Zoe Sugg, better known to most as ‘Zoella’, only began blogging in February 2009; just eight years later, she is now known as 'the most famous woman you’ve never heard of'¹ and with 12 million subscribers on her Youtube channel, 11m followers on Twitter, over 11m followers on Instagram and an impressive total of 1 billion views on her Youtube videos, it is safe to state that she has become a huge influencer for young women around the world and a role model for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Little did she know on uploading her first ever video, '60 Things In My Bedroom', that in a relatively short time she would be a hugely successful businesswoman with a host of self-branded household products and beauty essentials. With her upbeat and approachable demeanour it’s easy to understand why so many young people have warmed to her and become a loyal subscriber.
She has undeniably shot to fame in rapid fashion and in turn established a strong fan base which, perhaps most importantly from a commercial point of view, she has been able to convert into an enthusiastic customer base to sell her product ranges to - possibly the holy grail of any self respecting brand. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at how how the timing of her product launches have affected her YouTube channel over the past few years.
"Many go to Zoe for comfort and happiness because of how realistic she is and genuine she is. She shows us how she doesn’t have a perfect life, she suffers anxiety, she shows and deals with real life problems that many other YouTubers hide, which allows us to relate and let us know that no one is perfect and everyone is dealing with their own problems. She’s changed mine (and many others) life just by talking to a camera." - @zalfieefannpage, anxiety sufferer
Only posting one video each in 2009 and 2010, her channel didn’t take off until 2011, when she uploaded 25 videos throughout the year. It was at this point that she began to delve into the YouTube community and befriended Louise Pentland (Sprinkle of Glitter), with whom she bonded instantly and created her first ever collaboration video. She then went on to win ‘Best Established Beauty Blog’ award at the Cosmopolitan Blog Awards, heralding a huge change in her life.
Over the course of 2012 Sugg doubled the number of uploads to her main YouTube channel to 51 videos, but also created her more personal vlogging channel MoreZoella which has now grown to a total of 4.7 million subscribers. On this channel she posts content along the lines of full day activities and experiences and, most popularly, over the festive period to celebrate ‘#Vlogmas.’
In the same year she opened up to viewers about her social anxiety which has taken up a considerable part of her life and is something which helps a minority of her audience connect with her (justified not least by her becoming a digital ambassador for mental health charity Mind two years later). This suggests that being transparent about flaws and insecurities can actually strengthen your audience’s perception of you, and that feigning perfection risks alienating people, or at least switching them off.
In 2013 she reached the 1 million subscribers milestone on YouTube, at which point she was named one of ‘Britain’s Most Influential Tweeters’ by The Telegraph. It was also in the same year that she announced her relationship with Alfie Deyes (PointlessBlog), which viewers had speculated about for a couple of years prior to this announcement. Their relationship has blossomed over the years and they now famously own a mansion in Brighton with their pet dog, Nala. Both being YouTube sensations and macro-influencers, their humble vlogging beginnings has lead to success built on authenticity, inclusiveness and how relatable they are, all critical factors in the journey of brand building, product promotion and audience loyalty.
In September 2014, life just kept getting better for Zoella as she announced her first range of beauty products, aimed specifically at a teenage female audience. She struck an exclusive deal with Superdrug to stock the range in stores across the country and it quickly broke all sales records for the high street retailer, selling out completely in the first 24 hours.
More exciting news followed in November of the same year when she announced the debut of her first novel, Girl Online, selling over 78,000 copies in its first week and breaking JK Rowling’s 1998 record for a first-time novelist. She topped off the year in style a month later by featuring in the Band Aid 30 video alongside celebrities such as One Direction, Ed Sheeran, Ellie Goulding and Coldplay’s Chris Martin.
She was now well and truly in the public eye and in the summer of 2015 appeared on Celebrity Great British Bake Off for Comic Relief, competing against established public figures such as Jonathan Ross, Abbey Clancy and Gok Wan. Around the same time she released her second ‘Tutti Fruity’ beauty range with Superdrug, which incredibly in its first 24 hours sold the equivalent of a product every two seconds, outdoing the first range by a colossal 87%². A few months on, her second book in the Girl Online series was released, capping off another stratospheric year.
The effect of this flurry of television appearances, book launches and beauty ranges? Her Youtube subscribers grew by an astonishing 80%, from 5 million to 9 million. (trackalytics.com) Considering how many of her online fans are customers, and vice versa, capitalising on her audience by embarking on commercial ventures proved to be a powerful way to both grow her social media base and, in turn, potential buying audience further down the line.
The year after showed no signs of a deceleration and her rise to fame continued in May 2016 when she launched her next round of ‘Zoella Beauty’ products. Just two months later she reached an impressive 11 million subscribers on Youtube, growth of almost 20% again: the Zoella juggernaut was now at full speed. In September, Sugg announced an expansion of her product series with a range of more lifestyle-oriented items, including scented candles, slogan cushions and stationery. One month after the launch she reached the coveted achievement of featuring on the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine and, conveniently, released her third Girl Online book a matter of weeks later, in November.
Towards the end of the year she teamed up with her younger brother, Joe Sugg (ThatcherJoe) to release their own line of merchandise targeted at a younger male and female audience. This line includes ranges from phone cases to hoodies and their initial stock sold out in little over 25 minutes, proof were it needed that 'Team Sugg’ had by now a hyper loyal audience - and therefore customer base - that was more than happy to part with its (parents’) hard-earned cash. This was also proof that Zoe could successfully launch products at other target audiences beyond teenage girls, albeit in collaboration with her brother.
Fast forward to 2017 and her list of accolades is nothing short of impressive: a feature in Vogue magazine, two ‘Best British Vlogger’ Radio 1 Teen Awards, a ‘UK Favourite Vlogger’ Nickelodeon Teen Choice Award, television appearances on Loose Women and This Morning and, as previously mentioned, becoming the first ever digital ambassador for mental health awareness charity Mind. She even reached the lofty heights of having a waxwork of her placed in Madame Tussauds in London, joining the ranks of Michael Jackson, David Beckham and Madonna.
In March this year Zoella was named ‘Number One Most Influential’ by social media research firm Fizziology, based on her reach and average engagement across all social platforms. In July she announced her new ‘Jelly and Gelato’ beauty range, which includes body sprays, bath milk and a small clutch bag. More recently, she announced her latest lifestyle range, specifically for Christmas which includes an advent calendar, mugs and hot water bottles. She vlogged her family-and-friends launch event and you can see the kind of effort that goes into her launches here:
What I really want to emphasise is how Zoe Sugg has built herself an empire by launching self-branded products. She started off with a relatively small audience which rapidly increased once she caught the attention of young girls. Once girls began relating to Zoella, she gradually became a brand. She was and still is a lively, chatty and friendly individual who begins her videos with an enthusiastic and welcoming “hello everybody!” Her subscriber count began ticking up and she hit one million in 2013: one million people invested in her content, who she is and what she stands for.
“I think Zoe is approachable because she’s very genuine and appears friendly and easy to talk to - and of course has a great fashion sense! Her products are well designed, affordable and appeal to a wide audience, which may interest people who see her products on the shelves and persuade them to look into her videos.” - @zoella.outfits_
By mid-2014, Zoella was a fully established brand that retailers, publishers and advertisers all queued up to buy into. In 2014, on moving into a £1 million mansion with boyfriend Alfie, she was criticised for losing her relatable nature rather than being celebrated for being a smart businesswoman. However, this wasn't enough to put viewers off as she gained over three million subscribers between 2014 and 2015. Perhaps seeing her success reeled them in more, or they were simply keen to see more of her success unfold.
Sugg has embarked on multiple beauty and lifestyle lines, released novels and won awards but remains hugely engaged with her core audience on her Youtube channel by sharing engaging, authentic and personable content. Accessible and approachable, she has spent several years building a formidable audience and discovering her voice on Youtube. As she grew in confidence and took an honest yet candid approach to her videos, she gained a loyal fanbase who see many aspects of her day-to-day life, from a day out with friends to the aftermath of a panic attack.
She makes it easy for her fans to relate, and to see her as both a role model and friend - ultimately this authenticity of content resonates with an active, engaged audience, capitalised on with the release of beauty and lifestyle products in high street stores. In this case, people who may never have heard of her but enjoy the products she creates could become the next wave of loyal subscribers, patiently awaiting new product releases on YouTube.
In short, Zoella is proof that people buy from a personality, not a company; from brands they can associate with and that convey a sense of inclusivity, all of which inevitably makes it easier to buy into her. Brands should always strive to put a face to the name and give their customers at least some insight into their personality, beliefs and culture. Ultimately, potential customers are sticklers for authenticity, the presence or absence of which has a critical bearing on conversion, investment and loyalty.
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