Karla Davis’ path to Ulta Beauty is anything but happenstance. While she spent some time in CPG, for brands like Johnson & Johnson, PepsiCo/Quaker and Kraft Foods, Karla has always dreamed of being in the world of beauty. Now, as Sr. Director of Integrated Marketing and Media at Ulta, Karla is spearheading creative new partnerships resulting in valuable new insights for the brand and even a new makeup collection.
What drew you to Ulta Beauty?
Funny story. In high school, I saw the movie Boomerang, starring Eddie Murphy, Robin Givens and Halle Berry, and while the love stories and plot twists were interesting, I was most intrigued with their JOBS. They all worked in the world of beauty marketing and advertising, and while I didn’t know much about what those roles entail, I knew I wanted to be in that space… I often pinch myself when I think about how my path has led me right to where I wanted to be as a kid.
How are you taking media marketing to the next level for the brand?
I’m really excited about our partnership with Essence Magazine (which is a first-of-its-kind for both Ulta and Essence) and their new Girls United Initiative that mentors young girls in developing their academic potential, love of self and leadership skills. We selected six girls ages 16-19 from across the country to participate in a once-in-a-lifetime mentorship program. In this program, they had the opportunity to learn from Ulta Beauty and Essence senior leaders, provide valuable consumer insight to our marketing and merchandising teams, and ultimately create their own makeup collection in collaboration with the Ulta Beauty Collection (to be sold in stores nationwide). For their involvement, they were awarded $10,000 to use toward college. We captured their journey as a video series, article content and for social media engagement, ultimately driving toward the exclusive launch of the product line.
Beyond engagement, what does success look like for this program?
The longer-term goal of this initiative is about authentically connecting with the African American audience. We wanted to build a meaningful relationship with these amazing women to deepen our understanding of the beauty community, learn from their experiences and show them that Ulta Beauty values their unique point of view.
What’s currently happening in marketing that most excites you?
I get excited when I see brands willing to stand for something relevant and meaningful in the marketplace, even if it’s not universally accepted. Consumers are demanding more from their brands. They see them as organizations that can use their size, influence and platforms to drive real change. When I see brands heed that call, I applaud their actions. It can be risky, and there are brands that haven’t exactly gotten it right, but I think that’s an opportunity for authenticity and transparency. Trying things and acknowledging the learnings along the way is still a valid way to grow your connection with consumers. Brand marketing should be about more than providing products and services – it should be about changing our culture.
What do you see as the next frontier for marketers?
Personalization. Our guests crave a deep, emotional connection with our brand, and we are working hard to leverage new tools in AI and AR to truly personalize our communication with our guests. I believe we are on the verge of a shift in how consumers react to the juggernaut of influencer marketing. I think we will start to see a shift to more peer-to-peer communication grounded in a desire for a greater sense of community with people that are a part of their existing social networks.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your career that has stuck with you?
To not shy away from bringing my voice to the table. I’ve realized that I often have a unique perspective. Being an African American woman in beauty provides a rare chance to amplify a voice that can seem muted, and I take that very seriously. While I don’t assume I have all the answers for all Black women, I’ve embraced the fact that even one different viewpoint can help change mindsets, make better decisions and provide insight that builds empathy.
How do you pick and develop the talent on your team?
At Ulta Beauty, we talk a lot about finding leaders with functional expertise, enterprise thinking and a desire to collaborate. Most things can be taught, but you need leaders with an inherit passion for both the work and for people. In marketing, ‘one team, one dream’ must be a way of operating. It lifts everything we do to the next level.
Best career advice you’ve ever received? ‘Never run FROM a job, run TO a job.’ You’re most productive and effective when you know you’re in the right place at the right time.
If you weren’t in marketing, what would you be doing? Podcasting! I’m a big fan, and I would love to one day leverage it as a tool to connect with and support others.
Book most recommend to marketers? A Classic – ‘Purple Cow’ by Seth Godin.