when they have a buddy, and it makes the experience feel more like a vacation that a business endeavor.
9. Infuse Unexpected Delights.
Surprise and delight never gets old, but influencers are a discerning group, so make sure there’s a genuine “wow” factor to your event’s unexpected touchpoints. An example from the Benefit trip: attendees who chose snorkeling as their island excursion were surprised by Benefit mermaids singing and playing ukulele when they arrived, then swam alongside the mythical creatures.
10. Hire Professional Photographers.
Yes, hiring professional photographers and videographers for an event where the main objective is for the attendees to capture content sounds counterintuitive. Especially when they have a plus-one on hand. But, according to Benefit, it works. The brand hired several pros to roam the event and capture whatever images or footage influencers requested. The content was then made immediately available to the influencers to edit to their liking then and there on their phones, or at their leisure in the on-site content studio.
“Because they were there with their plus-ones ‘on vacation’ together, oftentimes having a professional photographer from our side available helped them fully immerse themselves and enjoy the experiences that we provided for them,” says Lee. Now that’s beautiful.