Since Kory Marchisotto joined e.l.f. Beauty as CMO in 2019, the cosmetics and skincare brand has quickly become a household name not only for its high-quality, prestige-inspired beauty products at an extraordinary value but also for its viral marketing campaigns that have garnered billions of views.
As a leader who’s comfortable pushing boundaries in the industry, Marchisotto has been credited with launching creative concepts that revitalized the brand’s core message — that e.l.f. is for every eye, lip and face — with distinction while being playful, fresh, energetic and inclusive. Her relentless focus on every eye, lip and face has recharged every facet of the brand’s storytelling.
Her ideas have skyrocketed e.l.f.’s website traffic, social media engagements, its base of loyal customers, revenue, and more — which has helped the fast-growing beauty brand to shine and raise its voice even during the current health and economic crisis.
As a CMO myself, I appreciate the complexities of being a leader and a disruptor — creatively pushing performance while also building on the brand’s vision for the long term. I sat down with Marchisotto to learn about her journey to CMO, her role in e.l.f.’s biggest marketing campaigns, how she navigates the current impacts of COVID, and her advice for brands with big dreams in uncertain times.
Could you share with us your journey to joining e.l.f. Cosmetics? What attracted you to work for the company?
Before joining e.l.f., I spent most of my career working with luxury brands that catered to smaller audiences with premium luxury positioning and price points.
At a certain point, I realized that I wanted to work with a brand that spoke to the wider audience.
There are two important factors that helped me make my decision to join e.l.f.
The first is the team. Is this a team I want to wake up and work with every single day?
I had never met a team of people like this before. They are almost like the anti-corporation; there’s a renegade spirit at e.l.f. because the company was built on achieving the impossible.
Everyone’s down to earth, talented, super smart, and wants to work hard and do something groundbreaking for the industry.
The second part is the brand itself. Does the brand have potential for the future?
Are there things here that I can unlock to drive forward brand equity and shareholder value?
The answer was overwhelmingly yes.
I soon found that the core tenets of the brand — 100% vegan and cruelty-free, first to mass holy grails, premium quality products, unbelievable value, universal appeal — are all more relevant today than they were 16 years ago when e.l.f. launched.
What did you see was needed to unlock that potential to drive the brand forward?
What was needed was a storyline and narrative that would surface the greatness of e.l.f. and to put it forward in a relevant, modern, and ownable way.
We created a new lexicon, e.l.f.isms — what the e.l.f., why the e.l.f. not? — that our community picked up on and started using in their own comments to each other and back to us! And….it gives me the excuse to curse around the office without a stare. I do love a good e.l.f. bomb!
I also understood very clearly what consumers loved about our brand, the original superpowers that made us great, the ones that our consumers can’t get enough of.
Through our consumer research, we found themes that resonate with our audiences. We unlocked the power of what they love about our brand and brought it to life in an incredibly relevant way.
Thinking about some of the narratives we’ve put out — one is called e.l.f. control. That’s the idea that with e.l.f. “you really can have it all.” It became one of our best-performing assets.
You pay careful attention to your customers — how do you use that listening power to inform decision making?
Everything we do is built off consumer insights.
Our Holy Hydration cream, for example, we’d read consumers wondering why their cream was used so fast. They ultimately found that their husbands, partners or roommates would be sticking their fingers into their Holy Hydration jar and using it without them knowing.
So what did we do? We took that insight and turned it into a piece of content that tells that story.
I think the reason the Recharge campaign was so successful was that we didn’t create a vision of what we wanted e.l.f. to be, we took the reality of what e.l.f. is to our consumers and served it back to them in a relevant way.
It all starts with building that solid foundation.
Dive into the consumer treasure chest, gather insights, use it to unleash a refreshed brand expression and a thumb-stopping campaign.
Then you can harness the power of digital to drive awareness and engagement with existing and new consumers alike across a variety of platforms.
Working with an agency like Tinuiti, that allows us to maximize those insights and assets by pivoting and optimizing across those platforms, has been huge.
The next chapter is making sure we’re aligned with new patterns of consumer behavior.
We operate under an evolve or die mindset. We are constantly adapting to rapidly shifting consumer patterns to serve their needs, wants and desires in a way that’s most relevant to them.
This is especially important during times of dramatic change.
You mentioned the changes in consumer behavior due to COVID. How has that changed your approach to media planning or digital strategy?
Everything has changed.
The one thing I tell my team every day is that if you’re treating this as business as usual, then you’re doing it all wrong.
This plays to our core strengths. e.l.f. has gained market share in a competitive industry for many years because of our built-in agility, our ability to pivot and move at e.l.f. speed — it has set us up for long-term success.
There’s an episode on Scott Galloway’s Pivot Podcast where he talks about companies that will survive the COVID crisis — he relates it back to biology. He said, “it is not because we are the strongest, smartest, or fastest that we stay at the top of the food chain, it is because we are the most adaptable. Survival comes down to one thing – adaptability”.
Before COVID and now especially since, we have proven how adaptable we are. We’ve shifted everything. How we go to market, messaging, creative, targeting, and so on.
We closely monitor consumer signals and learned that they don’t just change monthly or weekly during this crisis — they can change daily or even hourly.
For example, we saw a surge in bronzer and brow. So we quickly deployed assets and messaging to accelerate e.l.f. bronzers and brow products.
We know that with the stimulus checks, consumers were looking for value. We quickly shifted our messaging to focus on our jaw-dropping value proposition.
We know that primer was a silver lining in facial products. We got an amazing letter from a nurse in upstate NY who had to change her routine because of her mask — and she told us that our primer literally changed her life.
It was another moment for us to understand the power of our products. We don’t just sell beauty, we make a positive impact on people’s lives.
Together with Tinuiti, we watch what’s trending, what’s at the top of search, what are the changing consumer patterns, and we put all of that into the cement mixture and put out what we believe will have the biggest impact.
Marketing leaders find themselves needing to adapt quickly for the short-term while balancing the need to set themselves up for the long-term. What advice would you give them?
You need to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.
I have my eyes squarely set on the here and now. Ensuring that we have daily relevance with rapidly changing consumer needs, wants, and desires.
At the same time, I’m thinking about how we can come out on top and future-proof our brand to continue to gain market share.
You’ve got to be able to do both things simultaneously; focusing on the here and now does not mean trading off the future.
One of the great examples of this here at e.l.f. is leaning into existing assets.
The massive success of our music track from the #eyeslipsface campaign on TikTok transformed e.l.f. from a beauty company into a global music sensation.
We knew we had this incredible asset, the song eyes.lips.face., that had already garnered over 5 billion views and millions of videos created on TikTok alone.
We asked ourselves, “how can we have the greatest impact in the shortest amount of time to help people in the moment of COVID?” The answer was to adapt our biggest and most recognizable asset to be more meaningful in real-time.
We went back to the artists and Republic Records (the record label that had signed them following the song’s success), and asked them to remix the original song into a public service announcement to raise awareness of the basic preventative measures we can take to help stop the spread of the disease — they were thrilled with the idea and thus eyes.lips.face.SAFE. was born.
The song is a fun, yet important musical reminder to share basic hygiene steps and social distance. Nearly 10 thousand videos were created using this song with people singing, “Y’all need to lather up, a lot.”
The beauty is that we were able to take an existing asset, quickly adapt it and put it back into the digital ecosystem at e.l.f. speed.
My advice to marketers: start with what you already have. What is in your treasure chest that can be used to make an impact?
How can marketers find the right balance of on-brand messaging mixed with genuine empathy during these times?
The most important thing is always authenticity.
We have never steered from who our brand is or what it represents. e.l.f. is like that smart, fun friend you’re always excited to hear from. A trusted beauty resource who always keeps it real.
So we kept it real, staying true to ourselves while adapting to the moment. We are constantly polling our audience to ask them what they want to hear and see from us. And we continue to serve those needs and desires.
We also decided to turn e.l.f. inside out. By spotlighting our employees and how they ‘keep calm and e.l.f. on’ we are able to inspire and empower others. Our audience enjoys the relatability and the empathy that shines through.
We constantly comb comments and sentiment to drive messaging and features. It’s not always about creating something new, it’s knowing what stories to surface and how best to narrate them.
Our two companies both share employee-centric values; e.l.f. supports its employees and is celebrated as an amazing place to work. What’s the “it” factor that makes it a great place to work?
Empathy, it’s always been there and always will be.
We’re a human brand with heart and soul, and it has become more apparent to our employees, partners, and community than ever before.
We have always been living our values and now we are shining a spotlight on it.
“What do our employees need right now?” is a question that has helped us keep our employees and their families in focus.
As soon as COVID hit, we knew our employees would have new life circumstances — avoiding mass transit, working from home, lack of child care services, etc. We recognized this immediately and sent a check and e.l.f.cares sanitary supply package to each and every one of our employees.
We also closed our offices and declared a ‘mental health day’ — because we know everyone is working harder than ever right now. In this new virtual world, people are also craving human connection.
We have weekly themed town halls that open with a de-stressing exercise followed by a moment of self-expression. We also implemented weekly happy hours led by our executive team that is proving to foster community and forge new bonds.
One of the reasons we work so well with Tinuiti, and my philosophy personally, is that we want to work with a like-minded spirit. We want to work with a company that places employee wellness and happiness in such high regard.
You are a first-to-market, industry-disruptor type of leader. How do you balance that pioneering spirit with risk? How do you get executive and shareholder support?
It always goes back to being true to the brand.
When I joined e.l.f. I learned that the founders built the brand 16 years ago to make the impossible possible – premium quality products, at affordable prices ($1 at that time), sold over the internet. We lovingly call e.l.f. the O.G. digital disruptor.
Since that time we built the number one mass-beauty ecommerce site and amassed a highly engaged community of brand advocates. I took us back to our original story, back to our digital heritage, and tapped into the power of those roots. It quickly became obvious that using new platforms and technology was fundamental to our DNA.
The TikTok idea didn’t happen by chance — it came from consumer insights and a ‘test and learn’ approach with Tinuiti that showed this was a channel to lean into. I went to our executive team and said we are going to do something that’s never been done before on TikTok. Our CEO then asked, “what’s TikTok?”
I had everyone download the app and answered their next question — what is the KPI?
The KPI was billions of eyeballs on our brand.
We had to play big to win big — and it worked. We are at 5.2 billion views of #eyeslipsface by this interview.
What you’re doing at e.l.f. currently will be tough to beat. What’s next for you and the company?
Our first priority is to further tap into the potential of e.l.f. Cosmetics. There are so many more stories to unlock and we are just getting started.
Our second priority is portfolio expansion. With 16 years of progressive capabilities, we combine the robust chassis of a mega-company with the agility of a start-up. With our exceptional team, best-in-class operations, and the ability to move at speed, we are poised to leverage our platform to grow other brands. We just acquired W3LL PEOPLE and are very interested in extending further.
The third priority is global domination. We are drawing a strategic roadmap to build upon our current success in the UK and ultimately shift from a US-centric brand to a multi-brand global powerhouse.
There’s no doubt that anything is possible with e.l.f., especially with you at the marketing helm, thank you for your time, Kory!
If you can dream it, you can e.l.f.ing do it! We’re proud to have Tinuiti in the rocket ship supporting us on the command deck. We’re all in this together.
Want to see more winning campaign narratives from e.l.f.?