Sephora’s tagline is “We belong to something beautiful,” and for one afternoon at its SEPHORiA: Virtual House of Beauty experience, we felt those words come to life. From the inclusive messaging to the tutorials to the luxurious 3D environment the event was hosted in, it felt like a cohesive, well-oiled machine built for consumers of every stripe. And across expert-led demos, live Q&As, exclusive live and pre-recorded content, prizes, games and photo ops, EM was there to experience everything the beauty playland had to offer.
Previously held in 2018 and 2019 as a live and ticketed event, the digital edition of SEPHORiA served as Sephora’s biggest virtual event of the year, and was designed to be enjoyed by anyone, from anywhere (Eventique, New York City, handled). The experience was free, but required pre-registering for the event, which quickly sold out, to lock down a spot. Registered attendees could also opt-in to purchase one of two curated Experience Kits for $40 (valued at $150), with full- and travel-size products from a selection of partner brands, while supplies lasted.
“As we have all adapted and have learned to connect in new ways during these unique times, there are definitely advantages to the virtual format,” says Kate Biancamano, director of events & experiential marketing at Sephora. “It allowed for us to connect with attendees from all over the country who may previously have not been able travel to attend the event in person, for example. The virtual format also allowed us to gather some additional pre-recorded content from our participating brands and talent, which helped enhance the experience by offering even more content for attendees to explore during and post-event.”
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SEPHORiA was hosted in a 360-degree, game-like environment where a virtual house served as the anchor of the experience. The setting felt like an elegant, real-life home, brimming with beautiful flowers and décor elements, and accented by Sephora’s signature black and white stripes. There were multiple themed “rooms” to explore, each of which initially featured a host that was dropped into the virtual environment to offer an introduction to the space. The setup allowed attendees to choose their own adventure and navigate the home at their own pace (kudos to Sephora for making it super easy to travel from one room to another via clickable hot spots).
In the Home Theater, Sephora highlighted its hottest new products and brands with masterclasses and in-depth tutorials led by brand founders and global artists. Attendees could start watching a video in the theater, then travel to another room while the video remained playing in the lower-right corner of the screen. In the Sunroom, attendees could explore Sephora’s most notable clean and sustainable products with more than 20 brand tutorials and pre-recorded routines to click through in a lush, garden-like environment. The Family Room offered a space for “real talk” conversations, including a roundtable discussion with former Accelerate brand founders about where they saw a lack of representation in the beauty market and how they created products to address it. There were also video testimonials in which attendees shared what “belonging” means to them.
Up in the Loft, attendees could connect and network with micro-communities and SEPHORiA talent through six live Q&A sessions with Sephora beauty directors, members of the #SephoraSquad (brand influencers) and outside experts, including Dr. Dennis Gross, who addressed skincare concerns. Attendees could interact with talent via the platform’s chat feature. The Loft was also a sponsor activation space where partner ThirdLove created a fitting room for virtual try-ons. It was essentially a link to their online sizing guide, and added little to the experience.
And in the Backyard, Sephora got the party started with an avatar dj spinning tunes, a prize wheel to spin (we snagged some Ellis products, Ellis snagged our data), a custom obé Fitness workout and surprise videos from beauty influencers like Selena Gomez and Jonathan Van Ness. There was even a Gucci talk with an astrologist who matched the brand’s lipstick shades with zodiac signs. Our favorite aspect: The Backyard Party didn’t start until halfway through the event, but promised an array of surprises, which built anticipation and kept us engaged in the experience. Well played, Sephora—attendee attrition at virtual events is very real.
“In 2021, we felt it was important to have a moment of joy with our clients and we worked hard to recreate that special SEPHORiA environment they know and love from year’s past, including the House of Beauty theme and creative aesthetic,” says Biancamano. “Each of the virtual rooms gave clients something unique and different to explore. We made sure there was something for everyone.”
As attendees roamed the House of Beauty, they encountered a number of themed virtual photo ops powered by QR codes, with event surveys built into them. We couldn’t get our ball pit photo op to work after taking it two different ways due to a technical glitch, but a fun Backyard shot we captured was sent to our email. The photo op concept was a good idea in theory, but the execution needed some love.
Over in the home’s lobby, framed photos arranged on virtual shelves featuring SEPHORiA talent offered an option to click their headshots to learn more. At the lobby’s Concierge Desk, attendees could speak with a Sephora rep for help navigating the event. And throughout the experience, attendees could click on shoppable products that drove them directly to Sephora’s website.
Like many virtual event organizers, Sephora limited its sessions to no more than 25 minutes in order to keep the virtual audience engaged. A “LIVE” graphic indicated a session was happening in real time and there was a solid mix of live and pre-recorded content. The vibe in each session was kept fun and casual, from what we experienced. Shani Darden’s masterclass, for example, began with a funny, laid-back conversation between Darden and a Sephora beauty director, then morphed into an informative how-to session. It’s also worth noting that when attendees weren’t engaged in content, upbeat background music played, making it feel more like an in-person experience as they explored other elements of the event.
Throughout the experience, pop-up reminders promoted upcoming sessions, Q&As and sponsor experiences, which was helpful for attendees like us who wanted to explore as much of the event as possible. An example: “LIVE: Questions about that #InfluencerLife? Join members of the #SephoraSquad in the Loft in one minute!” And while we’re on content, one thing we would have liked more of: mentions of the exact beauty products being applied during demos. (Our memories just aren’t what they used to be.)
Now that the first-ever virtual SEPHORiA is a wrap, Sephora is already looking ahead to the next iteration, although the brand didn’t say if it will take place in person or online. Sephora will gauge the success of the virtual experience via media impressions, social buzz and qualitative attendee feedback, gathered both during and after the event.
“One of the most rewarding and exciting aspects for me was being able to reconnect with our SEPHORiA community after a year hiatus in 2020. We’re very proud at what we were able to accomplish virtually and are already planning SEPHORiA 2022,” says Biancamano. “The overall event, which began with just a vision and initial concept, transformed into such a beautifully created experience that was both engaging and easily navigable for clients.”