D2C Brand Perfect Diary is Disrupting China’s Beauty Market

    How a homegrown D2C brand used disruptive marketing tactics to resonate with Chinese millennials and become a billion-dollar company in just three years.
    Perfect Diary's collaboration with National Geographic China and the Discovery Channel. Photo: Weibo
    Ruonan ZhengAuthor
      Published   in Beauty
    • In China, the development of D2C brands has been built on similar strategies to brands globally, however, the strategies have been adapted for the local market and focus heavily on user platforms and customer care. Perfect Diary has paved the way, becoming one of China’s first beauty disruptors.
    • Perfect Diary is one of China's most innovative D2C brands and is now valued at US$1 billion. It has proved itself to be a fast-learning, dynamic brand that customers feel stands out among the stiff competition in the beauty sector. It has dominated the sector by implementing dedicated KOL strategies applied product by product.
    • According to expert opinion, when beauty brands react to trends at such a fast pace as Perfect Diary does, it can raise quality control and production issues. While there have been several negative concerns raised by consumers it seems that Perfect Diary is adept enough to resolve such issues.

    Since launching in 2016, China’s homegrown beauty brand Perfect Diary is now the hottest cosmetics brand on Tmall. During Singles Day 2019, Perfect Diary broke the first brand breaking the 100 million RMB (US$14 million) sales record in one day - ahead of other international cosmetic brands.

    Moreover, in September 2019, the brand raised a new round of funding and was valued at US$1 billion. Chinese media reports it is planning to use this capital to grow its offline store counts from 40 to 300 and to enter the perfume market. What attributed their astonishing growth? And what are some concerns behind? We took to the internet to find out what consumers thought and spoke with experts in marketing, influencer strategy, and beauty sectors.

    WeChat-first response#

    Traditionally in the west, D2C (Direct-to-Consumer) brands’ path of development has been quite clear: They manufacture and ship products directly to consumers without relying on physical stores. Companies like Glossier, Allbirds, and Everlane are the flagship D2C brands; whether it’s building slack groups or repurposing user-generated content, they are disrupting the traditional industry by being user-centric.

    In China, the development of D2C brands is built on similar strategies to the aforementioned but have a local twist. For example, by leveraging private traffic on WeChat, Perfect Diary has become a trailblazer in engaging with consumers on a one-on-one basis. This includes the creation of a fictional avatar “Xiao Wanzi” that befriends and chats with customers.

    Once a friend is added on WeChat, the virtual avatar sends discount codes and shares makeup tutorials on her moments. Photo: screenshots/WeChat
    Once a friend is added on WeChat, the virtual avatar sends discount codes and shares makeup tutorials on her moments. Photo: screenshots/WeChat

    “Today there are hundreds of “Xiao Wanzi” personal WeChat accounts run by Perfect Diary employees, all with the same profile image and WeChat Moments posts. Each of these accounts operates dozens, if not hundreds, of WeChat groups filled with the brand’s customers,” wrote marketing expert and a China trend watcher Lauren Hallanan. These WeChat groups contain daily chat updates on the latest Brand products, makeup tips and more.

    Little Red Book KOLs#

    Besides establishing WeChat touchpoints, Perfect Diary was initially known for building viral campaigns on Little Red Book. Such popularity was achieved by their bulletproof KOL strategy. Kim Leitzes, founder and CEO of China’s influencer marketing platform Parklu, notes, “they activate across the entire spectrum — celebrity, top-tier, mid-tier, micro and KOC.” These beauty KOLs’ product reviews ultimately attracted consumers. And, because the product pricing is relatively low and accessible, ranging from about $8 (52rmb) for a lipstick to $19 (129rmb) for a twelve color eyeshadow plate, Perfect Diary easily grew its first set of consumers from Little Red Book.

    As the company distributed their KOL budgets one product at a time, it built “It items” like the Little Diamond lipstick and the twelve colors eyeshadow collaboration with the Discovery channel while their consumer base snowballed. Within the first year of the brand’s launch, it became the top mentioned beauty brand on Little Red Book, ahead of luxury brands like L'Oreal, Tom Ford, and Estee Lauder.

    The average media value of Perfect Diary’s KOL mentions is 36% more than other domestic brands, but the frequency of repeated mentions is much lower. Photo: Parklu
    The average media value of Perfect Diary’s KOL mentions is 36% more than other domestic brands, but the frequency of repeated mentions is much lower. Photo: Parklu

    However, Leitzes voiced concerns. Based on the research from their firm, in comparison with other brands, she suggests that the company hasn’t inspired enough social capital to “organically inspire aspirational KOLs.” By this, she means that while consumers are bombarded by Perfect Diary reviews, the status of this brand is not yet strong enough for consumers to voluntarily post organically.

    Frequent drops#

    Perfect Diary has created diverse products that amassed users’ attention on social media. On Weibo, the tag #perfectdiarymonthlynewdrop had over 649,300 views and attracted a constant follower growth. In terms of collaboration, it has avoided obvious partnerships that make traditional Chinese products, such as museum overlaps; instead, it worked with more unusual outlets like the Discovery Channel and National Geographic China to launch products with color palettes inspired by nature. Unique collaborations like these have successfully expanded consumers’ preconceptions about cosmetics.

    However, when beauty brands react to trends at such a fast pace, it could raise quality control issues. Perfect Diary has said they use the same factory as big brands such as Dior, YSL, and Estee Lauder yet there have been several consumer complaints.

    The experts we approached, however, were understanding of such issues. “Color cosmetics are commoditized because manufacturers like Intercos dominate the industry, including supplying LVMH and Kering beauty brands,” said Leitzes. “When you’re creating new products as fast as Perfect Diary, it’s inevitable that quality gets sacrificed — especially for mass price points.”

    Consumers' complaints on Little Red Book.
    Consumers' complaints on Little Red Book.

    Dao Nguyen, the founder of Essenzia - a consultancy for beauty and fragrance marketing strategy in China - said there can be various reasons behind consumer complaints: ranging from industry quality control standards to formula and packing. Nguyen is optimistic, noting that unless Perfect Diary completely neglects quality management, the brand is here to stay. “Perfect Diary has pivoted its strategy several times over the last three years. Their learning curb has developed greatly and it has shown it is learning fast,” she said.

    When it comes to the issue of complaints, the company has its own unique strategy for dealing with consumer feedback. On its official Bilibili video streaming channel, Perfect Diary had staff create test videos to address product rumors. However, Hallanan was skeptical about whether Perfect Diary can maintain its track record. She told Jing Daily, “I think right now consumers’ curiosity about this hyped brand is really high, so they might overlook negative reviews because the price point is low and they want to try it out, but eventually, after the hype dies down, it may be an issue.”

    Despite these expert concerns, by using innovative marketing tactics - from private WeChat groups to sophisticated KOL strategies on RED - Perfect Diary has proved to be a fast-learning, dynamic D2C brand that customers feel stands out among the stiff competition. It may not be flawless, but this innovative company is building a beauty community. The ambitious team (mostly post-90s millennials) has said they want to be the L’Oreal of the post-Internet era. Whether it can live up to its own claims or not remains to be seen. But without a doubt, Perfect Diary is now a beauty industry disruptor in its own right.

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