How to compete with established stockists through paid media

compete with big brands using ppc
Olivia Alcorn
by: Olivia Alcorn
A question we’re often asked at Foundation is ‘how can emerging beauty brands compete with the big guns online?’

Naturally, there are some ways in which established stockists will always outperform emerging brands, especially when it comes to the economies of scale. But small brands today can hugely benefit from the plethora of low-risk, paid media services that cater to their agility and effectively tap into their niche target audiences.

In a recent whitepaper ‘The Race to the Top: Emerging Brands vs. Established Stockists’, we honed in on paid media programmes, including Google In-Market audiences, Google Affinity Audiences and Google Shopping, to showcase the value of paid media for a small, challenger beauty brand.

Organic or paid?

Paid media can be scary to a small beauty brand but it shouldn’t be as it’s not only the playground of the power players. Some immediately think of big wallets when they think of the likes of pay per click (PPC), however, budget is just one ingredient.

Competing organically in the search engine results pages (SERPs) is the goal for most small beauty brands but this isn’t an overnight fix; it can take intensive nurturing over a long period to see gains over high domain authority competitors.

So, before the fruits of your labour on SERPs come into fruition, a smaller contender can have a decent shot at visibility and conversion with a relatively low investment PPC campaign, for example.

PPC has flex appeal

Paid media (or pay-per-click) can very quickly and effectively narrow the all-important awareness gap between household and challenger brand names.

Today’s challenger beauty brands often have a narrow target audience, such as solutions specifically for sensitive skin or a story built around one hero ingredient. PPC allows hyper-personalised targeting to ensure the budget is being used effectively, without leaking precious budgets on swathes of the general public who would never be likely to convert.

Getting product into the hands of the right people is critical but also harder to do for smaller businesses. The highly targeted options of PPC particularly suit indie brands positioned in a niche who court high-intent prospective customers.

Most importantly, PPC is an instant engine for lead generation that new beauty brands could only have dreamed of previously. Whilst, of course, some investment is required, it’s nothing compared to the budgets from traditional out-of-home advertising that was once the only option. Competing with established stockists on lead generation would have taken years of big-budget marketing campaigns or the slow trickle of word of mouth recommendations in the days before paid media. PPC campaigns can be conceptualised, created and approved within hours. Flexibility to change tactics and adapt to trends quickly also works well for small brands, who are more agile anyway and more likely to pivot operations at short notice due to obstacles such as low stock.

Visual-led marketing with Google Shopping

Awareness of both brand name and visual brand identity is a huge challenge for emerging players in the vast and saturated beauty market. Unlike other paid media options, Google Shopping uses imagery in combination with text so that by the time the potential customer makes it to your site, they already have a good idea of product, price and aesthetic. Therefore image-led, paid advertising, with placement at the top of the SERPs, is especially powerful in building familiarity.

The brand Skin + Me is a great example of a relatively small fry, new market entrant that makes good use of Google Shopping – the compelling yellow brand palette and clinical visuals make it feel right at home as a legitimate contender among household names.

Source: Google Shopping results for ‘skin care for sensitive skin’

With an industry as personal and emotionally-led as beauty, consumers want to know and trust the brands they buy from. Much like in food, the nature of beauty means there’s a safety and wellbeing consideration in the decision process (many products are absorbed into the skin) and trust is key to that. Therefore the use of Google Shopping, with strong imagery and a legitimate-looking product, adds a level of credibility right at the top of the funnel.

An enticing image could give a competitive edge without the big budget and it can also reduce dead leads – those who abandon their journey once they eventually see the product image and decide they don’t like the look of it.

Ready-made punters

The beauty industry has an edge when it comes to paid targeting options because of its dedicated consumer base for whom beauty is a lifestyle, pastime and hobby, meaning there are tonnes of search data to accurately target the right people, with the right product. Google’s range of targeting tools use this data to capture potential customers at all stages of the funnel.

Affinity Audiences is a top-of-the-funnel option to target those in the awareness stage – it analyzes search data to associate a number of interest categories to each user over the long-term. If these match or complement your brand’s offering, then it can be a great place to pick up new customers who are already interested in what you’ve got to offer. This provides ready-made, relevant audiences to tap into at the click of a button.

affinity audience categories
Snapshot of affinity audience categories

Further down the funnel, in the consideration or purchase stages, Google In-Market Audiences leverage online behaviour data to assign target categories. Unlike Affinity Audiences, In-Market Audiences capture short-term interest that disappears as soon as the user makes a purchase. Google distinguishes between searches with commercial and informational intent to create timely In-Market Audiences. This way brands can choose to advertise during the crucial commercial-intent window, such as Black Friday or Christmas.

Key takeaways

In summary, at Foundation we’re huge advocates of exploring paid media to complement any emerging beauty brand’s primary SEO efforts. Dabble with small PPC budgets initially and stick to them, the risk is low but the reward could be brand-making. As well as this, Google’s services, Affinity Audiences and In-Market Audiences, offer highly targeted, larger-scale paid media options at both ends of the funnel. These tools provide something for every type of marketing campaign and are particularly powerful for those in the beauty sector owing to the large amounts of search data in the space. Google Shopping is an equally effective tool for smaller players, as its image-led proposition legitimises new brands and builds trust with those who are looking to acquire new customers that are entirely unfamiliar with the brand. 

If you’d like to see more of our recommendations for how emerging brands can compete with established stockists online, download a copy of our latest white paper here.

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