CEO Of Beauty Startup Julep Talks Using Digital Media To Grow Business

Jane Park Founder JulepBeauty startup Julep has grown up in the age of social. The brand uses Facebook, blogs, and surveys in order to interact with customers and encourage them to have a stake in the brand.

“We’re one of the first beauty brands to have grown up post-social media,” CEO and founder Jane Park said.

After all, what customer wouldn’t want to buy an item she crowd funded into production, or a nail polish color she voted on? The brand started out building a chain of nail salons in 2007 but has since shifted focus to its ecommerce line of beauty products as well as its subscription beauty box.

Julep releases 300 products a year thanks to input from its 6,000-strong Idea Lab, a panel of customers who answer surveys to help inform Julep’s product direction. To create its new nail polish applicator, the Plié Wand, it turned to crowd funding, asking Julep’s customers to pre-order the wand in order to fund its production.

Julep also has a subscription program in which members – or “Mavens” – receive a monthly box of goodies and discounts in the ecommerce store. They’re also among Julep’s most loyal, engaged customers.

Julep’s social, collaborative ethos also comes into play with its marketing. Julep creates ads for important moments in the customer’s life, be it a birthday or an engagement, through social ads on Facebook. It’s one of the beta partners with Pinterest as Julep attempts to monetize its DIY-driven audience.

“We want to be the most transparent and collaborative company in beauty at scale,” founder and CEO Jane Park said. The brand is on track to triple its revenue this year, after experiencing similar growth from 2012 to 2013.

The social native brand moves fast and hard into new territory in digital marketing. (“My team is probably going to die if they hear the word ‘click-to-install’ from me one more time,” Park said about an upcoming app campaign.)

“If you’re a bigger company used to two-year timelines around marketing campaigns, shooting a celebrity on a photo shoot and buying print advertising for it, then it’s really scary to start interacting socially because it cuts against everything you’re doing,” Park said. “We grew up in an era where it was, why don’t we do this? Can’t we build a brand faster without the heavy machinery of more traditional marketing?”

Park talked to AdExchanger at the Summit about how Julep approaches digital marketing in a social media age.

AdExchanger: What do you handle in-house, and what do you have an agency take care of?

JANE PARK: We’re pretty much all in-house. We do all of our own media buying and creative. That enables us to be super flexible and do last-minute changes, and have fine control over it by the hour and by the day. We can adjust if we have products we want to push more, or when we don’t have inventory and need to shut it down.

Also as a startup, there have been times where we’ve done a code push and there may be an issue with checkout. The ability to tightly control the on and off switch has been super important to us. 

Michael Rubin, owner of flash sale site RueLaLa, said his biggest mistake was not spending money in marketing because the company fell behind when organic referrals dropped. What’s the role of organic vs. paid media?

Paid flexes. Organic you can’t flex.

For a business like ours, where we are vertically integrated and full-stack, being able to predict the number of customers and volume is incredibly important to us, especially with the number of SKUs that we have.

Paid enables us to to meet our inventory needs. There have been times when organic has exploded, so we’ve totally closed down paid. When you have physical inventory at stake, what’s great is to have blend, so you can always flex your paid.

I think it’s really important to have both. Organic traffic and engagement is a really good indicator of brand health. Darrell Cavens [CEO of Zulily] has been a mentor to me. One of the things I’ve learned from watching Zulily is that paid is exciting because it’s something you can count on. You can’t count on organic traffic showing up month after month.

Outside of digital media, what else is in your media mix?

As we think about more standard, traditional media units like out-of-home or TV, we are thinking about it with the disciplined, digital media lens.

For example, we’re doing an out-of-home experiment in San Francisco for our Julep Plié Wand, celebrating the fact that we won the Allure Best of Beauty Award. We weren’t happy with stopping with that. We wanted to measure it directly, so there’s a text component to it, where you can text us for a free gift.

We also buy remnant inventory on TV. We can see there is an unattributed traffic lift, you could call it, at the time the TV ads are playing. We think it’s the traditional TV and tablet interaction, because everyone is watching TV with a second screen.

What are some of the hard questions you ask your CMO, and hold him or her accountable for?

It’s always a delicate balance between a measurable marketing approach, where you are paying attention to all the metrics along the funnel, and ensuring there is enough focus on who we are as a brand. That’s the biggest challenge: How do you keep your eye on both balls?

Have you found any solutions for finding that balance?

One of the things we’re thinking about is integrating the brand messaging more deeply into the acquisition process. The way we have historically thought about meeting new customers is, “What is she doing right now? Is it a holiday, is it her birthday?” I think one of our strengths is that it’s all about her, but we also need to insert ourselves into the conversation so she understands who we are and why we’re different, and thinks of us next time. That might be creative messaging that we insert into digital marketing to ensure that it’s a two-way conversation, and explain more why we are right for her.

How do you think about customer lifetime value when planning marketing and evaluating results? Is it okay to spend a lot to acquire a customers?

The big mistake is to think about her making only one transaction. We probably did that very early on.

If you can have a sense of what her spending pattern is over some reasonable amount of time, like two or three years, it gives you license to think more creatively about what the right level of spend is to meet her or have her come back.

We think about how quickly we’re recycling the marketing dollars. If it’s tied up in a customer for too long, that’s unhealthy for a business as well. So, maybe acquiring her is great, but if she was super expensive to acquire, a lot of your money is going to be sitting out there in the world until she comes back and spends more with you. That’s every company’s delicate balance, to look at where you want to spend marketing dollars and how long you’re waiting for those to come back to you.

There are a lot of companies early on in ecommerce who used that logic to overspend on customer acquisition. It can go the other way as well.

For an early business like ours, it’s all about the growth. It’s easier than a lot of established, larger companies, that worry they are marketing to the people who already know them. For the last few years, no one’s known about us. We kind of know that almost all our traffic has been new.

How do you look at and tie together display media, email marketing, social advertising and organic traffic?

We think about the different entry points as different channels. We do look at cost per click, cost per email acquisition, cost per conversion.

With organic traffic it could be how much do you spend over your lifetime with us. For Facebook traffic, it’s how much did it cost in that channel to acquire you, and how much did you spend? Some channels have a really low cost, like email, but an actual high cost when it comes to conversion of a customer – we capture an email but aren’t able to convince her to purchase. Other channels will have low cost of conversion, customer will convert and pay something in the first instance, but have poor loyalty attributes. At the end of the day, that’s where the rubber hits the road. 

What can you say about your beta partnership with Pinterest?

Both Julep and Pinterest are funded by Andreessen Horowitz, so we’re both part of that VC family, that’s how we got to be part of their beta. We’re trying to help them develop a paid platform that is right for Pinterest. It’s not a secret that they’re trying to figure out what the right mix is that protects their community, and finding revenue streams that are win-win.

We’re collaboratively sharing with them what our experiences are and what we wish we could do. I’m sure they’re not going to give us everything, because we’re on the brand side of things, and they want to make it an amazing experience for customers.

The pieces we’ve done have been pretty transparent, like small-scale sponsored pieces. Right now we’re just doing experiments.

What worries you as a CEO when you think about marketing?

By biggest fears are connected to my biggest hopes, which is that it’s an ever-changing field. Pinterest didn’t exist several years ago, and a lot of these social platforms that have 100 million-plus users weren’t around.

This whole field is changing really rapidly, that’s scary if we have something that’s working really well, I know that we can’t count on that happening forever, especially when it’s creative-based.

We have something that’s blowing the roof off now, and it’s a Halloween-themed ad. I wish it could be Halloween forever, but it’s not going to be. Moreover, that’s doing really well on Facebook, and what’s Facebook going to be like five years from now?

I’d much rather be marketing today than 10 years ago, but 10 years from now it’s going to look incredibly different. That’s the discomfort you have to embrace as a digital marketer.

Enjoying this content?

Sign up to be an AdExchanger Member today and get unlimited access to articles like this, plus proprietary data and research, conference discounts, on-demand access to event content, and more!

Join Today!