NEW YORK, United States — In many ways, starting a new brand has never been easier. Social media platforms like Instagram and e-commerce services such as Shopify provide the infrastructure for even the smallest companies to get their product out there.
But as online advertising becomes more expensive and less effective, entrepreneurs need to be creative about how they acquire customers and scale their business for growth as they go up against the big industry players who are attempting similar marketing strategies. In BoF’s recent case study, How to Market a New Brand, eight young businesses in the fashion and beauty industries share how they’ve built brand awareness without the advantages of a large marketing budget or a famous founder.
K-Beauty-inspired Glow Recipe is one such example. Founded by former L’Oréal brand managers Sarah Lee and Christine Chang, the business started out in 2014 as a curated multi-brand seller of Korean beauty products before pivoting to make its own line in 2017. Each product Glow Recipe launches contains a hero fruit ingredient, building on a wider brand philosophy of simplifying and demystifying the often-confusing world of Korean skincare regimens for customers.
Drawing from their experience at L’Oréal, which they credit for cultivating an “entrepreneurial” mindset where “you are ultimately responsible for everything,” Lee and Chang kept their PR, marketing and product development in-house — all within a limited budget. In a digital live event available exclusively to BoF Professional members, the duo sat down with BoF Executive Editor Lauren Sherman and Senior Correspondent Chantal Fernandez to explain the strategy behind their success. Here are the key insights they shared:
Finding a Purpose
- “A lot of K-beauty brands being brought over [to the US] erred on the more promotional and kitschy side, so there was this real hunger to know more about K-beauty, to understand more about skincare and routines,” said Chang. “Because there was no long-term brand-building happening, we foresaw that some of these brands would not stand the test of time.”
- When Lee and Chang decided to launch their own product line, they already had a strong community of customers from their brand curation business who “felt passionately about K-beauty of course, but they were still telling us that it could be overwhelming,” said Chang. Even sales associates they spoke to found it difficult to advise customers on the myriad steps of K-Beauty routines.
From a product development stage we thought about the impact on social media.
- In addition to brand storytelling, the duo made sure marketing was baked into the products themselves through simple hero ingredients and photogenic packaging. “From a product development stage we thought about the impact on social media,” said Lee. “How would this mask look on social media? How would someone talk about it [in a] tutorial?”
Distribution Channels as Marketing
- As traditional online marketing channels become increasingly saturated with competitors vying for eyeballs, new brands are experimenting with ways to engage consumers through offline experiences — from parties and pop-ups to subway ads — with varying degrees of success.
- For beauty brands, partnering with multi-brand retailers is all-but essential for scaling the business and building brand awareness. (Unlike apparel, beauty is still dominated by the channel.) Glow Recipe launched its first product in 2017 exclusively with Sephora, but the beauty retail giant is more than just a stockist for the brand. “They are partners in the sense that they can be in the kitchen with you,” said Chang. “They weigh in and are able to bring that knowledge of the full market, of how skincare is developing… and we collaborate closely to get to a better place."
- “Partnerships really helped us get the awareness,” said Lee. “As a young brand… you really do need a level of force that’s already powerful in terms of awareness, distribution, if you want to get the word out [and] navigate the brick-and-mortar world.”
- However, direct sales help build your community — and allow you to interact directly with the customer, so it’s worth making all products launched with a retailer available through your own channels too.
Mixing New and Old PR
- For Glow Recipe, not every piece of successful marketing is about pushing product. Educational content, such as its annual skincare lookbook Glowipedia, performs “phenomenally on social media,” according to Chang, because it engages and empowers the customer by educating them on skincare — a core tenet of the Glow Recipe philosophy.
Partnerships really helped us get the awareness.
- Glow Recipe has tried to cultivate community in earnest with its Glow Gang, a private but not exclusive Instagram account with some 6,300 followers (compared to the 650,000 followers on its public page), which Lee describes as a safe space for customers to have “an extra voice [and start] an extra conversation about specific topics and specific products.”
- However, the feedback isn’t always positive. When a number of customers — and even an influencer — complained of a vitamin C-infused product smelling bad, Lee and Chang decided to take the criticism in stride. Instead of ignoring the complaints, they used a video clip of the negative comments on their own social feed to tell a story of how they were reformulating the product in response to the feedback. “We took the risk,” said Lee, “and totally leveraged what was already out there.”
- Lee and Chang have relied on traditional PR methods, too. In addition to cultivating close relationships with influencers and using their own social channels to publish “some of the raw moments” in their branded content, the duo sent out an estimated 600 personalised emails to fashion and beauty editors when they first started out. Their efforts paid off, with what Lee called a “very high” response rate and coverage in publications such as Refinery29. “Press is still incredibly important for us,” said Chang, “because it still adds that credibility from an editorial perspective.”
- Ultimately, Glow Recipe has maintained immersive, “sensorial, but also educational” content, said Lee, to stand out among well-funded competitors. “There’s a lot of chatter about algorithms and how Instagram is harder to navigate in today’s world, but our brand... and engagement has [only] been growing.”