Glossier is a direct-to-consumer beauty brand born out of beauty blog Into the Gloss, established in 2010, the brainchild of founder and millennial icon, Emily Weiss. The brand has created a beauty movement amongst millennial women and beyond, with a cult following of loyal users and brand evangelists, raising $86 million to date in funding since its launch in 2014.1
As a Glossier user, as well as a beauty industry professional, I can attest from my experience that the way Glossier has built their brand has other brands wondering what they can do to replicate a fraction of their brand loyalty, and consumers wondering how they can get even more access to the brand.
Much of Glossier’s massive success is attributable to their unique business philosophy, which Weiss has coined democratic beauty. “The point of Glossier is to democratize beauty… to give everyone a voice about the products we use,” she said. “And Glossier does that by having consistent, open conversation with our customers.”2
To achieve this goal credibly, open innovation through community collaboration is a critically important practice for the brand. As Boudreau and Lakhani note, collaborative communities are one of four ways to approach crowdsourcing, the others being contests, complementers, and labor markets (see table below for details).3
To successfully achieve the mission of democratic beauty requires not only a platform, but also a community of highly engaged users who unwaveringly trust the brand – not an easy feat in an age of skeptical, digitally-savvy consumers. In 2015, the brand crowdsourced ideas for their newest face wash through a blog post, asking, “What’s Your Dream Face Wash?”, receiving over 300 comments from their community4. In 2016, they repeated this strategy for a new moisturizer, this time eliciting over 1,000 comments – a testament to the high level of engagement within the growing Glossier community.5
Both a brilliant marketing tactic and innovation strategy, Glossier’s brand of open innovation could also be considered faux-pen innovation. As King and Lakhani discuss in their article, Using Open Innovation to Identify the Best Ideas, the most difficult management choice for successful open innovation is whether to open the idea generation process, idea selection process, or both.6
As the graphic below shows, the Into the Gloss community that Glossier leverages for innovation suggests external idea selection and generation. However, by maintaining internal residual control over both the scope of idea generation – dictating the choice of new product category (i.e. face wash) – and idea selection – final product attributes, ingredients, and package – Glossier maintains final control over both decisions. Through this strategy of quasi-open innovation, Glossier both creates a feeling of community inclusion and buy-in and ensures that the final product achieves its internal brand strategy.
In the short term, Glossier plans to continue this open innovation strategy with future product launches. Currently in development is a Glossier candle, announced a year ago with the blog post titled, “Help Us Develop the Glossier Candle”.7 In the medium term, Weiss has announced future plans to create a “social-selling website for beauty”, a fusion of social media and e-commerce through which Glossier will both sell its own products and “allow shoppers to get feedback from other users to find beauty products that are right for them”.8
As Glossier continues to grow, I would recommend a few additional steps the brand could take to address open innovation. First, to experiment with a community-sourced product launch extending true decision-making power externally to consumers in one or more dimensions (idea generation or selection). Secondly, in the interim before the “social-selling website” is launched, create an evergreen Glossier.com page to solicit ideas for both new products and improvement of existing products. This could help centralize insights that Glossier is already collecting from social media comments, blog comments, and their Facebook community group, Into The Gloss: The Group.9
Finally, the most critical piece of ensuring continued community engagement is to maintain trust. Glossier may want to consider communicating more transparently with customers about how comments and feedback from their Facebook group are used in product development. While the group is an effective way for Glossier to collect real-time information and draw insights from their 10,000 group members, if not proactively addressed, loyal consumers may start to feel wary of how much they choose to share on the platform.
While Glossier has undoubtedly been successful in leveraging their engaged community for product innovation and growing their following in the process, several questions remain: How can a community-based brand maintain trust as it grows beyond start-up size? How can a brand successfully balance authentically crowdsourced innovation with internal brand strategy? How can other brands build communities for innovation, in the absence of a proprietary blog?
1 Loizos, Connie. The Beauty Company Glossier Just Closed on a Whopping $52 Million in Fresh Funding.
February 2018. https://techcrunch.com/2018/02/22/the-beauty-company-glossier-just-closed-on-a-whopping-52-million-in-fresh-funding/
2 Siegel, Emily. Emily Weiss on Glossier and Into the Gloss in 2015. 5 May 2015. https://www.forbes.com/sites/emilysiegel/2015/05/05/emily-weiss-glossier/#772b36937a42
3 Boudreau, Kevin J., and Karim R. Lakhani. Using the Crowd as an Innovation Partner. Harvard Business Review, vol. 91, no. 4, Apr. 2013, pp. 60–69. EBSCOhost, ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=86173288&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
4 Weiss, Emily. The Glossier Cleanser: What’s Your Dream Face Wash? 2014. https://intothegloss.com/2015/01/emily-weiss-glossier-cleanser/
5 What’s Your Perfect Heavy-Duty Moisturizer? 2015. https://intothegloss.com/2016/02/glossier-heavy-moisturizer/
6 King, A., & Lakhani, K. R. (2013). Using open innovation to identify the best ideas. MIT Sloan Management Review, 55(1), 41-48. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/docview/1438826527?accountid=11311
7 Souto, Melissa. Help Us Develop the Glossier Candle. 2017. https://intothegloss.com/2017/08/glossier-candle/
8 Bhasin, Kim and Janine Wolf. Inside Glossier’s Plans to Shake Up Your Makeup Routine. 30 August 2018. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2018-08-30/millennial-makeup-brand-glossier-shakeup-makeup-routine
9 Into the Gloss: The Group. https://www.facebook.com/groups/1698970133500106/