After a career at BlackRock and securing an MBA, Ali Weiss joined Glossier to lead its marketing efforts in 2015. Four years later, her enthusiasm for redefining the consumer-brand relationship hasn’t wavered. Inspired by a customer-first mission of democratizing beauty, Glossier has capitalized on a shared psychograph of eager consumers in the not-just-digital age. Here, Ali takes us through Glossier's 360 customer journey that’s led to the brand’s rapid success, surpassing $100M in revenue and acquiring one million customers last year.
What makes Glossier a Challenger brand?
We’ve been digitally-native since the start and are invested in building experiences that change the way people engage with beauty online. The opportunity here is huge: e-commerce sales are predicted to grow to $120B by 2020, and while the top 20 cosmetic brands account for 90% of the dollars going to brick and mortar retailers, they only account for 14% of the dollars spent online.
We also own our channel, which is so much more than just selling products directly through Glossier.com—we’re creating incredible experiences at every touchpoint for our customers and building meaningful relationships with them at scale. Thanks to this direct connection, we’ve been able to make our customers stakeholders and build a values-driven business for the long haul.
With a million customers acquired just last year, how do you build meaningful relationships at that scale?
Scaling our connection with each of our customers is what will allow us to build a successful and enduring business. Digital experiences enable us to do that across a number of channels, from Glossier.com, to Instagram, to Into the Gloss, to our customer experience team (who we call the gTEAM). Most customer experience teams are trained to minimize contact with customers or direct them to an alternative channel to be as efficient as possible—that is the opposite of how we think about CX.
How have you been able to differentiate the brand through marketing?
"...we end up with a vibrant and diverse community of people who are stakeholders in Glossier."
We center our marketing efforts around the experiences we create for our customers and community: physical (product) experiences, digital experiences, and offline (retail) experiences. We inspire people to take part in our journey and, when we do that successfully, we end up with a vibrant and diverse community of people who are stakeholders in Glossier.
We believe that approaching marketing through the lens of creating experiences and inviting participation is a powerful differentiator and something that other brands will begin to pursue. However, this isn’t something that can be “turned on” by a company overnight; it’s the culmination of years of listening to and growing with your community. If you just focus on selling products, you’ll never create a lasting connection with potential customers, who have more options and information at their fingertips than ever before.
What are the biggest changes in the beauty industry right now and how is Glossier staying ahead of them?
Social media has given consumers a platform to use their voice and be their own expert. Beauty consumers specifically are no longer flocking to brands or to department store counters for information and expertise; instead, they’re sharing their routines on Instagram, watching makeup tutorials on YouTube, and messaging a friend to ask their opinion before purchasing a product. While the democratization of expertise has upended the structure of traditional beauty companies, it’s been the foundation of ours since day one. We are leveraging the voices of our customers to co-create the future beauty company.
What’s one eye-opening thing you’ve learned about your consumer?
"Our customers share a psychographic, not a demographic…"
Our customers share a psychographic, not a demographic… They post our products on social media, bring friends to visit our stores, and even bond with strangers over matching Glossier stickers on their phones. Glossier is also being “passed up” from younger to older generations, which is a role reversal from how beauty has historically been shared cross-generationally. Sharing and connection are what make our customers our biggest advocates: we’re tagged in 20K user-generated posts per month on Instagram (not including Stories) and 70% of our customers come through person-to-person referrals, earned media, and owned channels.
With now two storefronts and expanding into pop-ups, what role do you see offline retail playing for the brand?
Just like our digital and physical product experiences, our offline experiences are meant to inspire our customers to participate in Glossier. By doing this, we’re creating value from a brand and revenue perspective—both are important metrics. Our flagship store in New York, which averages 50K visitors per month, has a conversion rate of 50%. Those same visitors are also creating incredible content and developing meaningful connections with our team and with each other.
How do you maintain a holistic view of each customer with both online and offline experiences?
"We’ve built data infrastructure around that 360 journey..."
Because we’re engaging with [customers] at every touchpoint, none of the experiences we create live in isolation. For example, people who visit our store are testing physical product and sharing the experience digitally by taking pictures, posting them to social, and tagging us. We’ve built data infrastructure around that 360 journey, which enables us to tailor experiences for our customers based on how they chose to engage with Glossier.
What advice would you give to other marketing pioneers?
Discretion matters just as much as data. As marketers, we have a vast amount of quantitative insights that help us build strategies and measure success, but it’s easy to over-index on data if you’re not considering the context and objective of a project.