In Ep. 76 of Earned, Conor sits down with Akash Mehta, co-founder and CEO of Fable & Mane, an Ayurvedic-inspired haircare brand that launched in 2020 and saw a 90% YoY growth in EMV last year. Prior to starting his own beauty brand, Akash leveraged his digital marketing expertise to head up the social and influencer marketing programs at iconic brands like Dior and Estée Lauder. He’s also an influencer in his own right, with a popular beauty podcast (Founded Beauty) and nearly 300k followers on Instagram.
To start the episode, we discuss the resurgence of brick-and-mortar retail, and Akash explains the importance of continuing to invest in both online and in-store experiences. He shares some takeaways from the recent Sephora Brand Summit, including the importance of influencer marketing and the strong correlation between Earned Media Value (EMV) and revenue. We discuss why Sephora is not only a retailer, but also a key brand building partner for up-and-coming brands, and Akash emphasizes the importance of a focused distribution strategy. Next, we discuss how Fable & Mane creates demand in non-English-speaking markets, and the large and relatively still untapped market opportunity in India. Of course, we talk about Akash’s bread and butter—influencer marketing—and learn his philosophies, learnings, and predictions for the future of the space. To close the show, we talk about what inspired Akash’s own podcast, Founded Beauty, and hear how his dad’s experience in manufacturing and distribution have impacted Akash’s approach to building and growing Fable & Mane.
The following interview has been lightly edited for concision.
“You have to unlearn, and refresh, and reboot each time”: Akash Mehta’s Influencer Marketing Philosophies and Learnings
Conor Begley: Let's talk about influencer marketing for a second. I think you're one of the best influencer marketers in the world. What were some of the learnings you had in that space within Dior? How have you seen that change? And if you're to boil it down to a few core philosophies, what are those?
Akash Mehta: So it was really interesting. I think the best thing Dior gave to me, and I think to others who work in corporate and then go to create their own brand, is the relationships I had with these influencers. They follow me on Instagram, I've bonded with them on work trips, influencer trips. So I can DM them and say, “Hey, I have this new launch for my brand, can I send it to you?” And then they'll often post because they're loyal and they're going to support you.
What I really noticed, and I think this is a trend with many influencer marketers, is that you have to unlearn each time and refresh and reboot. Because what I knew at Dior worked really well for Dior, and let's be honest, it's Dior, it's got the brand equity and recognition. [We also] had the budget, and while I was coming in there to streamline it, get some ROI, make it less of a gray area, if we spent $20k on an influencer and it didn't work, we weren’t going to cry about it, we moved on. Whereas for me now, I'm like $20k, oh my god, that's a big budget. So I think that was the hardest part.
And I think the third thing I had to unlearn is that we were still very heavily dependent on these celebrities and VIPs. I was going in there trying to build the nano- and micro-influencer [cohort], but it wasn't for brand building, it was just for campaigns, one-off moments, whereas the nurturement was really only with the top tier. They’re the ones who get invited to all the events and all the runways and fashion shows and everything. So while creating my own brand, I realized a lot of that isn't really applicable for most beauty startups, and even mid-size companies.
Conor Begley: Most brands aren't Dior.
Akash Mehta: Most brands aren't Dior. And I think even Dior is probably really doubling down on this now more than ever because what you're seeing is there is a huge trend with the top influencers, the macros, and the VIPs. I call this influencer fee inflation. Their fee has gone up, but maybe their value hasn't increased or their ROI might not be there, and they might not be gaining that initial engagement and reach that they had before. Especially on platforms like TikTok.
But it also depends on many things. In the influencers’ defense, it depends on the product, it depends on that piece of content, the transparency, they have to be authentic with it, the brief they have. A lot of factors are involved. So it's not as simple as me saying that, but in general, it's getting very expensive. And I can tell you when I speak to half of these agents, because you're paying their 20% fee, some of these quotes I'm getting are just not viable. $70k for a post, $100k for a post. It's really hard because you're still betting on this, and then to make it work even better, you want to get media rights and then boost it, so that’s another budget. So you're investing a whole campaign from one shot of one influencer. It's really difficult.
And then the micros and the nanos, while they're so crucial, there's a lot of them. Again, you want to bet on the ones that are rising, but it's still expensive because I think every brand now is working with nano- and micro-influencers, and they also get agents. The amount of nano-influencers that have agents now, I'm like, what? So it's crazy. It's shifted so much from five years ago.
I think for brands today there are a lot of choices for amazing content creators to work with. But there’s also a little bit of this unknown factor that still remains a gray area. I think for brands listening, don't go ask your founder friends for a list of amazing converting influencers. Just find them yourself organically. My biggest piece of advice is doing this in three ways.
One is to monitor your own socials. If you're seeing a little uptick organically, or someone that you even paid posting and it sticks, get on a Zoom call with them, nurture that relationship. Try to lock them in for a 12-month partnership. They would prefer a longer-term partnership. I don't really believe in exclusivity. I think at our stage you don't need to say you can only work with us. But a longer-term brand building contract is crucial for those.
Two, don't be afraid of different verticals. We've seen the biggest success with TikTokers and Instagramers who are not traditional beauty influencers. And that's been really powerful for us. I think our biggest sale-drivers have actually not been beauty influencers. So that's been really crucial.
And I think the third thing for me is, don't just use the landscape of content creators out there. Maybe build your own content creators within your team, or yourself as a founder. One of my friends—I'm an investor in DIRTEA, which is a mushroom tea coffee company—their channel, their DIRTEA TikTok account, gets millions of views on most videos of themselves, as the founders being the influencers. They don't spark it, but you could spark your own content. But maybe you build yourself up as the influencer. After all, it's cheaper.
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