This is the first in a two-part series on beauty content in Asia. Tune in tomorrow for an interview with SK-II's director of global communications and YouTube creator Michelle Phan.
A big part of Powell’s role is to help individual creators of YouTube content be successful. As well as promoting them, that involves educating them in content creation and giving them the facilities to get the most they can out of the YouTube platform. This includes a dedicated space in Google's Tokyo offices where creators can use professional-quality camera and production equipment free of charge.
Events also feature heavily: last year, YouTube organised around 200, including FanFests, which connect advertisers directly with content creators, and creator academies, which encourage knowledge and skill sharing between creators. Through these gatherings, YouTube offers best-practice guidelines around areas such as self-branding, the fundamentals of creativity, how to deal with negativity on social media, and working with brands.
Powell noted that FanFests are often organised around creators like musicians and comedians, but said there was lots of room to develop activity in the area of beauty-related content. Over the past year, the time spent watching beauty content grew 190 per cent. Beauty Bound was a way of building on that momentum, he said. Led by Procter & Gamble’s (P&G) SK-II cosmetics brand as its sponsor, the initiative featured Michelle Phan, a phenomenally successful YouTube creator and entrepreneur, as lead judge.
Powell described it as “P&G helping in an authentic way to find the next [major] beauty creator”. “We thought, how can we take the reach of the brand and the know-how of YouTube and put them together. SK-II gets a lot of exposure to creators that they wouldn’t get otherwise; the creators get a lot of one-on-one time, mentoring and coaching. The goal is to help give them the skills and experience to help them reach what they want to on YouTube.”
Many brands, he said, “want to connect with YouTubers but don’t know how”. Through its involvement in the project, SK-II sought to learn how to achieve that in a more genuine way and with broader scope. The brand already organised Beauty Circles, he said (events that build connections with leading creators in individual markets). “It’s a case of how do you take that and do it at a much larger scale.”
Powell said brands in the beauty sector looking to work with creators could learn a lot by looking at the approach by brands in other categories. Coca-Cola, for example, worked with the musician Kurt Hugo Schneider (who has clocked up around 2 billion views) in a way that rendered its bottles as musical instruments.
“The obvious way would have been to just have a Coke bottle close to the camera,” Powell said. “But Kurt is known for making music from anything, so they had different-sized Coke bottles being passed around, taking up 40 to 50 per cent of the screen, but really cleverly integrated the product into the video in a natural way.”
He pointed to Turkish Airlines as another brand taking the right approach, simply by flying creators to Istanbul and other cities and giving them free rein. The important thing, he said, is for brands to “let go” and “trust the creator”—something that SK-II is showing signs of doing.
“Brands that understand that creators don’t want to be directed are the most successful,” he said. “SK-II were clear that you [the creators] are the experts, you tell us what to do; they didn’t want to dictate and hand out messages. The more you can give creators control, the more success you’re going to have, because they have real connection with their fans and the fans will see right through anything that isn’t genuine.
“A lot of creators,” he continued, “would never give away the trust they’ve built with their audience for however much money. [They] turn down shockingly large offers from brands because they don’t think it fits their image or what they want to do.”
Don't seek perfection
His advice to creators themselves was also to remain natural and play to their strengths. Looking professional should not be a priority, he said. “It’s not about high production quality. It’s about the content itself as opposed to what you shot it with. Quite often, [as a viewer] you’re peering into someone’s life, so you like the naturalness and the mistakes that come out—that makes it authentic.”
At the same time, there is plenty of room for creators to evolve in terms of style and material. Kumamiki, for example, grew her audience from 3,000 to 200,000 in half a year by moving from simple makeup coaching to more lifestyle-oriented content. A collaboration with Toei Films even saw her appear as a Samurai warrior in a piece of content filmed at the YouTube studio in Tokyo.
Engaging directly with fans is important too. Powell cited Bethany Mota as a good example of a creator who does that very well, by setting aside serious time to interact with her viewers. In the beauty category, he said, the most successful creators are those who answer people’s problems, either directly or with the content they produce. That content doesn’t need to be glamorous—it could be advice on how to deal with dry skin, for example—but it should respond to a need and leave people feeling positive.
“I watch content because it makes me laugh or feel good in some way, and I think with beauty it’s just like that as well,” he said.