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What cosmetics brand Glossier gets right about talking to women — not at them

Fi Bendall
Monday, February 11, 2019

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Cosmetics brand Glossier is making a big splash in the world of beauty and cosmetics, in part because its founder and CEO Emily Weiss understands that women don’t want to be talked at or made to feel like idiots.

How refreshing!

As much a tech company as it is a cosmetics brand, Glossier’s CEO Emily Weiss is one of the new breed of tech entrepreneurs who has grown up in a world created by the likes of Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos.

Glossier is wildly popular with younger women and much of that popularity has been built by incredibly strong word-of-mouth and recommendation since it started up five years ago. Weiss has made it her business to listen to her customers, the girls and women who are Glossier’s loyal brand advocates, rather than lecture them. 

In an interview with Recode recently, she gave an insight into what truly customer-focused service looks like.  

“We stay very connected,” she says. “I think we’re very connected to the customer. All of our Net Promoter Score and feedback from all of our customers is constantly ticking into a Slack channel that everyone, from me to my assistant to an intern, can read every day just to stay connected to the customer. And sometimes it’s a single comment or a macro trend that translates into innovation.” 

Listening to customers is part of what she calls a “democratised conversation”. For Weiss, the act of creating new products and improving existing ones is all about listening to what the customer wants. Her approach to selling cosmetics is deeply in tune with the way women use the internet and social media to exchange information and create communities bonded by shared passions. She understands that it is no longer the brand that dictates the terms, but the customer.

“When I was growing up I loved beauty. I would go to the mall, I would go to CVS (US pharmacy chain), and I would try beauty brands. But even when I was growing up, and this was only 15 or so years ago, we were still in a time when brands really controlled how you felt,” she says.

She says the internet, and especially social media, has totally changed the emotional landscape and the power balance between customers and brands. Where there was once a real lack of transparency in the relationship between brand and customer, now customers have a real voice, and they are talking back to brands. The brands that don’t listen and engage are the ones that won’t have a future.

“The customer has never been more right than she is right now. She’s never wanted to be more involved with the things that she buys from a value set perspective. She’s saying ‘how can I be heard? I want to be seen and heard. My opinion matters,” Weiss says.

Speaking about the company’s extremely proactive and engaged social media strategy, Weiss says it’s not about controlling a narrow narrative that pushes product on to customers. “What we’re interested most in is creating this democratised conversation,” she says.

Weiss’s way of thinking shows a clear understanding of digital and online as a place for horizontal communications that recognise customers as vocal rather than passive consumers. Brands like Glossier that put the customer at the centre of the conversation will increasingly displace those brands that still think they get to control the narrative.

Cosmetics is an incredibly tough and competitive category. In Australia, we’ve recently seen the collapse of Napoleon Perdis, with the much-loved Australian brand going into administration. The brand’s founder was blunt in his assessment of what had gone wrong.

“I blame a lot of factors, from greedy landlords who will not allow us out of leases and who then charge us 'de-fit' costs on the stores ... that's cost me $3.5 million alone. The malls are dead, there's no foot traffic, everyone's buying cosmetics online but the landlords don't want to hear about it,” Perdis told the Sydney Morning Herald.

The shift by newer cosmetics brand like Glossier to a heavy focus on eCommerce and online is further evidence that carrying an extensive and expensive retail footprint is proving more burdensome than it’s worth in this day and age. It’s also indicative of the fact the younger generation of cosmetics customers spend a lot of time online, watching phenomenally popular YouTube makeup tutorials and swapping tips and opinions on Instagram and Facebook.

Smart brands and retailers have always lived by the maxim ‘go where your customer is’ — increasingly, even in a tactile product category like cosmetics, customers are online, not in the shopping malls.

Published: Monday, February 11, 2019

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