There’s no shortage of women’s beauty brands, yet for many millennial women in particular, one young outfit — the cosmetics company Glossier — seems to stand out. Having products that customers like is undoubtedly one large reason why. The company’s “boy brow,” a kind of mascara meant to thicken and tame eyebrows, is particularly popular. But Glossier has also found a way to establish a kind of cult following because of the numerous ways it keeps communication channels to its consumers (and potential consumers) wide open.
At a StrictlyVC event in San Francisco last week, Glossier’s founder, Emily Weiss, walked through her realization that she could build a new cosmetics brand by focusing on ways to engage customers that more traditional brands were neglecting. Weiss, a former beauty editor who launched Glossier several years after creating Into the Gloss — a site about women’s grooming routines and cosmetic choices that today attracts 1.5 million unique visitors each month from the U.S. and elsewhere — also talked about role of content in growing her business.
You can catch part of that interview below. (Her interviewer is venture capitalist Eric Liaw of Institutional Venture Partners, which recently wrote led Glossier’s $24 million Series B round.) In the meantime, here are some other interesting — and instructive — outtakes from that conversation.
On why Weiss launched Glossier several years after creating Into the Gloss out of her apartment, her cat by her side:
Weiss talked here about the many influential people she’d come to interview for Into the Gloss, including J.Crew’s creative director Jenna Lyons, serial entrepreneur Arianna Huffington, and professional celebrity Kim Kardashian. “I’d be sitting on their bathroom floors and squeezing tubes of creams and … the big wide world of beauty, and I realized there was a disconnect” between the leading beauty conglomerates and their customers, said Weiss. Though many women seemed to have an affinity for certain products, they were also disconnected from their manufacturers in “terms of brand values and the ways that brands communicate with [customers] and involve them or don’t” involve them. Weiss spied an opportunity to exactly the opposite: throw away the old ways of doing things and build a company around what women want, “not just from a product perspective but from an engagement perspective, from a distribution perspective, and from a values perspective.”
Could she have built Glossier if Into the Gloss hadn’t attracted a following first? Could she have launched the two in reverse order?
As a “content-first” company, it’s a question that Weiss receives a lot, evidently. But she doesn’t see the two businesses — the blog and the cosmetics line — as distinct. “Sure,” she’d said, “we could be a like a lot of consumer brands that start blogs after they start their business. But in our case, I think Glossier is still very much a content company. I think about our products themselves to be pieces of content.” How, exactly? Because so many of its customers purchase its products, photograph them, then upload them to social media to create their own narratives. In fact, she likened Glossier’s products to “crayons” for its customers.
How has brand stayed “authentic” versus be seen as more commercial?
Here, Weiss noted that in 2017, not only is the customer always right, but thanks to social media, whether in the form of product reviews at a site like Amazon or on Facebook or Instagram, “she has a microphone and she’s reaching 50, 500, 5,000 or 500,000 of her nearest and dearest friends and is able to talk about her preferences.”
To ensure she is saying only good things about Glossier, the company is focused on maintaining product quality, unsurprisingly. “Ultimately we’re making and selling a consumer good that needs to work and that need to make customers happy.” But the company is also very focused on transparency and “voice,” Weiss added. “We like to think that whenever we talk to [our customer] through captions on Instagram or through email or through copy on the site that we’re writing text messages to a friend.” For Glossier, “staying true to that voice has created a lot of loyalty and trust with our customer.”
Other reasons that Glossier has struck a chord with its customer base:
One point we found particularly interesting in Weiss’s talk was about Glossier’s willingness to acknowledge and support other brands, which adds to the feeling that Glossier has its customers’ best interests at heart. Said Weiss: “In the old days of beauty marketing and even still today, beauty brands refuse to show other brands in their Instagram feeds; they live in their own world of Cover Girl and they aren’t acknowledging customer behavior, when the reality is that [women] are mixing and matching and everyone is creating their own recipe for how they want to look. And we at Glossier really encourage and celebrate that.”
Indeed, she said, though Glossier may be known for its dewy, fresh-faced “look” — its mantra is “skin first, makeup second” — anyone can use its products, including someone like Kardashian, who isn’t known for her spare use of makeup. Weiss noted that Kardashian can — and, in fact, apparently has — used the company’s “priming moisturizer underneath her 13 other makeup products.”
A big question for Glossier — which now has several hundred thousand users, says Weiss — is whether it can expand beyond its current user base of mostly 18- to 35-year-olds. Here, Liaw asked if it can grow up and older alongside its consumers.
Weiss acknowledged the company’s base of mostly younger users, but she said that Glossier “does have women in their 60s writing in, and saying, ‘We love your brand and products.’” In fact, she said she has seen such comments in the company’s NPS (or Net Promoter Score, a management tool that’s used to gauge the loyalty of a firm’s customer relationships). “I read every single comment that comes in,” said Weiss, who said Glossier stays very connected to user feedback.
On this same topic, Weiss continued on to suggest that one of her favorite bits of feedback today came via a user, who tweeted that Glossier is the first beauty brand that this person is “passing up,” including to mothers and older friends, rather than a brand that’s being handed down.
On the topic of user feedback, involving users, and just how far Glossier takes its approach:
Glossier has become known for working with its customers to develop products, and Weiss elaborated on that point in her conversation with Liaw. “In our product development cycle, we ask and listen to our customer about what she wants. So our Milky Jelly Cleanser – it’s our most replenished product – it had thousands of comments from customers about everything from ingredients to price point to [the types of pump the product should use.”
Glossier, which also has an active Instagram account where it often re-shares posts from its followers, has also created a Slack group for a few hundred of its “top” customers who “now organize meet-ups, their own lunches — some of them work at other stores and give each other discounts. There’s this whole network of women who are connected through Glossier.”
What happens next?
In addition to focusing on international growth, one focus this year will be to “stoke” Glossier’s “friend-of-a-friend recommendation system,” and no wonder, given that it contributed to the 90 percent of the company’s sales last year (versus through paid marketing).
Weiss ran out of time to say so, but part of that campaign includes turning its staunchest supporters into formal representatives via a more formal arrangement that Quartz wrote about in December right here. Glossier isn’t turning them into Mary Kay girls, it insists. Instead, think of it as its current referral program “on steroids,” Weiss told Quartz. “It comes back to making everyone an influencer.”