This is a Beauty innovation from The 70 Best Trend-Driven Innovations of 2019.

This quarter [February 2019], French beauty brand Sephora launched a hunt for Instagram influencers to form part of its new #SephoraSquad. Any active users of Instagram can apply – no matter how many followers they have. By not making a huge follower count a prerequisite, Sephora says it aims to build a more diverse squad of influencers who reflect the diversity of its customer base. Chosen candidates will receive a one-year payment and be paid for their work, as well as receiving free products and access to networking events and mentors. The #SephoraSquad semi-finalists will be announced this week.

Influencers without followers? Sure, it sounds strange on first hearing. But Sephora are tapping into deep underlying shifts in the nature of ‘influence’.

Authenticity trumps reach. Influencer marketing is built around the idea that the best advertising is word-of-mouth recommendation. True enough. But in 2019, Insta-influence has become a billion dollar business and too many influencers project an image of plastic insincerity. In this environment, Sephora’s move towards authentic Instagram users linked to smaller networks – or so-called nano-influencers 🙄 – makes sense. No wonder both Lush and Macy’s recently leveraged their own internal communities to turn their employees or superfans into external-facing brand influencers.

Real influence is woke influence. Diversity is at the heart of the #SephoraSquad idea. As consumers tire of an army of fake, #soblessed Insta-models, ethics, values and identity are playing an increasingly important role in the influence economy. And Sephora has form here: the brand previously seized attention when it recruited its trans employees to hold makeup classes for trans customers last year. We’ve been tracking THE AWOKENING of influence for a while, but this trend still has plenty of road left to run. So how can you build relationships with authentic influencers who will represent values that are important your customers? Or who’ll give voice to marginalised groups too often ignored by your industry?

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