Alexandra Weiss - SVP of Marketing at Glossier

Presenting

Alexandra Weiss

SVP of Marketing at Glossier

As the SVP of Marketing for Glossier, Alexandra holds her team accountable to acquisition and growth, but she doesn’t view those metrics as the end of the line. Instead, she uses them to gauge the impact of Marketing’s contributions to Glossier’s founding goal: to build the beauty brand of their customers’ dreams.

Alexandra Weiss - SVP of Marketing at Glossier

WHAT IS GLOSSIER?

Glossier is the direct-to-consumer beauty brand founded on the fact that beauty isn’t made in a boardroom—it happens when the individual is celebrated. Personal choice is the most important decision a brand can never make.

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The beauty industry has a bad habit of telling women what to want

For decades, top brands marketed makeup and skincare products as solutions to problems (acne, aging, dull skin, sparse lashes). But now, Big Beauty has the problem: younger generations aren’t buying it.


Enter Glossier, the direct-to-consumer beauty brand “focused on making products inspired by the people who use them.” ‘Glossy girls’ (and boys) have finally found a beauty brand that doesn’t want to change them, but rather, wants to be changed by them.

“At Glossier, our customers are our true north.” That’s Alexandra Weiss, who has led Glossier’s marketing department from its inception. Like most marketing leaders, Ali holds her team accountable to acquisition and growth, but she doesn’t view those metrics as the end of the line. Instead, she uses them to gauge the impact of Marketing’s contributions to Glossier’s founding goal: to build the beauty brand of their customers’ dreams.

“We really listen carefully to our customer because, when we actually include her input it in the product process, she truly becomes a stakeholder in the brand. And if she feels ownership over the brand, then she is much more likely to share it with her family and friends. Our business is ultimately selling products, but we see those products not only as revenue generators but also as conduits for conversation—conversation that makes it possible for our customers to be true stakeholders in our brand.”

This approach has struck a chord with younger generations. With a team of less than fifty, Glossier tripled its annual revenue between 2016 and 2017 and drew in a cult following of more than a million on Instagram. To marketers who want to reduce the amount of clicks to “Add to Cart,” Glossier’s longer purchasing journey, which typically involves content and peer-to-peer advocacy before purchase, may seem counterintuitive. But for Ali, it’s about building positive word-of-mouth and a lasting relationship with a brand—not just one single product. Retailers that want to emulate Glossier’s fandom would do well to listen how Ali gets a conversation started—and keeps it going—even when there’s a lot of noise in the room.

 

At Glossier, our customers are our true north.

Let customers do the talking 01

At first blush, “conversation” might sound like squishy marketing jargon. But Ali can quantify the effect it has for the business by tracking conversions from Glossier Reps, among other programs. Glossier Reps targets highly engaged customers and invites them to create their own custom landing pages on Glossier.com. On their individual pages, reps can showcase their favorite products and upload videos of their unique beauty routines.

Glossier found one of their first reps, Noor, after she tagged Glossier’s account in a photo of one of Glossier’s early products, Balm Dotcom, back in 2014. “Noor’s relationship with our brand has evolved over the years. She went from a proud owner of Balm Dotcom to one of our top referrers. She has since placed over thirty orders of Glossier and has maintained a net promoter score of 100%.”

Not surprisingly, Noor happily accepted Glossier’s offer to become a brand rep, and with the help of the team, created a landing page on Glossier.com, where she still shares her beauty tips and product recommendations. In Noor’s page, new customers find a person they could relate to, and, as a result, advice they can trust.

“The Rep pages ended up being extremely shareable and highly successful at bringing in new customers. For us, this kind of personalization is less about maximizing profits, and more about identifying the people that have engaged with our brand and understanding what they like and don’t like. Then, we can invite them to make their own story a part of the what we’re building at Glossier.”

Personalization, advocacy—whatever it is, this bottom-up approach has succeeded. Noor’s landing page brings in twenty new customers a month, and she is only one of hundreds of reps. The power of the program is in its potential for exponential growth. As the number of reps grows, so does the number of new users that can find inspiration and discover their new favorite products. Maybe one day, they create a page of their own, and the virtuous cycle continues.

As an online brand, Glossier is constantly searching for—and building—these kind of networks. Occasionally, an opportunity to promote Glossier will arise that does not allow the team to connect with the customers the campaign brings in. Ali gives the example of Glossier’s partnership between Glossier and retail giant Colette in France, a country where Glossier doesn’t currently ship its products. Though the partnership was a valuable opportunity to make a splash in a new marketer, something was missing.

“Even though we saw lines out the door and sold many more products than predicted, we didn't know who any of those buyers are, what they thought of the product, or if they would ever buy from us again. We can't engage them the way we engage customers like Noor. With that distribution decision, we sacrificed our direct-to-consumer relationship.”

While in some ways, the Colette was a strong brand move, in truth, Glossier’s partnership with its own customers is always the best play, giving its fans a voice to spread the good word about products they love.

Discretion matters just as much as data 02

As much as they would like to, the Glossier team can’t always host dinners to get to know their customers—especially when they need to understand them at scale. To fill the gap, Glossier uses data to monitor and identify patterns in brand sentiment.

“Since I started at Glossier three years ago, we can now understand, at a more accurate and predictable level, why someone might choose a certain product, or what leads someone to become a repeat customer. That way, we can give our customers the best possible experience based on how they're going to engage with us within a given day, week, or month.”

Often, that requires Ali’s team to ask a mix of both quantitative and qualitative questions. “Our marketing insights team is positioned to act as a ‘neutral contributor’ to our team and ask questions of the data for us. What I really value about the individuals on that team is that they not only can deliver the answer to, let’s say, how many orders contain a particular product or how many repeat customers came back in a week, they can pull the instinctual answers also, around why that might be.”

Ali is very careful not to over-index on quantitative data when it comes to major campaigns, however. Without this level of discretion, data could misguide her team. “It’s important to understand up front how much weight to give data based on the context or the objectives that the team has set for a project.”

Social media is one context where Glossier leans heavily into data. On the company’s Instagram, a typical post commands anywhere from 30,000 to 80,000 likes. “We look toward our social media data as an indicator of what customers feel or think about a product or campaign.” But there are exceptions. On the occasion of a new liquid exfoliator product, Glossier uploaded a series of Before/After pictures to its Instagram, which didn’t perform as well as anticipated. In fact, these posts were some of Glossier’s lowest-performing to date.

“Had we used only that particular data point without any instinct in designing the campaign, we would’ve designed the campaign a different way. But that was an instance where we couldn’t just look at the social media data. We had to think about the context it was in.” Instagram followers don’t cheerlead Before/After close-ups of skin the way they cheerlead beautifully curated product shots. Understanding that social media data might be skewed here, Ali was able to turn down the volume on that input.

Ali has played a key role in helping everyone at Glossier see where data fits in for different campaigns and channels by making her objectives clearly visible to the rest of the company. When building a brand that keeps customers guessing, the metric that matters on one product launch could be irrelevant for the next.

Don’t shy away from big bets 03

Last September, Glossier launched their Body Hero products line, and, along with it, a campaign that deviated far from the typical launch. Ali’s team saw it as an opportunity to make an uncharacteristically bold statement about the brand, and, as such, Ali deemphasized the top line metrics, such as initial product sales, that would traditionally be used to gauge the success of a launch. Instead, she focused on its potential impact on long-term brand awareness.

“From the beginning we knew we wanted to leverage this launch for a major brand moment, which is why we put images of completely nude ‘non-models’ on billboards in two tastemaking cities, New York and Los Angeles. We wanted to spark a conversation that challenged the pervasive idea that women can only be naked in a sexual way. So we made a conscious choice to make this about our brand—not about selling units of the shower oil and the body cream.”

Even before the launch, the marketing team at Glossier knew that “major brand moments” generate far less revenue in the near-term than standard product launches. But they also knew that their loyal fanbase was built on conversation starters like this, and not safe bets.

“Every campaign has to be different, because in the instances where we’ve tried to replicate past successes, they have fallen flat. If we don’t give our customers something that feels new and fresh, they won’t talk about it. There’s never going to one approach that will consistently deliver results. My job is managing that expectation with my team as well as with executives and investors.”

When investors see that Glossier’s aim is to build an enduring brand—and not just a beautiful quarterly report, it frees Ali from the traditional marketing model of proving ROI in a short window. Then, her team can take a risk like the Body Hero launch when her instinct says it will energize the community and bring more people into the fold.

“To find out if we made the right bet, we always go back to what our customers say. Often, our customers tell us what the brand makes them feel: It makes them feel like they can make good choices or it makes them feel empowered. If a campaign reaffirms that feeling, then we can confidently move forward.”

Every campaign has to be different, because in the instances where we’ve tried to replicate past successes, they have fallen flat. If we don’t give our customers something that feels new and fresh, they won’t talk about it. There's never going to one approach that will consistently deliver results. My job is managing that expectation with my team as well as with executives and investors.

- Alexandra Weiss, SVP of Marketing at Glossier
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Play the really long game 04

Building carefully curated experiences based on customer feedback—rather than just replicating past successes—comes with some risk. After all, by asking customers for input and feedback, Glossier has handed over some of its power over the product to their community and then asked for its blessing.

This approach might be out of the question for e-commerce marketers who are judged on their ability to push out inventory quickly. To Ali, that’s a cultural problem begging for disruption. She thinks companies would do well to stop obsessing over short-term ROI, especially given the potential upside of nurturing a community and taking riskier brand bets.   

“I’ve watched managers, friends, mentors, and leaders of other companies make quick decisions in order to grow fast. But I’ve never stopped believing in “sleeping on it” and giving decisions the careful consideration they deserve. I really think people are more successful when they take time to think a problem through, instead of just reacting to it.”

Ali’s commitment to sleeping on it highlights a meaningful distinction between Glossier and Big Beauty. On its online channels, Big Beauty has replicated its in-store methodology of rushing customers to a physical product and then pushing them to buy it. Glossier, on the other hand, favors a protracted buyer journey where customers engage with images, social posts, and reviews long before they make a decision.

Many big retailers might scoff at this courtship, but the writing’s on the wall. In the time since it stocked Glossier products last year, the French retailer Colette has closed its doors forever. Less than three years ago, Forbes deemed Colette the “trendiest store in the world.” Where others might see nothing but irony, the title actually reveals something prescient: Trends are on the out, for the same reason legacy beauty companies are struggling: because they both tell people what beauty looks like, rather than asking what it means for their customers.

Now more than ever, customers want to form relationships with the brands they buy from and the products they love. That’s why, for Ali’s team, conversations between customers and between customers and the brand aren’t auxiliary. They’re crucial steps in the customer journey. “Given the technology and information available to the consumer, consumers care less and less about what brands have to say to the masses. They care about other consumers have to say. That’s why we want our customers to help co-create Glossier with us. At the end of the day, it’s their opinion that really matters—not ours.”

I’ve never stopped believing in sleeping on it.

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