The beauty industry’s overall marketing strategy is moving away from ‘myth-based’ branding to ‘evidence-based’ brands – and Duelstone is ideally positioned to ride the first wave into the Chinese market, says company CEO and co-founder Byron Constable .
In just over a year, Duelstone has built a team of 10,000 beauty content creators in 60 countries who try Western beauty products and share their experience in Chinese as a post on Chinese social media. Results? The massive sales boost of beauty brands trying to break into the Chinese market — and marketing data that shows, for the money, just how much more cost-effective this new marketing vehicle is.
“A lot of these brands have tried to get into China, but Chinese consumers don’t want to hear from brands, they want to hear from humans,” Byron says. “It’s human-to-human communication. People don’t trust brand communication, more and more.”
So far it’s certainly working: last year one European brand went from zero sales in China to £1.5m in retail revenue just using Duelstone’s model. So how does it work?
“Cosmetic brands pay us to facilitate the product, to put the product in the hands of the creators, and they talk about the brand and the benefits,” Byron says. “So we find the creators — or, in fact, they find us.”
Duelstone charges the brand £100 per post, and for that small fee they get huge audiences on Chinese social media. Meanwhile, the post’s creators are enjoying a stream of the latest products from some of the world’s top beauty brands as their motivation.
Byron continues the business model of pioneering “there’s an executive team of seven,” then an independent team of 25 people around the world, plus 10,000 creatives experimenting with products. We send them products from the biggest brands and they post their experience: they don’t get paid unless we use their content.
“The creators are from all over the world but not from China — there are 600 in the Cambridgeshire area. Many students, mostly Chinese, and there are a few Chinese-speaking Westerners, post their experience on Chinese sites.
“You can post on Chinese media from anywhere in the world, it is very easy to download Chinese social media platforms from the West.”
Byron has many years’ business experience in China.
“I’ve lived in China most of my adult life,” he says. “I came back to the UK in 2014 to look at building a bridge between China and the UK for the beauty industry. I had created a platform in China for brands, which was only local to China, but I wanted to take it global.”
Duelstone appeared in 2022 and is based on Station Road – and its model rearranges the sector.
“The beauty industry is refocusing itself on an evidence-based culture, and it’s not myth-based in the sense that people don’t easily buy into brands saying how great their products are. The industry is refocusing in Cambridge as a very much evidence-based culture – and that’s what brands are hearing business from consumers.We’re very much at the forefront of doing that.
“This renaissance is happening in the beauty industry, and Cambridge is best suited for this kind of revolution, especially with its technology and infrastructure.”
Expanding the market further, “beauty” products include cosmetics, wellness, nutrition and fitness.
“It’s skincare, makeup, nourishment — like vitamins C and D — and eye makeup,” Byron says of the collection. “The largest brand in the US is using Duelstone to expand into China. Probiotics are also a very big part of the sales mix. People in China see wellness as an aspect of beauty, they understand that inner beauty affects outer beauty, so we see wellbeing as very important.” Optibac, for example, they’re based in Reading, and it’s a very popular brand. A lot of these brands have tried to enter China but Chinese consumers don’t want to hear from brands, they want to hear from humans. We integrate with stores, so When a demand happens for a product, we connect brands directly to online retailers and they purchase and ship. The hard part is creating demand. Once a product is listed it’s easier. Interest is growing in China.”
The brands are “mostly multinational” and include Emma Hardy, one of Britain’s fastest growing groups.
Barry Cook, Managing Director of The Emma Hardy Company, said of this innovative route into the huge Chinese market:
“The Duelstone platform has made it easy for Emma Hardy to gain market share by intelligently sharing submitted product posts on leading Chinese social media platforms including Red, Weibo, Douyln and BilliBilli by reputable creators. We are very pleased with the value and service offered by Duelstone”.
Duelstone is being courted by two investors who are now looking to invest £5m in the company this year. So what is the purpose of this investment?
“We want to modernize the whole beauty industry towards Cambridge and use a Cambridge based technology platform, so we need to communicate that and people are not familiar with the infrastructure so £5m will open offices around the world, explaining the technology model and how the technology works. This year, Without any advertising, we’ve created 25k posts and we want to expand that fivefold every year, so that’s 125k posts next year.
“We charge brands £100 per post, so at the end of five years… that means £250m a year in revenue stream. We think it’s possible.”
The term “disruptive” has been overused, but Duelstone’s model is reframing the marketing of beauty products in a way that seems like a truly game-changing one.
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