Beauty Entrepreneurs Share How They Learned To Communicate Their Brand’s Story
In this edition of Beauty Independent’s ongoing series posing questions to beauty entrepreneurs, we ask 27 founders and executives: How has the story of your brand evolved over time, and what tools have helped you hone it?
- Greta Fitz Founder, Ascention
Since I started, the brand story was always a mouthful. My elevator pitch was a long ride up to the top of the Freedom Tower, and it wasn't in the express car. I always tied it into my personal journey of how I created it, and all of the attributes around it. Although it is important to hear the credibility of the founder and origins of the brand, I learned that I had too many messages that I wanted to communicate, which, in turn, ended up confusing and losing my audience.
Here are some of the ways that helped me fine-tune my message, which has shaped the brand identity and is the root of which everything we do stems from.
1). Speak to people whose opinion you trust as well as communicate your brand story to people who are new to the concept. If your brand story is easy to understand and is solving a problem, then you know it's good. If it takes too long to get to the point or it's too vague, ask those that you trust for feedback to understand where you can be more clear. Since you're the founder, you're super close to the brand, so it will make sense to you, but does it to others? This is the most important. From doing this, I took a very esoteric concept and made it relatable and tangible.
2). Test and learn. When I soft-launched my brand a year ago, I focused too heavily on esoteric concepts that perhaps didn't resonate with the general public. I didn't want to just be known as a crystal fragrance brand, but as a brand that uses the energy of scent with the power of your intent to elevate your mind. I kept saying this when explaining it to editors and influencers and, then, it clicked, I needed something catchy that would in one sentence explain the problem and solution. Coming up with the tagline, "scent with intent to elevate your mind," did just that. I would have never known this if I didn't listen to my audience.
3). Programs and coaches. Find programs that align with your values that help you build a solid network to receive feedback. I was fortunate to be selected as part of the Sephora Accelerate program in 2019, where I participated in workshops and focus groups of amazing Sephora team members that gave me direct feedback from their client's standpoint. My mentor was amazing in helping me find the soul of my brand, what we stood for and what separated us from the competition. This tied into the brand story, tagline, execution, packaging, website, basically the entire 360 ethos of the brand. It helped shape the DNA and checklist that guides everything that we do.
If your brand story is succinct, relatable and powerful, it will connect with the right audience and result in building long trusting relationships with your consumers. It took us a few runs to get to where we are, and we're grateful for the learnings as it helped to shape who we are today.
- Frances Tang Founder, Awkward Essentials
The first time I pitched “dripstick” was during my time at an accelerator. My pitch was like most. I used a fair amount of statistics and facts. I distinctly remember the horrified faces in the audience. Half the room gave me nervous laughter while the other half had their mouths hanging open in shock. As I kept practicing, I pitched to all kinds of friends, acquaintances and members of my accelerator. One of the members happened to be an actor and had comedy training. His unique perspective and feedback was incredibly valuable.
Over the course of several iterations, my pitch slowly became closer to a stand-up comedy routine than a traditional pitch. I talked about the problem and product as it related to me personally as opposed to the market need. By the final pitch presentation, the room was nodding and laughing as opposed to gaping in shock. Ever since then, the common thread of using my personal experience has been the foundation of the brand story. Awkward Essentials was built on that very first pitch and, had I not sought out unique perspectives, we likely would not be where we are today.
- Holly Eve CEO, Founder And Creative Director, Madame Lemy
I didn’t have a business or chemistry background prior to starting. But, as an entrepreneur, I was incredibly resourceful and not afraid to ask for help. If I didn’t know something, I would find a website, book or person who had the answer.
I credit the company's fast growth to frequenting the Small Business Development Center early on. The SBDC is a national government agency helping entrepreneurs launch and grow their businesses. Their advisors are experts specializing in areas such as marketing, finance and legal. We wouldn’t be where we are today without their advice and guidance.
While starting my business and still to this day, I was inspired by the motivational journeys of other entrepreneurs. I’ve probably watched and listened to every podcast and video available on Spanx founder Sara Blakely. I also gained valuable insight from Gary Vaynerchuk videos and have implemented facets of his social media advice into my marketing, which really helped grow my sales.
My No. 1 tool for evolving the brand is having a spiritual mindset in all that I do. I live a vegan lifestyle, meditate, do yoga and try my best to approach everyone with kindness and compassion. Treating employees and vendors well goes a long way. People are loyal and dedicated to growing a company when they feel seen and appreciated.
- Jordan Schindler Founder and CEO, Nufabrx
Public speaking and watching video recordings of presenting the story. As awkward and painful as it is, the best and easiest way to get better is to just watch a video of yourself presenting. No matter how many times you do it, there are always things that you’ll be able to improve on.
- VALERIE OBAZE Founder and CEO, R&R Luxury
I have a background in PR So, from the inception of the brand, I knew how important it was to share our authentic story for consumers to be able to relate. Over the years, the core brand story has remained the same, but has been adapted to focus on consumer trends and fit particular markets. For example, our brand story is based around shea butter. People in Ghana, where we are based, are very familiar with how shea butter is processed and the benefits it has for the skin.
However, the UK market needed some more education on our key ingredient, which we decided to weave into our brand story, particularly honing in on the sustainability and social nature of shea butter, which is exclusively handcrafted by women. This messaging in the brand story was well received by our conscious consumers in the UK market.
- Courtney Baber Co-Founder, The Route
When my business partner, nurse Nancy, and I decided to start a skincare brand together, we spent tons of time researching every medical grade and luxury brand available on the market to figure out what we loved, liked and disliked, but. more importantly, what we were still missing. We shared our brand vision with a trusted network of friends, family, industry experts, skincare CEOs and thought leaders in order to better understand our positioning.
Getting as much constructive criticism and feedback, good and bad, and our gut reaction to that feedback really helped us understand our point of difference in the market. This process taught us not only what was important and relevant to the creation and management of the brand, but what was going to ultimately resonate with the consumer. We learned a lot from this process and, ultimately, pivoted the brand. We went from medical grade meets luxury beauty to medical grade/luxury skincare.
Hire the right people. We have always been firm believers in the saying, “you get what you pay for,” and also in the power of objective outside expertise. As a new brand, we are constantly on the hunt for great talent in creative, packaging, formulation, legal expertise, accounting, social, PR and more. It is easy to fall into the trap of trying to do it all yourself or going with the lowest bidder, especially when you are bootstrapping a business. But, by hiring the right people, we were able to tap into their expert skill sets to help us evolve the brand into the success it is today.
- MARC RONERT Co- Founder, Hush & Hush
A brand’s story is always evolving and everything from the state of the world to changes in the industry and even just general feedback can change the course of the overall story. Our brand is constantly making tiny tweaks to our story as we see fit while remaining true to what we stand for. Media coaching has helped me to use specific buzzwords that I wasn’t using when telling our story. That change alone made the pitch more relatable.
- LISA PINEIRO Founder and CEO, Glotrition
Honing the story has really been influenced by our QVC airings. The need to have a laser-focused presentation that clearly articulates the brand history, mission and, most important, product features and benefits in a short period of time has helped in clarifying these messages for our broader distribution. Conveying the unique point of difference in being formulated with scientifically validated ingredients in the clinically recommended levels has become much clearer through this process, helping us really deliver the messages that resonate best with our target audience.
Trend reports from sources like NPD, Kline, and HatchBeauty have also helped shape our messaging strategy, leaning in on aspects of the brand and products that are most relevant right now. A good example is dialing up the messaging around antioxidants in our blends during COVID. The awareness of this ingredient story was especially high, so providing more education on these ingredients and their associated benefits helped us develop a deeper connection with our community.
- Dwayne D’Souza Founder, Dermatica
In order to evolve my brand, I needed to really understand the market, ours being the dermatology and skincare side of the market. This involved intensive market research, speaking to hundreds of people, [including] dermatologists, conducting surveys, etc. I spent a lot of time reading medical journals and clinical studies to understand how ingredients worked, the evidence behind them and why they are better than anything else you can currently purchase online.
Resources/education: The personalization aspect became abundantly clear that it was needed as the current offerings on the market are not sufficient to meet the needs of people’s skin concerns and we need a more comprehensive solution. We flew over leading experts from the U.S. to educate myself and the team on the process of personalization known as compounding.
Be involved. I always like to know every part of how the business operates, so I spent and spend now a lot of time in the lab creating skin formulas.
Understanding consumer needs and demand. Over time, I learned more in depth what our customers are looking for and what the market demand is for certain skin products. I regularly read on Reddit, Facebook Groups and other social media channels about what peoples difficulties are with their skin, and we are developing an exciting pipeline of products to address these issues.
- Britton Hardin Co-Founder, NFZD Beauty
In the short time since the inception of our brand, we've come to feel that, through branding, messaging, logos and color palettes, other Black-owned beauty brands in the space speak to a similar demographic. We understood that our branding and packaging would have to change to stand out and pierce through. By consulting with our mentor, reading numerous articles, listening to several podcasts and participating in online lectures, we feel that we've identified a community amongst women and women of color that has not been catered to that we'd like to serve directly.
- Mila Moursi Founder, Mila Moursi
We evolved over time in a number of ways, but the core of the brand is really the quality of the formula. That’s our biggest priority. So, I am very active in the industry, and I’m always looking for new technologies and ingredients to incorporate into my products, and I stay on top of that. The formulas are not the same as they were years ago. Like anything else in this world, they are continuously evolving. Anything you do is an evolution, and you have to keep moving with it.
Also, the blessing is having my spa and my good clients for the last 30 years. I listen to them. I listen to what they’re looking for and what they want to achieve. One of the many clients that is very in tune with beauty and skincare is Jennifer Aniston. She has always inspired me because she has an intuition for beauty products. She has an intuition even for treatments. I think that, if she was not an actress, she would have been an owner of a retreat or a cosmetic brand, that’s for sure. She’s one of many.
Even my technicians are an inspiration to me. They’re licensed technicians. They do treatments on different skin types every day. My team is my chemist, my aestheticians and my clients, and I listen to all of them. I get the best of each one’s opinion and, then, use that to continuously evolve as a company.
- MICHELLE RANAVAT Founder, Ranavat Botanics
It was about listening to what my customer was resonating with as I shared my brand story. I paid attention to how they would describe the brand and what parts of my story they focused on. Once I did that, I also did a lot of research on Instagram and online to make sure my messaging and story was unique.
- DONAGH QUIGLEY Founder, The Handmade Soap Company
This is our tenth year in business, and we have definitely evolved over the years. To be honest, at the beginning of this, I hadn’t had a clue how to run a business. Luckily, I have always had a very curious mind, and I’m a voracious reader, so I have to say that reading some key books have really helped to shape me, my thinking and my brand story. Below are a few resources.
Marketing: The Do Lectures and David Hiatt
Design: "A Life in Pattern" by Orla Kiely
Culture: "Building a Great Business" by Ari Weinzweig
Life: "Man's Search for Meaning" by Vikotr Frankl and "The One Straw Revolution" by Masanobu Fukuoka
- Isabel Aagaard Founder, LastObject
First, we identified important areas in e-commerce, emails, Facebook ads, Google ads, on page conversions, increasing basket size. And, then, we went extremely deep in understanding each of those. One by one. Then, when we understood it enough, we found a good agency and handed it over.
We’re doing the same thing with crowdfunding. What are the three most important things we need to do extremely well when launching a crowdfunding campaign? Then, we go deep into those. Same thing goes for wholesale, production and logistics. We use one to three months to become experts. Then, we hand it off and repeat.
- Jasmine Wicks-Stephens Founder, Faace
I’ve been to countless talks, beauty events and seminars, and have been surrounded by those who have excelled themselves to be successful. This has given me the drive and work ethic that it takes to run two businesses successfully and not shy away from the hard work it entails. I love listening to the Second Life podcast by Hillary Kerr as it spotlights successful women who’ve made career changes and inspires me with my own pivot from agency owner to brand owner.
Working with outstanding beauty minds, I recognized I had honed a skill set. Also, my husband is an excellent designer, experienced in beauty, health and lifestyle sectors, and could offer a lot in the way of developing and creating a new concept. Combined with the expertise I had around me, excellent journalists, bloggers, aromatherapists, makeup artists and skin experts, recognizing that with their input, as a collective, we could come up with something special. And I’m proud to say we have.
- Phoebe Horak COO and Managing Partner, Bra in a Box
We are new and still working through our brand evolution. Much of our branding came through many discussions between myself and my co-founder about what we want to accomplish with our product. It’s one thing to have a great product idea, but it’s quite another to present the product in a way that challenges and inspires women both intellectually and emotionally. Many of our branding goals were born from our own daily struggles as working women and mothers. This is what we discuss when we talk about the future of our brand. We’ve evolved further after finding our fabulous PR firm, POSH PR. They’ve helped fine tune our branding from an industry perspective.
- TORI BODIN Founder, Dazey CBD
Our brand story did evolve as we started to hear from customers either why they chose us over other brands or what they ended up loving about our product compared to others. For example, a lot of our customers have told us that they feel good knowing their purchase supports not only our company, but also the small, independently-owned farm that we work with. Now, we spend more effort highlighting that our hemp is USDA certified organic, grown under the Oregon sunshine by a single group of farmers, and that it is harvested, extracted, and bottled on-site without any middlemen.
- Stephanie Venn-Watson Co-Founder and CEO, fatty15
We led with the science, reaching out to global leaders in medicine and science to share our discoveries around the health benefits of C15:0 (an odd-chain saturated fatty acid present in butter) and asked for honest, no-holds-barred feedback. We incorporated this feedback to advance our research and ultimately publish our results in multiple peer-reviewed journals, including Scientific Reports, a Nature publication, where we provided evidence of C15:0 as the first essential fatty acid to be discovered in 90 years.
The strong science behind our discovery was covered by the media, which was helpful when we engaged with strategic partners and venture capital companies. With extensive feedback from our partners and VCs as well as help from an incredible speaking coach, John Bates, we were able to translate our science into a compelling story and ultimately secure our series A raise.
We then needed to further hone our story to communicate the health benefits of C15:0 as a new supplement and food ingredient to consumers. To do this, we engaged Phenomenon, a stellar ad agency team in LA to develop our brand narrative and strategy, resulting in fatty15, the world’s first and only C15:0 fatty acid supplement to help modern adults stay healthy and age on their own terms.
- Tonya Kidd Beggs Creative Director and Founder, STORIES Parfums
Every aspect of my brand is self-taught from start to finish. We had been trading for around six months when I was introduced to a luxury brand specialist whose guidance helped me to launch into the industry, all of which was completely new to me.
I was very fortunate to be working alongside such a strategic thinker with a wealth of experience in commercial success within the luxury brand and retail sectors. Through sales, buying, marketing and PR, the aim was to grow my luxury brand by introducing new methods of working, thus helping to reach its true potential. We worked together for around a year and half, and continue to be good friends.
Forming the fragrances is from my own intuition. I tell my story through the art of perfumery, in the hope that the wearer will connect with their own past, present and future. I work with a perfumer who allows me to be creative. I choose every note in our fragrances, then she brings them to completion. My perfumer is Russian, and we get on tremendously and work very well together. She does not write the story of my fragrances, but rather brings the eloquent finishing chapter.
For my own well-being as a founder, director and full-time mum and wife, I glean wisdom from Brené Brown, author and storyteller: “Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.” I highly recommend all of her books, especially one of her latest, “Dare to Lead.”
- EMILIE DAVIDSON HOYT Founder, Lather
Being around for two decades, we’ve definitely told our story a number of times! We’ve always turned to our customers, talking to them in our stores, reading their feedback and analyzing their engagement as well as current events and issues to help guide us on what the most important aspect of our story to highlight.
- Joshua Neumann Founder, Kind Lips
As sales began to increase, our consumers reached out and shared stories about how they used the product and we listened. We had teachers use it in their classrooms and HR people use it in their offices. We’ve had brides purchase for their weddings. We’ve been very fortunate to have consumers reach out to us and share their experiences with product/mission, and we have done our best to use that information to learn and understand the opportunities for distribution in areas not commonly associated with lip balm.
Since there is no playbook for starting a lip balm company (if you know of one, please send it to me), I have relied on begging other business owners to meet for coffee or if I can have 15 minutes of their time on the phone to ask questions. I have also made friends with my sales rep and the COO of my manufacturer, and seek wisdom from them whenever necessary.
- Myounghoon Jang CEO, Franz Skincare USA
Beauty was not my first venture. After college, a few ex-McKinsey consultants and I founded an e-commerce incubator company. Each company had its strengths and weaknesses. This taught me to uniquely look at each problem, no two situations are the same. Taking my experience from that, I moved to medical engineering and electrochemistry, again outside of the beauty space! By being able to combine experts in their field and putting them together to solve a problem that is not their exact specialty, I have been able to gather nontraditional, unique knowledge. I then worked on researching transdermal patches for pain-free drug delivery.
Then, I had a moment that changed my thoughts on self-care. My mother became ill and, when I spent time in the hospital, I would help wash her face and finally realized what self-care was, and why it is so important to have an easy routine. My goal is to make customers happy and their days better. I then showed our spa products at the American Academy of Dermatology convention and the response was overwhelming. I am so happy to bring complex technology that easily helps people in a small way, and brings a smile to their face.
- MEHIR SETHI Founder, True + Luscious
The story of my relatively new brand is evolving as we continue to learn what touch points hold the most importance to our customers. For example, we believe beauty cannot be truly clean without being vegan. This resonates strongly with our customers rather than just cruelty-free and vegan claims. Personally, I’m working with a coach to help equip me with the tools to really express myself as a founder and overcome extreme shyness. I have lots to say and seeking help to be able to do that effectively is already paying off.
- Yasmin Charania Khan Founder and CEO, Khalm Skincare
Our brand story first began with a deep dive into my childhood to find the earliest memories of this preeminent ingredient, oud, while growing up in my homeland. I realized oud was all around me in the place of worship, in my home and during special ceremonial occasions. French manufacturing and strict European regulation were crucial for development and guiding the story to the present day. We needed to connect the dots as to how our customer would align with this magical, healing ingredient. Now, our customers improve on that brand story by bringing their own origin stories about oud to us. It's especially rewarding when a Khalm oil or cleanser is the customer's first experience with oud.
- Kelley Martin CMO, Skyn Iceland
We have evolved like many companies do, by noticing consumer trends and feedback. We have recently recommitted to ensuring that all of our products are at a truly clean standard, which is an exciting evolution of what we were already founded upon. We have always been a brand that was inspired by nature. However, as the clean beauty revolution began to form in recent years, we looked at what was happening in the industry, what our customers wanted, and realized that we needed to commit even further to it.
- Jennifer Lee Vice President, Lapcos
When we launched in the U.S., we were already a trusted, credible, well-positioned Korean beauty brand. We were fortunate from the get-go to be backed by an incredible development team, working to bring the most innovative ingredients and products to market in North America. The brand has evolved, always keeping an open mind and nimble strategy, expanding into new categories and becoming a true lifestyle brand that spans a variety of beauty and wellness needs. We continuously research and learn what customers are looking to inform our new innovations with a solution-based approach.
We also understand that, now more than ever, it is critical to be a digitally and visually minded brand. That’s why we focused many of our efforts this year on launching a new modern look for the brand, from social media to email to the website and Amazon storefront, all informed by a fresh creative direction that elevated the “Lapcos Look” as we call it. We took inspiration from our diverse and vocal user base to show more model photography and highlight the textures and applications of our products. This added a new level of dimension to the brand, one that is palpable, elegant and on-trend.
- Shalom Lloyd Founder, Naturally Tribal Skincare
I had so many plans and ambitions, but having a skincare brand was certainly not in the cards! It was born from a need, a problem and personal experience. When you have been pumped with chemicals and gone through up to four IVF cycles, you think twice before using chemicals on your kids. What people do not seem to understand is that skin diseases remain a major cause of disability worldwide and as many as 15 million people are living with an infuriating skin condition in the UK alone.
All I wanted was to make my products and sell them. That was the goal! To achieve this goal, I needed a sustainable source for my main ingredient shea butter, which led me to Africa, to the Kingdom of Essan. The evolution of my brand is less about seminars, books or talks, it was more about hands-on experience, impact and purpose.
I discovered that the shea industry has women at its core, with over 16 million rural African women collecting and processing shea kernels as a main source of income. If I was going to do this, I had to do it right. My business had to go way beyond being just another shea-based skincare brand.
Back in England, the brand had to evolve. I scraped my plastic jars and transitioned to frosted glass jars, and I’m working on moving to UV glass jars today. How on earth could I say we were all-natural but continue to kill our planet with plastic? Realizing what was important, we became vegan and cruelty-free certified. In parallel, I wanted to tell a different ethical sourcing story, which meant building a shea processing facility in Essan, where up to 70 of these amazing rural African women would be employed. It became about trade, not aid.
Gone are the days of nice and shiny where one would scratch the surface and find nothing behind the glitz and glamour. The company was founded due to my son’s skin condition, and we had somewhat digressed from that. Today, efficacy lies at the core, honing in on our messaging, target market and customer targets. This is where research and working with our United Kingdom Department of International Trade came in, helping us target the right markets for our products.
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