Back to blog

e.l.f Marketing Strategy: Insights into Gen Z’s Fave Makeup Brand

9 minute read

e.l.f  Cosmetics, short for Eyes, Lips, Face is the number one cosmetics brand among female teens. So, what’s their secret? Well, to name a few: early adoption and innovative use of TikTok, vegan and cruelty-free products, and impactful collabs with authentic influencers. Keep reading to learn all about e.l.f 's marketing strategy, their content, and who they work with.

e.l.f: History of the brand and why we like them

Vegan and cruelty-free makeup exists. High quality makeup exists. Affordable makeup exists. But a brand that embraces all three? That’s pretty rare. This vision inspired e.l.f  founders Joseph Shamah and Scott Vincent Borba to create their own cosmetics brand in Oakland in 2004.

The brand has made waves with its commitment to creating makeup and skincare products that are fair to animals. As it says on their homepage, the brand supports a range of ethical causes, including diversity, equality and animal rights:

The brand stands up for and actively supports causes it believes in. For example, the brand is donating 100% of the proceeds from their limited edition Big Mood Pride Mascara to  LGBTQ+ charity It Gets Better Project. 

And e.l.f  is celebrating Black History Month by partnering with the Pull Up For Change Impact Fund in support of the 2023 MAKE IT BLACK Collection.

The company is also powered by an inspiring female leadership team:

This all resonates with purpose-driven Gen Z consumers who expect brands to make the world a better place. 

Deep Dive into e.l.f 's influencer marketing strategy

Jetzt, wo du einen tieferen Einblick in die Geschichte der Marke bekommen hast, wollen wir uns ansehen, wie sie die Zusammenarbeit mit Influencern nutzt, um ihre Markenbotschaft zu verstärken.

e.l.f influencer strategy on Instagram

In the last 12 months, 3.7k creators talked about e.l.f  Cosmetics in 14.8k posts. The engagement rate for branded posts on Instagram is 3.1%, and the potential audience size is 740M.

Who does e.l.f. work with?

The brand has a strong focus on micro influencers. These mid-size influencers with 10k-100k followers make up 56% of e.l.f ’s collaborations:

Focusing on mid-size accounts rather than just celebrities and mega influencers is a smart strategy. Micro influencers are often perceived as being more authentic and have more engaged audiences.

Here is an example of a micro influencer that e.l.f  works with. The brand has worked with thelovelist1, who has 12k followers, several times this year. 

That said, e.l.f  does work with some big names as well. Some big influencer partnerships include Meredith Duxbury (18.5 million followers), Ariana Hailey (15.9 million) and Mikayla Nogueira (14.7 million followers).  

e.l.f  offered long term influencer partner Mikayla Nogueira the opportunity to create a limited edition lipgloss for her wedding. Rumor has it that the wedding featured an e.l.f -themed kissing booth!

e.l.f  mainly works with creators in the U.S, but also some in the UK, Canada, and Germany:

The brand works with many influencers on a one-time basis. 55% of all of e.l.f s collabs are one-time collabs, 26% are short term (up to 6 months) and only 19% are long term:

e.l.f influencer strategy on TikTok

In the last 12 months, 481 creators talked about e.l.f  Cosmetics in 1.3k posts. Influencer videos typically generate 236k views, and can reach a potential audience of 317.2m.

Here is a closer look at some of the micro influencers the brand works with on TikTok:

The brand prides itself on affordability and often creates “dupes” of high end products. For example, here is influencer Mikayla Nogueira comparing e.l.f’s foundation with Charlotte Tilbury. The viral TikTok video amassed 1.3 million likes: 

Community: the e.l.f Beauty Squad

e.l.f  also leverages their biggest fans: their customers. The  brand has their own community called the e.l.f  Beauty Squad. Launched in 2018, the Beauty Squad program has over 2.7 million members and offers a ton of benefits, including free products, a birthday gift, free entry to e.l.f sweepstakes, and surprise offers and opportunities. 

The brand also offers an affiliate program, where people can apply to work with the brand. If their application is accepted, they get an affiliate link and earn 9% commission on sales.

e.l.f ’s social media strategy

Now, let’s take a look at the brand’s owned media strategy.

e.l.f  made a strategic pivot in 2019 by closing all brick-and-mortar stores to invest exclusively in the digital customer experience. This decision has paid off, with the brand doubling down on social media to connect with its audience. 

e.l.f  Cosmetics is active on multiple social media platforms. On Instagram, the brand boasts 6.5 million followers, while on TikTok, they have 1.1 million followers. They have 2.4 million followers on  Facebook and 116k subscribers on YouTube. The brand often experiments with new platforms, and was one of the first to join Twitch and BeReal. 

Let’s explore in further detail how the brand approaches Instagram and TikTok. 

e.l.f ’s Instagram strategy

The brand posts a mixture of posts, stories and reels. Storyclash data shows that stories make up approx 63% of the brand’s Instagram content, followed by reels (19%) and posts (18%). 

On Instagram, e.l.f  posts mainly product-focused content showcasing the brand’s cosmetics and skincare range. Like this:

Instagram stories tend to showcase new “just dropped” products, and include a call-to-action encouraging customers to purchase:

The brand’s Instagram content feels almost like a two-way dialogue. Emphasizing that “You asked, we listened,” the brand makes it clear that customer feedback has a real impact on product development. 

So, how does the brand’s Instagram content perform?

The brand has seen steady growth, increasing from 6.2M to 6.5M followers in the past six months. Posts have an average reach of 385k people, and stories have a lower reach of 184k. The estimated media value is €13.5k for posts, and €6.4k for stories. 

In total, the brand has driven a total estimated media value of €6M through posts and €4.8M through stories. Now, that’s a profitable social media strategy!

e.l.f ’s TikTok strategy

e.l.f  was one of the first brands to not just join TikTok, but really explore the platform’s full potential. With viral campaigns like the "Eyes, Lips, Face" song and the "Eyes. Lips. Famous." TikTok-based reality show, e.l.f  won the hearts of millions of Gen Z beauty enthusiasts on TikTok.

The brand’s TikTok content is generally product-focused like their Instagram content, but with a more down-to-earth and humorous approach.

Over the past 6 months, the brand has posted 134 TikTok videos, resulting in an engagement rate of 1.7%. 

Their TikTok content strategy seems to be working for them, as the brand has seen steady follower growth over the past 6 months. Their average estimated reach for a TikTok reel is 112.5k users, and their average estimated media value is €2.8k. 

What can your brand learn from e.l.f ?

e.l.f 's success offers many valuable lessons for other brands:

  • Prioritize authenticity over follower count

e.l.f mainly works with micro-influencers who have smaller but more engaged followings. This is a powerful way to establish authentic connections with specific target audiences. This results in higher conversion rates, as micro-influencers often have a more dedicated and trusting fan base. 

  • Adopt new platforms early

e.l.f 's position as the No. one cosmetics brand among female teens underscores the importance of staying ahead of new social media platforms. By jumping on TikTok, e.l.f  managed to build a strong presence and create viral campaigns at a time when other brands were just thinking about getting started.

  • Think out of the box

e.l.f isn’t just the first to embrace new platforms. The forward-thinking company aunched creative partnerships with non-beauty brands like Chipotle and Dunkin’ Donuts. They were also one of the first beauty brands to launch an NFT (non-fungible token). The brand always embraces innovation and stays at the forefront of technology.

  • Commit to your values

e.l.f 's unwavering commitment to its core values, including cruelty-free and vegan products, is inspiring. This commitment resonates with consumers who prioritize values, building respect and trust. Brands can learn from e.l.f  that upholding core values can lead to long-term brand loyalty and advocacy.

What could e.l.f do better?

While e.l.f  has achieved significant success, there are areas where it’s possible to do even better:

  • Leverage community more

The brand has a strong community and an affiliate program. Why not put the two together?

The brand could link the e.l.f  Beauty squad and the affiliate program, giving fans and customers the opportunity to work with the brand, resulting in hyper-authentic content.

  • Influencer-Generated Content (IGC)

The engagement rate of e.l.f’s owned content on Instagram is 0.4%. While this is higher than some other brands (Charlotte Tilbury’s engagement rate on Instagram is 0.2%), the brand could still do better. 

Since influencer content has a higher engagement rate of 2.7%, we would suggest incorporating IGC (influencer-generated content) content on the brand’s owned channels. 

  • More influencer collections

The brand’s top TikTok videos are from mega influencer Mikayla Nogueira who launched a new e.l.f  lipgloss for her wedding. Offering influencers the chance to put their own touch on products, rather than just promoting existing ones, takes influencer marketing to the next level. The brand should consider launching more influencer-developed products in future. 

Want to check out the influencer marketing strategies of more top brands?

Watch the on-demand webinar about Charlotte Tilbury to find out what they could do to be even more successful with influencer marketing!

Prefer reading instead of watching? Check out our blog post on Charlotte Tilbury where we demystify who the brand works with and how they approach influencer marketing. 

About Storyclash - the brand behind the insights

Storyclash is the AI-powered Influencer Marketing Platform that helps your team drive sales and brand awareness. Discover authentic creators, measure the impact of your campaigns and manage all your data in one place. Fast-growing DTCs like  Bears With Benefits, Junglück or Kapten & Son, as well as large, established companies like Vodafone, Lululemon or Kaufland use Storyclash to get more out of their influencer marketing.