Glossier’s Brand Storytelling and the Democratization of Beauty

Photo by Charisse Kenion on Unsplash

In March, direct-to-consumer beauty startup Glossier became a “unicorn” company, valued at over 1.2 billion after its latest funding round. Unicorn is perhaps an apt name for the fairytale story of CEO Emily Weiss, who started a beauty blog while working as a fashion assistant at Vogue and turned it into a billion-dollar enterprise with operations in the US, Canada, the UK, France, Denmark, Ireland and Sweden.

As the legend goes, Weiss told her parents she was going to start her blog, Into the Gloss after catching the beauty-writing bug at her assistant job. She tells The Cut about her impetus for starting it:It’s going to be about women and putting them and their narrative and their story at the forefront and giving them a voice and a platform and just really encouraging them.”

From the beginning, it was about the story of these women and the democratization of beauty. Sure, the models and the editors had $200 La Mer cream in their medicine cabinets, but they also shopped at Walgreens for lip balm like the rest of us. And that was the part that most interested Weiss, who saw the storytelling inherent in taking a peek into the products people choose to use.

Glossier’s brand storytelling is disruptive in every sense of the word. Weiss entered an industry that was dominated by a handful of large companies, most of which had been around since World War II. Weiss modernized by harnessing millennial aesthetics — lots of white space, simple pastels — but understood that the depth behind her company is more than just the appealing pictures of products.

In the online beauty community — which Weiss herself helped to cultivate with Into the Gloss — there is a sense of solidarity in the hunt. The Reddit thread r/makeupaddiction has 1.4 million followers. People share looks, recommendations and questions. Browsing for a cream or a lipstick is no longer a solitary endeavor inspired by ads that tell women a beauty product will solve all their problems.

These are people who gather under the revolutionary idea that the realm of makeup and skincare does not have to be shame-based.

Now, there is joy in the community and the universal stories of the search. There is conflict in their stories— from a particularly tricky hunt for a product sold only in a few countries to a glorious new foundation that was whacked off the shelf by a playful kitten to people who may not have felt comfortable sharing their true self until they found a supportive online community. There is solidarity amongst women and men and nonbinary folks who may have been told that makeup is silly—an endeavor for girls and women as long as their end goal was to impress a man. They’ve rejected this in favor of the idea that tending to your skin can bring you joy.

This is the power that Emily Weiss unleashed with Glossier. Weiss has stated that the most important marketing channel for Glossier is still word of mouth. 70% of their sales come from direct, organic and referral traffic.

How can you cause this kind of disruption with your business? It may seem like a tall order, but it doesn’t have to be. Think about the status quo in your industry— how is your product traditionally marketed, to whom, and by what methods? Maybe your product has traditionally only been marketed to a particular gender or age group. How can you reach outside of that? Look for the universality in your product.

Once you have identified potential non-traditional targets, think about their stories, just as Weiss did. Who are your customers and why would they use your product? What sort of conflict do they have in their lives and what can help bring them joy? Weiss started with something as simple as digging into people’s medicine cabinets and found a whole new trove of universal stories waiting to be told.

In an interview with Fashionista, Weiss said: “One of the most beautiful things about Into the Gloss and about Glossier is that it all has always been collaboration. It's never been about me. It's been myself as a filter, perhaps, for information or a conduit for story telling, but I think what is the special sauce of our entire company is that it is a sounding board and a collective.”

Once you find your community and your stories, your brand will find its way.