Why Glossier embodies the future of shopping and B2C marketing

With only 29 products in their catalogue they managed to generously cross the $100M revenue mark in 2018. The VC-backed company with $86M funding in the bank employs 200 full-time employees, across three offices and can proudly claim 70% of their workforce to be female (and an even more impressive 60% of their board). And they only have 2 physical stores.

I came across the name Glossier through a few girlfriends that specifically asked me to pick up some of the brand’s products while I was in New York. They warned me about the long queue outside the showroom — which I endured semi-patiently — and once I set foot in the sanctuary I was intrigued. Sales reps in dusty pink overalls holding iPads to take your order. No cash register to be seen, only large tables with carefully displayed cosmetics, large mirrors with just the right lighting and wooden benches for the boyfriends. It was like entering an Apple store for Beauty. Only minus the humongous marketing budgets to hook consumers into their story. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, they have 1.7M followers on Instagram and can count on tens of thousands of likes for each post. The buzz is there.

Glossier is not a mainstream brand but people that know about it can’t seem to get enough, creating a cult-like following. Which made me wonder: what is this phenomenon called Glossier and why is it so successful?

From Consumer To Expert

Beauty has been a legacy industry for long with a mindset of ‘Let us show you how it’s done’ and ‘You’re great but can be better’. With the rise of ecommerce and the clever DIY marketing skills of YouTube beauty influencers these big juggernauts were put back in their place. Suddenly everyone had a platform to share their thoughts and the consumer became the beauty expert. This was exactly the time, in 2010, when Emily Weiss started her beauty website Into The Gloss, exploring the routines of well-known, inspiring women straight from their bathroom floors. From there it seemed only logical to launch her own product line, which Emily did in October 2014. With the shift to global online sales, a human connection with a brand was inevitably lacking — and Emily cleverly jumped in that gap. She envisioned a brand that was inspired by real life, just like her blog, and where the customer was not the end but the starting point. Emily understood that in such a highly emotional category as beauty this could work.

Bye Bye Big Department Stores

Source: Glossier on Instagram

And from there she’s been carefully building her company, with a clear strategy in mind that is focused on intentional growth. Glossier is not afraid to shake the beauty industry and to entirely deviate from the status quo.

From the get-go Glossier has been a direct-to-consumer brand, owning its entire sales funnel. This gives them incredible power. No channel partners, no resellers, bye bye big department stores. Where the big beauty brands have been very attached to their partnerships with big retailers, Glossier is not afraid to sell their products only through their own channels.

And they’re not alone. The past years we’ve seen an explosion of successful direct-to-consumer brands — think: Warby Parker, Harry’s and Casper — that are able to play into the consumer’s emotion and offer them an entirely controlled experience.

The way the company has been set up internally has allowed Glossier to execute their business strategy. Out with the department silos — at Glossier you’ll find cross-operational teams and Slack channels with customer feedback that don’t only reach Customer Support, but also the marketing, development and product teams. If all departments are intentionally tuned into what’s happening in the field, you create a hyper customer-centric business.

Another example of how they’re different from the dinosaur beauty brands: ⅓ of the company is tech. They’re able to leverage technology to listen to their customers at scale, engage at scale, build smart discovery algorithms and launch their own platform in the near future. They understand that in a world of online access and never-ending choice, customer engagement is crucial. And Glossier has been doing this from the beginning, really nurturing the direct connection they have with their customers. They make sure to answer comments on social media, being directly reachable through those platforms and sharing customer-generated content. This makes the brand very approachable. Even products are co-created with the feedback of their consumers.

Swimming Against The Marketing Stream

Despite their skillful and successful presence on Instagram they don’t spend thousands of dollars on beautifully photographed images for social media. Unlike other big beauty brands they don’t own billboards, don’t use any celebrities in their advertisements and they refrain from aggressive marketing campaigns.

Because they ‘get’ the millennial. They understand that today’s generation wants to be heard and seen and involved in what they buy. Whenever we’re looking to buy a product we go online to search for reviews. 80% (!) of millennials say that they trust a stranger’s review on the Internet as much as a loved one’s opinion. Which doesn’t mean that word-of-mouth hasn’t played a big role in Glossier’s growth as well. 70% of their growth so far has been through owned, earned, peer-to-peer or organic channels.

That’s the thing, they’ve been absolutely great in hooking their target audience with their mission, tone of voice and outbound marketing. Because they have full control over the entire buyer’s journey, from intent to purchase to client retention, they’re able to directly tap into their best sources of feedback. Allowing them to perfectly feel and understand the Zeitgeist. When you buy something in their store it will be wrapped in a pink bubble-wrap purse that goes into a transparent plastic bag. No logo to be seen. But anyone that knows the brand will instantly recognize the wrapping. Like an insider’s secret.

What It Means Today To Be A Consumer

The big question now is: can a big retailer like Amazon step into the business of Glossier and kill it as the mighty giant they are? Even though Amazon has ecommerce embedded in their DNA, they don’t understand the emotional side of their customer. They have solved the buying problem but not the shopping experience. And people want experiences.

In this day and age every consumer is an expert and the way people make a purchase decision has drastically changed. It is online-driven and even if we buy offline we thoroughly research online before we purchase. Because with abundance comes careful consideration. It is a cross-channel journey and if you don’t own those channels you’re losing control over the voice of your brand.

This might mean that in the future brands will create their own platforms to reach the consumer and to not be entirely dependent on the monopoly of the big social media outlets. Smaller sub-channels will be created that serve a niche audience with the exact content they’re looking for. This will be an expansion of the brand-owned sales funnel, preserving the brand’s authenticity and voice.

Like any trend there will always be a counter-movement. Even though the millennial is 24/7 online connected they are also aware of the power of real, offline experiences. Enter the brick-and-mortar experience stores. These stores are not for buying per se, they’re mainly there to serve the customer an idea, a story that makes them want to be a part of that brand’s world. Combined with smart targeting (with the help of technology), a clear online presence and a laser-focused understanding of their customer, this will create the longevity that builds great brands. All while empowering the consumer. This is a story I’d like to be a part of.

Highly recommended: Listen to Glossier’s CEO Emily Weiss on the podcast Recode Decode with Kara Swisher.

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by +422,678 people.

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