The Glossier Effect — The Power of a Community Led Social & Digital Strategy

Olivia Wedderburn
Mar 5 · 7 min read

Before 2013, Emily Weiss of Glossier was known for 2 things. 1) Her beauty and grooming blog Into The Gloss, a platform for sharing tips and tricks with a community of skincare enthusiasts and 2) her 2007 cameo in then wildly popular reality TV show The Hills. Working at Vogue during the day, Weiss ran night shifts chipping away on building her brand and business proposition, approaching venture capitalists in droves to help transform Into The Gloss from a cult blog into an e-commerce platform. After 11 rejections, she struck lucky and secured a $2 million seeding fund to help develop a product portfolio, and just one year later unleashed four products onto the blog under the moniker Glossier. Unbeknownst to her future following, she’d just created the most disruptive beauty brand of the 21st century.

Fast forward to 2019 and Glossier has expanded to dizzying heights, with the brand ticking off skincare, make-up, fragrance and clothing — with brand number 2 Glossier Play fresh out of the packaging this week. Glossier is famed for a skin first, make-up second ideology, with sleek, fresh and modern looks for the on-trend millennial — think lip gloss, a hint of glitter and an effortless element of ‘almost there’ make-up, paired with skincare that promotes youthful, glowy, and supple skin. In other words, Glossier is the brand for those who want to look like they don’t give a fuck whilst giving, unilaterally, a lot of fucks. And because of that, Emily Weiss has built a brand worth around $390 million and counting.

It goes without saying that Weiss has a clear understanding of what her demographic wants. Her products are affordable, direct-to-consumer and deeply Instagrammable. But where Weiss has shown a real prowess is her understanding of how to tap into a community mindset to build a robust social and digital strategy that requires little paid support. The seismic shift in interest developed by likeminded individuals in the comment section of Into The Gloss helped with product innovation and buying behaviours, but it also swelled with the rise of visual social media. Instagram launched in 2010, around the same time Weiss set up Into The Gloss, and the thirst for products to be both aesthetically pleasing in packaging and application has boomed since then. You can’t move for a start-up these days without soft colour hues and san serif fonts, and the packaging experience has moved from minimal fuss to maximum marketing opportunities, with stickers and tote bags part and parcel of the millennial shopping experience.

Knowing that her products looked good was just phase 1 of Weiss’s quest for domination in the sector. Glossier had to get into all the right hands, and fast. By launching a referral scheme that gave the referrer a £10/$10 store credit, and the referee 10% off their first order, Glossier landed that word of mouth credential that is essential for a brand entering a crowded market. Beauty hoarders were out their recommending the brand to anyone who would listen in the hopes their make-up bag would be bankrolled by their generosity. Links to the point of sale were populating bios publicly and infiltrating group chats privately, and with each link personalised to the consumer it was easy to track where the traffic was coming from. Glossier was implementing a dark social strategy way before their competitors even could get a coherent set of UTM strings together. They were crowdfunding their credibility, one Boy Brow at a time.

Whilst relying on their consumers to let the world know about Glossier, they also needed to build up their own presence through digital and social streams. The already established Into The Gloss had created a pool of potential targets, but these were the kind of people who read long reads about cleansers for fun — and whilst the brand wouldn’t thrive without these dedicated individuals, they needed to capture the attention spans of a young audience scrolling into the ether. Glossier started producing simple but aspirational content for their feed — a steady mix of UGC, Influencer, memes and product started to populate a grid of that iconic pink, swashes of colour and beautiful skin. Knowing that the same old product again and again wouldn’t really ignite the excitement that warrants a follow, they also weaved in relatable content, cute animals and floral cues, creating a channel that reads more like a mood board than a sales platform.

At the same time they were populating their gram with on brand posts, they were implementing a CRM strategy that relied on a known consumer behaviour: people will exchange their data for free stuff. If the referral codes alone weren’t a great way to build up an active shopper database, think about all the bonus email addresses gained from offering previously locked content. Cue phone wallpapers, skincare quizzes, beauty tips and tricks and before anyone else product reveals — Glossier made sure that their customers wanted to be on their mailing list, a difficult feat in our GDPR ridden world. Their social and CRM content worked in tandem, with bespoke targeted audiences being built for the few paid ads the brand does, and every time a new product dropped a suitable hype was built up through the two-tier approach. The brand was suddenly everywhere that their demographic was, whether that be in their inboxes, the explore page on Instagram, or on their favourite influencer’s faces — and whilst they now have permanent locations, most of this was achieved through pop ups and direct mail orders. This allowed Glossier to build a cult of personality that let them do one key thing their competitors were unable to do: shift product without anyone trying the product first. Huge demand for a complete unknown sprung up globally, moving the product out of Weiss’s New York pipe dream and into markets across the world.

The minds behind the Glossier brand in 2019 could take all the above as stock and use it to their total advantage. Which is how, in late February 2019, Glossier launched a second brand and built an Instagram Following of 88k completely organically, without revealing what their second brand actually produced. So engrossed and captured are their audience, consumers blindly followed the page with one post, a popular internet meme, and began speculating at volume on what the brand could be. Sleuths took to googling the trademarks registered by the Glossier brand in the last month to try and crack the code of the new offering. Friends frantically were DMing each other, the brand trended on Twitter, and all the while they were teasing the big reveal through emails, slowly drip-feeding information. When in early March they finally revealed that Glossier Play was a heavier makeup alternative to the traditional stripped back offering of straight Glossier, nobody even cared that this was a slightly mundane upgrade of glitter. They were hooked into the potential play and experimentation a new range of make-up could provide them, and with one of each of the new line being available in a combo package for around £50, exhausted beauty aficionados handed over their card details at breakneck speed.

The Glossier Effect is obviously a hard nut to crack for a myriad of reasons. Namely, marketeers may not have a product that promise to make you glow like the sun in their remit. It’s hard to build a hype around a new frozen food line like you can around cosmetics. But, the framework on which they expanded is slightly more achievable when you strip it back to its bare bones: community. Having a deep understanding of what your core customer base wants and knowing how to apply your marketing strategy toward it is one thing. Tapping deep into the core of the spaces they are interacting with and using it is the foundation of your next product development is another. Spending quality time in the places your audience are swapping information, writing posts and researching their next buy is absolutely integral to creating relevant content they want to consume. Glossier’s UK audience are by and large spending most of their time online on Social Media, overwhelmingly to see what their friends and celebrities are doing, wearing, shopping, using. For the brand to neglect listening in on the demand for their products, they would be missing out on a huge chunk of potential revenue — so why should other brands neglect this opportunity?

It would be blind to ignore the fact that Glossier obviously have a deeper, larger marketing scheme at play. They’ve done out of home, they have a robust influencer strategy, and their work with make-up artists in the early day saw the products land on the red carpet of the Oscars. But at the very heart of it, the brand’s success can be pinned on their social driven approach. You can’t build thousands of names on a waiting list for a fragrance that no one has ever smelt without a community banding behind you. You can’t underestimate your supply chain and sell a year’s worth of revenue in a month without a boom in peer to peer recommendations. Long live Emily Weiss and her empire of gloss, a people-powered beauty ecosystem.

Digital and social expert, content provider and professional Virgo.

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