Knowing consumers intimately, leaning in to brand ‘superpowers’ and digital capability, and disrupting from within have helped digital beauty retailer, e.l.f, buck category sales decline and chalk up 13 percentage point growth this year.
Speaking at this week’s Dreamforce event in San Francisco, e.l.f CMO, Kory Marchisotto, took attendees through the company’s efforts to respond to plateauing growth and challenging category conditions, and the role creativity, brand, technology and insights played in the process.
“A year ago, things looking pretty grim, and e.l.f, the original digital beauty brand, found itself getting disrupted. After a decade of exponential growth, the tide shifted and we sunk into what felt like eternal stagnation,” Marchisotto said.
The “central point of the raging tornedo of change” was the rise of the digital ecosystem, which in turn turned the retail landscape upside down, she said. “The clean lines for mass versus premium retail blew up. Consumers wanted it all on their terms.”
What’s more, 1000 new brands have entered the beauty market since 2015 thanks to high margins and easy access to capital. To compete, Marchisotto said e.l.f firstly needed to get to work to understand its consumers, tapping deep learning, social listening and insights to identify who its customer is, their needs, wants and desires, and how they expect to engage with the brand.
“We realised our consumer is every eye, lip and face, regardless of age or culture,” she said, noting the brand motif adopted across its marketing and messaging.
The second element was “leaning into our superpowers”, Marchisotto said. Among these were e.l.f’s vegan and cruelty free products, premium quality but affordable price points, and universal appeal. It also homed in on delivering ‘wow’ moments, or what it dubs ‘the e.l.f OMG moment’.
“We also had to transform in the social space and be the friend you’re always happy to hear from,” Marchisotto said. This has seen the brand invest in beauty content and engagement.
Supporting this is the decision to build out new capabilities, most notably through e.l.f’s investment into Salesforce’s Marketing, Commerce and Service Cloud offerings. Four pillars guided this digital play: Building a connected ecosystem across every consumer touchpoint; harnessing all data available; personalising journeys for customers; and aiming for the best possible consumer experience.
“It’s not physical and digital space anymore, it’s one universe. You need to see it as one journey and connect all those dots,” Marchisotto said.
Managed by Salesforce, the platform includes integrations across cloud plus into e.l.f’s customer data platform to ensure it can personalise and connect the full customer journey. It’s also integrated in a way that enables the team to track media performance.
As an example, Marchisotto said her team can send a personalised email to ‘Jamie’, driving her to a personalised landing page. The Commerce platform provides product recommendations to encourage larger basket size, and a customer gets an order status instantly. In addition, e.l.f has launched its first digital assistant bot, elfie, and is looking to have a suite of bots to engage customers further around topics such as make-up artistry.
“This connected system arms us with data pre, during and post-purchase so we can follow end to end journey seamlessly,” Marchisotto said.
Results to date include a 50-point increase in conversion rates, a 50 per cent reduction in checkout issues via ecommerce, and a product innovation process that’s gone from months to weeks.
“Most important is that this connected system is giving us a relentless focus on consumer,” she said.
Sitting over the top is the philosophy to embrace disruption and change. Marchisott said the first step was redefining the brand’s mantra and articulating a clear vision for everyone to rally behind. A clear statement was created: To deliver that e.l.f OMG moment by making the best of beauty accessible to every eye, lip and face.
E.l.f also created a brand book to build out a clearer voice, personality, colour codes and brand cues for staff to tap into. This led a new lexicon that takes advantage of its brand name to replace words in common phrases and sentences, such as ‘e.l.f yourself’.
“It’s important not to have a pre-conceived notion about what people love about the brand,” Marchisotto commented. “We gather research, look at existing data pools and unpack it uncover insights. When we did this, there are so many things coming up again and again.
“We turned these patterns into themes, then turned it into a suit of assets, giving us 200 pieces of creative to launch on different platforms. We then put creative into an action plan and pushed it across our ecosystem.”
Team integration was another vital component. “We realised breaks happening in our ecosystem were a direct reflection of our organisational structure. So we built a structure to have integrated ecosystem that ultimately helps us to build integrated view of the consumer,” Marchisotto said. One of these changes was in fact creating the CMO position.
Then it was about leaning into change culturally. “If you don’t set yourself on fire, consumers will never be excited about the brand,” she said. “We set out to energise our teams and remind them why they love e.l.f and we asked them: What’s their favourite product and why?”
The change in approach was most evident in e.l.f’s decision to test-and-learn in the relatively new tiktok social media channel. In a bid to build top-of-the-funnel engagement, e.l.f produced its own song, ‘Eyes lips face’, partnering with young female rappers, Stunna Girl, Flo Milli, Saweetie and Killumantii.
The song proved a hit, chalking up 3.5 billion views via the hashtag and 3 million streams. It was added to 70,000 playlists and became the first brand to exceed 1 million video creations. In six weeks, 2.5 million pieces of user-generated content were created by Gen Z.
“We set out to do something that’s never been done before and dream really big. You have to believe it’s possible. Even if people doubt you, keep going anyway,” Marchisotto said.
Alongside the commitment to customer and playing to its strengths – or finding partners to fill them out – Marchisotto’s final piece of advice to other marketers was to be bold and brave.
“We tout a renegade spirit,” she concluded. “Fitting in won’t get your anywhere. Unleash people’s imaginations. Have an ‘everything is possible’ spirit. And take bold action – have the guts to take risks and make change happen.
“Ideas are only as good as the action plans that gets executed.”
- Nadia Cameron travelled to Dreamforce as a guest of Salesforce.
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