Industry Insights: Nicole Beckley, International Director of Marketing and Media for Merlot Skin Care

Nicole Beckley is the International Director of Marketing and Media for Merlot Skin Care, a brand that develops beauty products made with grape seeds. She also has experience as a comedy writer and performer, and her work has appeared in publications ranging from The New York Times to McSweeney’s. Here, she’s shared with us her perspective on CPG marketing and describes how her unique background has impacted her approach as a brand leader.

 

-You have an interesting background as a comedy writer and performer. How has this influenced and informed your career in marketing? Are there any lessons from that world that you feel would be beneficial for other marketers?

Absolutely.  I’ve been doing improv and sketch comedy since 2009, and those disciplines have taught me a lot about working collaboratively.  There’s a sense of control that we tend to naturally want and building things with others in the comedy space has helped me to be less precious with my work in general and more open to knowing that things can shift and evolve and change.  

Improv is especially helpful with reducing anxiety about perfection, and encourages people to try things and iterate.  There’s a lot of crossover with design thinking.  

On the sketch side, there’s usually a backbone of one key idea or game that’s driving a piece – you can apply the same concept to a marketing campaign, putting the focus on one key idea or call to action at a time.  Basically, keep it simple.  Also, have fun!  (Also also, there are probably no jokes in any of my following answers, but I really swear I do comedy.) 

 

-What has been the most exciting moment in your career thus far?

 In 2012 we launched a new brand in Japan, our first large international effort.  It was really exciting to bring a new product to another country.  

For the launch our founder was doing a lot of media interviews; talking a lot and starting to lose his voice.  We had one last big event, a presentation for a hundred people, and after his introduction he summoned me on stage – his voice was spent and I now needed to deliver the presentation.   

I was definitely grateful then for my years of doing improv.  I knew all the key messages and I was used to getting on stage, so I felt confident enough to give the speech.  And the brand ended up ultimately becoming a very successful part of our business. 

 

-You have been with Merlot Skin Care since 2006. In your time with the company, what have you identified as the biggest shift in the industry?

Since I began there have been a couple of big shifts — most notably the rise of ecommerce and the expansion of direct-to-consumer businesses. 

In the last few years especially there’s been a huge surge in small/indie brands, as the barriers to entry into the industry have significantly lowered.  Where retail doors and complicated supply chains used to present big hurdles for small brands, now new companies are quickly emerging, sometimes with just one or two SKUs and building a following independently.

There are far more resources, suppliers, and fulfillment options than there once were.  Some retailers like ULTA have taken chances on smaller brands and have built some infrastructure to help support them.  And companies are less reliant on running expensive print or TV ads – they can generate attention through their social channels, email marketing, and digital advertising while optimizing budgets. 

It still feels like we’re in the early stages of exploring how Amazon is going to work with brands, but when it comes to the next frontier for retail, that seems like the space to watch. 

 

-Beauty brands have to move fairly quickly, as trends are always changing. What do you anticipate for the next evolution of the industry?

 As an industry, we’re still navigating how digital and retail are working together, but the next phase is already underway — that is social shopping.  This has been widespread in Asia for a while with shopping features integrated into social-focused apps like WeChat.  Our digital social activities and our shopping activities are likely to become even more deeply intertwined, by design. 

Skin care in general has been on the rise, as there’s been a large consumer trend toward health, wellness, and self-care.  There’s an active interest in natural ingredients and sustainably-focused brands.  The growth of the skin care category is likely to continue, but at some point will level off.  

As the larger world economic outlook grows more uncertain, people will stick with the basics and what’s really important to them.  That might mean just having a simple skin care routine, but not experimenting as much with color cosmetics or the latest nail polish trend; it depends.  That’s definitely something to watch. 

 

-Retailers and brands alike look to the beauty industry to understand developing trends in CPG marketing. In your professional opinion, why is beauty often so far ahead of other categories in terms of digital and retail innovation?

Beauty and personal care products are items that people interact with every day, and people make repeat purchases throughout the year.  These items aren’t necessarily seasonal or big-ticket purchases, and because of that there’s more opportunity to iterate when it comes to marketing. 

People might buy large appliances once every few years, but they’ll likely buy beauty or skin care products every month, so they’re paying attention to sales, gifts with purchases, and discount codes.  And, they want to feel something personal – inspiration, motivation, empowerment, value, etc.

There are constantly opportunities to innovate, tailor messaging to the moment, and to really listen to consumers.  Customers feel very close to beauty brands – they want to feel heard to make sure they’re getting the right foundation shade, or a lotion with enough SPF, or a product that’s manufactured without parabens.  Listening to the customer and building something with them is the best way to create and promote something new. 

 

Which do you think will be more critical for brands trying to win over consumers: investment in the brand’s digital presence, or innovation in physical retail experiences? 

By far, the expediency of getting a product to a customer is the highest priority.  More often than not this seems to be happening digitally – either through a brand’s website or their Amazon store.  

Customers really want a cohesive brand experience.  For brands, that means investing not only in their digital presence, but in adjacent areas, including customer service and order fulfilment, and getting all their communication channels to work together as seamlessly as possible.  Say a customer has a really great experience on a brand’s website, but then something goes wrong with their order and they need to reach out, or make a return, or have a question, there need to be channels for them to do those activities and still have a positive experience. 

When it comes to physical retail experiences, the sunk costs can be really high.  It can be worthwhile if you’re able to figure out a way to do something that’s cost-effective and can generate additional buzz.

Drunk Elephant’s Manhattan pop-up store last year did a great job of creating a cool in-person (very Instagrammable) experience that drove trial, offered discounts, and educated customers about products.  Plus, once a connection is created with a customer, they’ll continue to shop online, so a physical store doesn’t have to last forever.  Limited-time pop ups can be a good solution to creating a physical retail experience. 

The areas for innovation in the beauty space continue to be around driving product trial, and raising awareness if you’re a smaller brand.  Influencers have had a long moment, and it will be interesting to see how that channel evolves.  In the longtail view, the reliance on friends and family (vs paid strangers) is really where the customer turns for trusted recommendations. 

 

-What is your advice for CPG brand leaders who want to be more innovative?

  • Remember to look outside your category to see what people are doing in other spaces.  Innovation often comes from taking an idea or process that works well in one space and adapting it for another space.  

 

  • Don’t be afraid to try something new.  Customers will tell you quickly if they like something or not, and you can always change and build on ideas.  Bring the customer into the process, test things through social channels, and ask the customer what their needs are.  It’s easy to utilize customer surveys or even Instagram polls to test ideas.

 

  • Keep an eye on what’s happening globally.

 

  • Think about creating a moment of joy for the customer.  What happens when they open a package from your company?  Or receive an email?  Consider how to create a positive moment. 
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