Marianna Hewitt, co-founder of skin-care brand Summer Fridays, launched the cult brand in 2018 with fellow influencer Lauren Gores Ireland with a single SKU product: the Jet Lag Mask. Now, the brand is stocked in Sephora and sells 14 cult products. Since its launch, Summer Fridays has used the lessons learned from its influencer founders and their years of creating organic followings to grow a loyal brand following of over 500,000 Instagram followers and 33,700 on TikTok. Below, co-founder Marianna Hewitt talks about going viral via an Erewhon smoothie collaboration, working with influencers, growing influencer and community events, and approaching TikTok as a beauty brand.
The following 10 takeaways are highlights from the on-stage conversation between Marianna Hewitt and Glossy West Coast correspondent Liz Flora at this week’s Glossy Beauty x Wellness Summit.
Brands win when partnering with fans on sponsored content
“We work with influencers and talent of all sizes. I’m sure you guys have seen the rise of TikTok over the last few years, and with its growth, following size doesn’t really matter anymore. You can work with a creator that has 100 followers, 1,000 followers or a million, and you don’t know whose video is going to go viral. That’s why organic gifting and seeding to people who have following counts of all ranges is really important, because everyone’s reach ends up being a little bit different with virality. As far as working with talent, we work with all kinds of different people, but it’s really about people who engage with the brand, buy and try and use our products, and just organically love it.
Sponsored posts work a lot better when you’re already working with talent who’s organically sharing [your content] versus seeding them a product for the first time and this is the first time their audience has ever heard about the brand. We try to engage with people who share the products. We use platforms like Dash and Tribe to see who’s posting and sharing a lot. Then it’s also [looking at] EMV and working with affiliate platforms like Shopline or LTK, because then you can see who is pushing the most amount of link clicks and sales. Depending on the type of content you want and what the goal of the campaign is, you can really align yourself with the influencers that are best for your goal.”
Immersive influencer events should be a focus
“As an influencer, I get so much gifting. Every day in our office, there are piles of stuff and there are only so many things I can try. But if there’s an event, and I can speak to the founder or someone on the marketing team about the product and why they love it so much and all the research and development that went into it, then I find that I’m actually learning so much more about it and want to get to the next step of trying it. So it’s really immersive [experiences that I prefer]. You’re hoping that the influencers who come to the event are sharing it [on their social accounts] and not just through one story of them unboxing the product; they’re sharing more about the lifestyle around it and including some education around the product.”
Expand to cities close to your customers
“When it’s a community event, it’s really organized to engage with the community, so [we consider]: What is the positioning? Is it about brand affinity? Is it going deeper into a city that we want to engage with? We look at our analytics all the time on social, on Shopify and with Sephora. For us, it is about [asking]: What are our top doors, which cities are most important to us and which cities do we need to cater toward? When it was a pre-pandemic community event, we went to a couple of top cities like New York, L.A. and San Francisco. Then we also went to Chicago and Miami, which are still top cities for us, but those cities never get brand events. So they were so grateful and excited that we came there, and they love that.”
Tailor your brand events for video to keep customers engaged
“Pre-pandemic, there was video, but it was really just Instagram Stories. Now we have Reels and TikTok, so not only do you want that great photo moment, which we always used to think about pre-pandemic, but now it’s like, what are you going to have on video? Is there an activity happening? Is there something where I’m watching something being made, or where there’s something more happening where I want to keep watching to see what’s going to happen at the end? What’s that hook, and what can we get people to watch?
I love going to events where they’re making something. Recently, it was something with pasta, and I wanted to share the whole pasta-making process because people want to follow along with that. You really have to think of it for the photo and video feeds, so that people create the most amount of things. Or [set the stage for] a wow moment of a performance, where everyone’s going to grab their phone and want to share this moment. It’s always focused: What would I want to watch? Those are the things that we want to create for our events.”
Create viral moments with unexpected partnerships
“Erewhon reached out and we were talking to them about doing a smoothie either for Summer Fridays or for myself. As a brand, when you partner with another retailer, you end up having to pay the retailer for it. It ended up working out to be a Marianna ‘Coconut Cloud’ smoothie. Even though it was a Marianna smoothie, [I thought,] ‘How can I tie it back to Summer Fridays, in a way?’ I came up with this idea for the smoothie, and then we used blue spirulina, so it was this beautiful blue color. It kind of felt like Summer Fridays and the Jetlag Mask. There’s coconut cream at the bottom, and when you pour it in splashes, it makes this wave-looking pattern. I thought it was beautiful and that a couple hundred people would buy this smoothie.
Poosh also did one this month. Hailey Bieber did her smoothie there, as well, and it became this viral drink that everyone was sharing. Even though it wasn’t a Summer Fridays branded moment, it was an experiential moment with another retailer, a moment where people were sharing this product or were thinking about Summer Fridays and the Summer Fridays blue. It was supposed to be around for one month at Erewhon, but they ended up doing it for two months instead.
Now it’s something where brands are reaching out to Erewhon wanting to partner with them because they know the virality of it. Even though it’s localized here in Los Angeles, so many people go there, tourists come and visit the store, so many people come to this place as a destination. And they have so many great clean, sustainable beauty brands there, so it’s really great brand affinity between the two of us. If you go there, it’s permanently on the menu now. It’s about partnering with places for unexpected collaborations that people want to share that have some sort of cohesive brand messaging, but it’s not like a beauty-plus-beauty collaboration.”
Use the search in TikTok to find influencer partners
“You can’t just think of TikTok as a video platform. What works on YouTube or what works on Instagram isn’t going to work on this platform. Tiktok has its own lingo, its own trends, its own audio. If you do things on TikTok that are late, even if it’s by a week or two, it won’t work. You can’t really create that much content ahead of time if it’s trend-based, because the users move on so quickly. If an audio was trending last week, and you post it this week, it’s likely already going to be old because of the pace of how TikTok moves. TikTok is really great because there’s this whole new generation of influencers and creators. People who had really small followings pre-pandemic have now come out of the pandemic with a million-plus followers. It’s leveled the playing field of influencers.
For our SPF launch earlier this year, we wanted to target creators who talk about sunscreen, but it’s harder to figure out who talks about these things on Instagram. On TikTok, because you can search for everything there, we searched for SPF sunscreen, then we went through creators who were sharing SPF videos, and it was so easy to find people. If you’re looking for a niche influencer who works with your specific type of launch, brand or product, it is so easy to find people on the platform.”
Paying for usage on TikTok can pay off for brands more than ads
“People who organically share the videos and post a natural video have been really helpful. We find them and we see their video, and then we say we want to pay them to boost this video or we want to pay them for usage, since they’ve already created the content. Then they’re so happy, because they’ve already created it and now they’re getting paid on the back end, when they weren’t even expecting that payment anyway. That way, the video seems that much more organic. When I’m watching and I see ads on there and I see organic videos, I prefer when it’s someone who genuinely loves the product and is sharing it.
As brands, we love to create briefs for social campaigns and posts. But just know that by mentioning more brand talking points, it’s going to be less organic, and it probably won’t resonate as well. So if you want it to work on TikTok, just give people the product, say, ‘[Just] include one of these three things that are really important to us’, that’s all you need. Give them the creative freedom to do what they think is going to work best for their audience and on that platform.
If it’s only for an ad, or if it’s only for something that you guys are going to boost and is really serving as an ad for you, then you can dictate that more. Then, you might be better off working with a content creator versus an influencer, because then they’re just creating that content based on your brief. If you’re hoping for a viral video, or lots of sales, just let the creators do what they do best.”
Train users early for Instagram Checkout
“We tried checkout earlier this year when Lauren, my co-founder, and I hosted an Instagram Live. We don’t really love doing them, but we wanted to try it out, and we had a promo code tied to our live. We saw a boost in our sales on our DTC site in those hours that we were doing the live, so now we see that it does work and we want to do more of that.
It’s also about training your Instagram audience to get used to checking out on there. If they’ve already got their credit card payment on there, it’s just two clicks: add to cart, and check out. It is so easy, but it’s just getting people used to shopping there. … And it’s going to take a little bit of time to get people to feel comfortable putting their credit card information on there. But once you do, it’s a very quick [process].”
Brands should see their social strategy as part of their brand image
“We think of each of our platforms and even each piece of content as being for a different purpose. One piece of content might be for education, another may be to push sales, something else may be for brand positioning. It’s about doing all of these things for the overall brand marketing strategy of the brand elements you want. I don’t think it’s about posting something and seeing sure sales today. It’s about doing it every single day, day in and day out, posting on every platform — Stories, BeReal, TikTok — and being very present on all of them.
[The idea is that] when someone is thinking about making a purchase of your product, your post is the last thing they saw. It’s also about giving hefty gifting and seedings so that it’s in as many other people’s content as possible — so that when people do go to make that purchase, they choose us. With the Sephora sale recently, we wanted to be present in every one of the Sephora videos for its sale recommendations, so that when the sale went live, they thought to [consider] us.”
For livestreaming to work, it needs to be natural
“Because we have two influencer founders, we have audiences who are used to coming to us and wanting to shop and get recommendations from the two of us anyway. So we’re comfortable speaking on lives and having that type of conversation. It might be harder if you’re a brand that doesn’t have a forward-facing founder or someone who puts themselves on camera a lot. Then it’s about finding talent that you want to work with as an influencer for your brand. You can hire an influencer to work with you or you can find someone at the brand who wants to do it, and then you can work with someone on an ongoing basis. Then there are many options: Ot can be done on the influencer’s platform, where they’re reaching their audience and selling for you, or it can be on your own platform. Or, you guys can join together and co-host a live show where you’re utilizing their audience and your audience and someone from your brand, and you’re selling to a larger group of people.
During our lives, we could really show [the audience] a live tutorial [of Summer Fridays products], and they could ask us questions instead of needing to go to our comments, DMs or customer service. That live interaction was really helpful in getting people to [transact]. It was also helpful to offer them some sort of gift with purchase or promo code to encourage them to check out during that time frame.”