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Treating regular people like influencers is the key to Glossier’s success

The wildly popular beauty brand’s customers are also its biggest evangelists.

A Glossier pop-up at Nasty Gal in California in 2015.
John Sciulli/Stringer/Getty Images for Nasty Gal

Everyone is an influencer now, at least according to Emily Weiss, the founder and CEO of the wildly popular direct-to-consumer beauty startup Glossier.

“At Glossier, something we’ve always stayed very true to, since pre-launch, day one, is that every single person is an influencer,” Weiss said during a live interview with Kara Swisher for her Recode Decode podcast. “And I think that is so the message right now for politics, for seeing all of these women going into Congress. You’re really starting to understand more than ever, I think, the power of your voice and the importance of your voice, and how necessary it is to speak up.”

This sentiment — that anyone, no matter how many followers they have on social media, has the ability to be a walking, talking billboard for a product or idea — isn’t just political. It’s also a key part of Glossier’s marketing. Before launching her brand in 2015, Weiss was an influencer in her own right, thanks to her popular blog Into the Gloss and a brief stint on MTV’s The Hills. Since its founding, Glossier has relied on a combination of slick, Instagrammable packaging and word of mouth to sell its products. The company has an army of more than 500 ambassadors who, despite not being actual employees, have been indispensable to its growth. Glossier has raised nearly $90 million in venture funding to date and is valued at $390 million.

“Our customers are our number-one mouthpieces and evangelists,” Weiss said at the 2017 Women’s Wear Daily Beauty Summit. “They’re doing exactly what we hoped they would. They are interpreting Glossier.”

This doesn’t mean that Glossier isn’t intentional about its marketing strategy — it is — but that, as BuzzFeed pointed out in 2016, said strategy is meant to be invisible, much like the products themselves, which are largely sheer and intended for “no makeup” makeup looks. Customers can order products online through Glossier ambassadors’ individual pages, with reps earning a small commission and credit toward future Glossier purchases based on how many sales they facilitate.

Even if they aren’t ambassadors, many Glossier customers play a role in selling the brand. Glossier often reposts customer photos on its Instagram account, which has more than 1.7 million followers. It’s a win-win situation for the customer, whose platform is undoubtedly much smaller than Glossier’s, and for the brand, which relies on shoppers for much of its content. This content, it should be noted, is also free.

Glossier founder Emily Weiss speaks to Recode’s Kara Swisher about the future of the company.
Gianna M. Bertoli/Michael Priest Photography

Everything about Glossier is designed to be photographed and talked about, from its pink bubble-wrap pouches to its interactive, hyper-designed showrooms in New York City and Los Angeles. The LA showroom, for example, has a “canyon” room that exists to be photographed; both locations feature mirrors with “you look good” and “objects are dewier than they appear” stamped on them — perfect for a mirror selfie.

“Instagram, for us, has been an incredible tool to show a lot of user-generated content,” Weiss told Swisher. “What we’re interested most in is creating this really democratized conversation. What we do a lot of on our channel on Instagram is really celebrate people’s stories. We try to find people who use Boy Brow or [another] Glossier product, but what we really want to do is evangelize that person’s whole routine and all of her discoveries, whether that’s a L’Oréal product or a MAC product.”

During her interview with Swisher, Weiss explained she was out to turn the historically hierarchical industry beauty, where editors and celebrities at the top sell unattainable perfection to the masses, on its head. “We are all experts,” she said. “Every one of us has an opinion about the stuff we have put on and either thrown out because we thought it sucked or we use it for 30 years.” Weiss wants Glossier products to fall into the latter group. The idea is that existing customers love Glossier so much that they’ll recommend its products to anyone who asks; new customers are supposed to be swayed by this peer-to-peer strategy, and they generally are.

Glossier treats customers as both a demographic to be marketed to and the people who are doing the marketing. In addition, instead of hiring celebrity spokespeople, Glossier uses lesser-known models in ad campaigns. (Notably, Glossier does place its products on the red carpet. Its Lidstar eyeshadow was first worn by Beyoncé at the 2018 Grammys. Its Cloud Paint blushes launched via “sponsored” looks at the 2017 Oscars, where they were worn by celebrities including Chrissy Teigen, Taraji P. Henson, and Rashida Jones.)

Weiss told Swisher that the company will soon launch its own app, which was first reported by Bloomberg, where customers can talk about beauty and skin care — and, of course, buy Glossier products. She called it part of the company’s “mission of giving voice through beauty.” Glossier already won at Instagram; the next logical step is to start a social network of its own.

“I see [the app] as a software product that’s, again, about democratizing beauty and letting people share everything and anything that they have used and learned about with no interruption, no ads, no limitations, no censorship,” she said.

That doesn’t mean that Glossier is perceived as an everywoman’s company. Glossier has had an aspirational, cool-girl quality since its founding, and its exceedingly subtle, layerable products have routinely been criticized for being meant for young, already beautiful people with great skin.

But there’s no denying that regular people — even incredibly cool ones with impossibly dewy complexions — are at the heart of Glossier’s growth strategy. Glossier’s success isn’t just indicative of a shift in the beauty industry, which has long relied on aspirational marketing; it also suggests that in our age of influencers and Instagram, people are actually eager to be both a consumer and a commodity.

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