For 26 years, beauty brand Paula’s Choice has traded on the principles of truth and transparency in skin care. This was pioneered by its founder Paula Begoun, known in beauty as “The Cosmetics Cop.”
But when Erika Kussmann, CMO and general manager, arrived at the clean beauty brand about five years ago, she knew Paula’s Choice had an opportunity to reintroduce its story with a larger audience. Begoun had stepped back from daily operations, and though Paula’s Choice was a cult beauty brand, Kussman admitted it was a “pretty small cult” at the time.
“Awareness is so important,” said Kussmann. “If you’re going to be raising and really driving awareness, you want to be consistent so that you get that recognition and it’s working harder for you.” This was especially true as Paula’s Choice was facing more competition from emerging skin-care brands like Drunk Elephant and The Ordinary. Both — and many others — had adopted their takes on non-irritating, fragrance-free clean ingredients.
Following a rebrand complete with visual cues, the digitally-native indie brand has found its way to a Gen-Z audience. “These younger generations are quite savvy; they’re doing a lot of ingredient research. Specifically, what’s interesting about TikTok is that it’s a place where you can have quick education and hacks,” Kussman said. “We have everything from this long-form, more serious research content that can be translated into a skin-care routine to [content] that’s fun for these channels.”
Here are a few highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.
Finding fans in Gen Z
“These younger generations are quite savvy; they’re doing a lot of ingredient research. Specifically, what’s interesting about TikTok is that it is a place where you can have quick education and hacks. We have everything from this long-form, more serious research content that can be translated into a skin-care routine to [content] that’s fun for these channels. The other thing, too, is we work with creators, who have tried our products and really, really have had this experience where they fall in love with our products. That is a really powerful thing when they amplify it. We find that the creators who work with us are quite skin-care engaged and knowledgeable, as well.”
Balancing brand marketing with performance marketing
“We must have been the first beauty company, if not the first skin-care brand, to launch online as a brand when we did it 25 years ago. And it’s the lion’s share of our business. To think about being a DTC brand and the opportunity on digital for us, [it’s where we’re] introducing people to our brand [first]. We thought about it in a few different ways. One was: How can we we really focus on this digital funnel and [bring] people into our digital ecosystem — because ultimately our site is where they’re going to buy our product. We’re not mass-distributed, so it’s not one of these situations where, if they hear about us, the next time they’re in any store, they can find us. So being part of our digital ecosystem is a really important thing — [we’re] thinking about the right channels there and then thinking about ways we can do this that are right for our brand. YouTube, for instance, is a channel where we’ve been able to tell our branded product story and often to people who are just being introduced to our brand. There’s a lot of scale on YouTube, if you just think about the audience size of YouTube. But you can also be targeted, because that’s just how marketing on that channel works. We call it precision marketing — the right message and the right content on the right channel to that customer.”
On possibilities for the brand
“When we look at the year ahead, and even the three years ahead, there is so much opportunity to grow our core. So for us, [the goal] it is to continue to innovate in skin care. Our research team is focused on ingredient research — what’s going to really be a game-changer and be beneficial for skin. We have a lab here in our offices — that’s exactly what they’re doing behind me right now, a couple of doors down. Being able to continue to bring that ingredient knowledge and coming through with the quality of our products are going to continue to raise our game… In terms of introducing customers to our products, we see opportunities across all age groups. We are resonating and over-indexing with these younger groups… The sky’s the limit, if you look at who our brand appeals to, the traction we’re getting across so many different age groups and the opportunity just in digital alone. But we haven’t even tapped into physical retail.”