Allison Slater Ray, senior vice president marketing, It Cosmetics, knows full well that “authenticity” is a grossly overused word in marketing speak.
“Maybe it is,” she admitted, echoing an earlier presenter who also acknowledged the importance of brand authenticity. But it’s also the foundation the problem-solution color cosmetics and skin-care brand was built on by Jamie Kern Lima, founder and chief executive officer.
Before being acquired by L’Oréal in the summer of 2016 for $1.2 billion, It Cosmetics was still known as “the biggest beauty brand you’ve never heard of.” In June of 2016, the brand was on track to do $400 million in retail sales in 2016, a 30 percent increase from 2015’s $300 million. This is a large business for a brand that many consumers still had never heard of.
“How many people in this room knew It Cosmetics five years ago?” Slater Ray asked, scanning the room. “OK maybe about 15 people. That’s probably because you weren’t watching QVC, and that’s why you’re probably surprised NPD most recently reported us as the number-six makeup brand in its December report You might think, just like those direct-to-consumer brands, we were born overnight.”
But this is not the case. In 2018, It Cosmetics will celebrate its 10th year in business. And it got its start on QVC.
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“It’s interesting to put it through a different lens. When we’re talking about digital and a totally different format to see the lens of QVC and TV and how it affects everything we do,” Slater Ray said.
The marketing executive maintained that she herself only discovered Kern Lima and the line after she was told she had to watch the founder on QVC, who while in the process of revealing her skin-care troubles, managed to sell millions of dollars worth of product. As a former news anchor and journalist in Washington and Portland, Ore., Kern Lima began to suffer from severe rosacea and hyperpigmentation — which became increasingly harder to cover on camera. Unable to find makeup to that could mask these issues, she decided to start what would soon become It Cosmetics with husband Palo (they wrote the business plan to their honeymoon in South Africa). Within two years, Kern Lima made her debut on QVC.
“It stands for innovative technology. We work with plastic surgeons and dermatologists to create skin loving, game-changing product.…We are all about solving her beauty problems, that’s authentically where the brand comes from,” Slater Ray said.
But what did Kern Lima do first that was so radically different than those who came before her?
She took off her makeup — on air.
“Think, this is seven years ago…In today’s day and age obviously everyone is doing this; it doesn’t seem like anything new. We have all of the influencers showing and revealing themselves,” Slater Ray said.
But at the time, Kern Lima was among a select few to embrace a nascent transparency movement in the beauty industry. Beyond formulating products that “really work,” the founder’s mantra was authenticity, approachability and realness and a notion that everything the brand does is about transformation. In addition to showing Kern Lima’s own struggles, the brand built a loyal following of customers who connected to radical “before and after” photos of consumers online via a beauty problem finder on Ulta Beauty’s web site.
Slater Ray also said “knowing who you are” as brand was critical in the rapid growth of It Cosmetics. QVC was helpful in allowing Kern Lima to tell her personal, as well as the brand’s story, on TV where she had a “long time to talk.”
“You have to know your product and what it stands for and there’s a lot of storytelling there. It’s different than ‘Here’s a great lipstick color,'” she explained, calling QVC an “amazing place to start.” And not just for the scale the selling platform gives emerging brands, but for the community of customers who engage on various QVC messaging words online to talk about product.
“The word of mouth on It [Cosmetics] is phenomenal because people really felt like the brand was for them,” Slater Ray said.