Glossier Beauty: Innovating, Not Inundating

Glossier democratizes beauty, builds a community of consumers to drive product innovation.

Have you ever endeavored to purchase a beauty or skincare product and been overwhelmed by all the options? For example, search for face wash on Amazon.com and over 80,000 results appear or on Sephora.com and over 550 products appear. In beauty today, the problem facing consumers is the plethora of choices and information on which is the ‘right’ product for them. The problem facing beauty companies is the need to create a hit (the right product at right time), and to forecast sales to match production cycles with demand cycles.

Glossier, a beauty products brand and DTC retailer, has addressed these problems by understanding what consumers want, before they create product. In 2015, Emily Weiss, CEO of Glossier, posted on the Glossier beauty blog Into the Gloss “What would your dream cleanser look like? Smell like? Feel like? Do for you? Not do for you? Who would play this cleanser in a movie?”. Her stated goal: “for Glossier to create the best darn cleanser the world has ever seen—addressing the clean skincare hopes and dreams of the people that inspired Glossier from the get-go: that’s you, our ITG community.” [1] Using 380 consumer responses, Glossier created the Glossier Milky Jelly Cleanser, “the line’s biggest hit so far”. [2]

Beauty industry trends have only helped Glossier: emergence of beauty on Instagram, comment threads, and blog posts devoted to video tutorials and explaining products. A devoted community of beauty enthusiasts have increasingly shown interest in being more involved in the beauty products they ultimately buy- both understanding the products but also using their voice as part of the review process for a product. “If you spend a half hour every day catching up on Into the Gloss, chances are you’re more likely to pipe up in the comment section (or, at the very least, up-vote someone else’s comment)”, says Glamour editor [2].

Glossier doesn’t just crowdsource to create product. They use their R&D process as a method of connecting with their consumer, sharing their findings from crowdsourcing exercises, and intently tracking the consumers’ sentiment. On her blog Emily updated readers: “here’s what we learned”, regarding consumers’ dream cleansers. In the short-to-medium term, Glossier plans to replicate this process for future products- crowdsourcing for new product combined with engaging in two-way dialogue with consumers. Glossier realizes that each review or comment on a blog is a data point that should be utilized in-tandem with their sourcing of new product ideas. [3] [4]

Glossier has utilized an “integrator platform”, whereby Glossier provides the means of communication (blogs, websites), has control over the final product brought to market, and reaps profits from the products. The question comes to mind: since consumers are not sharing in the product economics(a), what motivates consumers to provide ideas in the open forums in the first place? Potentially, enjoyment and having fun together with the Glossier community. Potentially, by the chance to see their dream product come to fruition. [5]

Glossier faces risk that the crowdsourcing model can negatively impact its relationship with its consumers. For example, if a consumer spends time and energy providing ideas, but Glossier does not ultimately convert their idea to a product, the consumer may build negative sentiment.

As Glossier continues to implement crowdsourcing, I think it should focus on the following:

1)       Achieving high participation rates from a diverse set of consumers, since “the most efficient networks are those that link to the broadest range of information, knowledge, and experience” [6]. Glossier can achieve this by incentivizing consumers to participate, for example providing product discounts after participation

2)       To address the risk of burning bridges with consumers, Glossier can assign final idea selection to the consumer. Although today Glossier tracks feedback intently, they can begin to allow consumers to have the final say on which products launch. This has the added benefit of increasing product success rates. In their article titled Using Open Innovation to Identify the Best Ideas, Andrew King and Karim Lakhani state: “Outsiders have distinctive expertise and perspectives, which enable them to pick winning ideas. This is particularly true when it involves products that can be used in many ways, or when fashions or requirements change quickly.” If Glossier is uncomfortable leaving everything up to the consumer, they could take a “residual control” approach whereby consumers narrow down the list of ideas greatly, but Glossier can rule out offensive or redundant products. [7]

Glossier’s past success prompts two important questions:

1)       How can Glossier continue to use crowd sourcing as a competitive advantage while major players are adopting similar strategies, i.e. Sephora

2)       How can Glossier promote high participation rates from a broad set of customers, while ensuring mismatch between customer segments does not impact customer experience and thus brand loyalty

 

Word Count: 791

(a)     Glossier recently implemented a system whereby brand loyalists are invited to create their own curated pages within the Glossier website, the link to which they can share with friends and embed within their own social media posts. If anyone clicks on the link and purchases an item, Glossier pays the loyalist a commission on the sale. However, this is different from explicitly paying customers to provide product ideas.

[1] Emily Weiss, “The Glossier Cleanser: What’s Your Dream Face Wash?” Into the Gloss (blog), January 2015, https://intothegloss.com/2015/01/emily-weiss-glossier-cleanser/, accessed November 13, 2018.

[2] Deanna Pai, “Crowdsourced Beauty Is Making It Easier Than Ever to Get Your Dream Products”, Glamour Magazine (2016),  https://www.glamour.com/story/how-to-get-your-perfect-beauty-product-crowdsourcing, accessed November 13, 2018.

[3] LuluQ, “Glossier: What’s Your Dream Face Wash?” (Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing), https://digital.hbs.edu/platform-digit/submission/glossier-whats-your-dream-face-wash/, accessed November 13, 2018.

[4] IdeaConnection, “Crowdsourcing a New Cleanser with Customers”, Ideaconnection (blog), January 28, 2016, https://www.ideaconnection.com/blog/crowdsourcing/crowdsourcing-a-new-cleanser-with-customers.html, accessed November 13, 2018.

[5] K. Boudreau and K. Lakhani. How to manage outside innovation. MIT Sloan Management Review 50, no. 4 (Summer 2009): 68–76.

[6] J. Howe. The rise of crowdsourcing. Wired (June 2006).

[7] A. King and K. Lakhani. Using open innovation to identify the best ideas. MIT Sloan Management Review 55, no. 1 (Fall 2013): 41–48.

Previous:

The Dark Side of Machine Learning: An Amazon Case Study

Next:

GE: Paving the Way in Medical Technology Using 3D Printing

16 thoughts on “Glossier Beauty: Innovating, Not Inundating

  1. What’s fascinating about Glossier’s crowdsourcing approach is that they are simultaneously informing R&D/product development and shaping their brand as one that connects with their consumers (like one big marketing campaign!) I think they have a critical first-mover advantage over Sephora and other players in the beauty space that have been slow to catch on to open innovation. A second advantage Glossier has over Sephora / other traditional competitors is their online-only (or online-mostly) strategy; by avoiding challenges of stocking inventory in physical stores, Glossier can continue to be flexible in its product development process, iterating based on customer demand and input.

  2. Really interesting! I had no idea Glossier crowd-sourced information for its product innovation. That said, one question I have is: is Glossier really ahead of the times in terms of incorporating consumer requests and feedback into their product development process or, are they just the only makeup company that is doing so publicly? I wonder if other makeup companies are leaning on customer requests and insights but privately through traditional outlets like surveys and focus groups.

    Separately, it sounds like Glossier gathers a lot of this information in a pretty free form way online. I wonder if they would get both better and more input from customers if they had more structured ways to collect this input. Maybe the company could use surveys or quizzes posted on its website? Or send surveys out in the mail with products? It would also be interesting to gather visual data and request that consumers send in photos of themselves when they thought they looked their best or something along those lines.

  3. Great article! Shopping for skincare products and make up is a very individual experience. With price variation, a consumer may distribute their beauty purchases over a number of brands. The decision comes down to prioritizing color options, skin sensitivity concerns, cost and experiential factors (i.e free makeovers after minimum spend). To combat this, Glossier should increase its feedback funnel with its customers, offering free samples in exchange for reviews and pop-up makeover stands that use minimum viable prototypes, allowing the customer to influence the final offering. These small-scale efforts will allow for rapid ideation with minimal waste and investment.

    To capture a larger share of this market, longer term, Glossier should not only involve the customer more deeply in the product considerations, but also help guide the customer to a few targeted product offerings specific to their needs. Utilizing an extensive database generated from open innovation, Glossier can implement machine learning to highlight which products address the customer’s selected pain point or interest area. This data can then serve as another funnel to innovation with the customer, providing real-time purchase data (and missed sales) on products, highlighting what’s selling in each category and what products the customer is passing on. This allows Glossier to see if its value proposition to the customer aligns with how the customer perceives its respective products, measured by sales.

  4. My initial reaction to reading this article on Glossier is that this brand truly know’s how to leverage the power of open innovation and connect with their consumers. When crowdsourcing ideas, I believe the most important step is to have a clear and simple prompt that gets consumer to quickly respond and rapidly ideate. Likewise this prompt elicits ideas and insights that can be directly used in not only creating new products but also marketing campaigns, brand awareness, and enhances the overall brand image. What I love most about Glossier’s approach is that the understand the importance of each consumer’s response or reaction and use that as additional data points to validate or reject product ideas.

  5. Thank you for the enjoyable read! To your suggestion that Glossier should achieve a higher participation rate from a diverse set of consumers, do you see Glossier having to make a tradeoff between breadth and focus? For example, if the consumer set is so diverse that they should belong to different client segments, how would Glossier then make the decision as to which product to develop as its category-defining product (e.g., the milk jelly cleanser was the result of 380 responses, but as Glossier engages more consumers, can you still produce the one ideal cleanser)? If they end up making multiple products to cater to the diverse set of consumers, I wonder if Glossier is in danger of slipping into the existing problem you identified in the beauty industry: having too many options!

    1. Very interesting, Irene! As you pointed out, having a diverse set of clients giving ideas could lead to the production of too many products or worse, alienating customers whose ideas are not heard as mentioned by the author.

      Piling on that, how would Glossier think about its product development process as they think of international expansion? Will they have to change their product line to suit the needs of customers in different geographical markets? What implications on scalabiltiy and resources required from Glossier would this have? Alternatively, if Glossier decides not to adopt the same crowdsourcing approach in the new geographies, i.e. offering the same products (which is what I think they did when they expanded to Canada), what does this signal to its clients who are outside their core geographical market?

      I think the solution could be to continue to receive feedback (globally if possible) and to create dedicated “client” teams who can have more agency over final products, integrating them further into the community. This could be an rotating role (to give opportunity to many glossier fans) and different across geographies, creating an opportunity to engage customers further (giving it a competitive advantage over Sephora and others), while also abstracting the blame from Glossier, where the final decisions seemingly come from these groups.

  6. Very interesting article – I’m a big fan of Glossier but had no idea about their crowd sourcing of product innovation! To answer your first question, I think that Glossier does have a unique advantage over competition because of it’s “born on the web” status. Glossier has an extreme following on social media that gives it direct access to millions of it’s consumers. With the highly engaged audience, they can really capitalize on crowd sourcing. This does lead into your second question, as heavy users of social media definitely screws their data toward young women – but, maybe that’s okay. They can choose their target market and pursue accordingly.

  7. Thanks for your article JStudent! The concept of alienating consumers who put time / effort into their comments and don’t see them turn into a product seems like a very real risk Glossier must monitor closely. Additionally, I wonder how time intensive this open innovation process is for the Glossier team: do they have to read every comment and draw themes manually? Having recently explored machine learning, I would curious if it could be used here to more quickly and effectively draw insights from all the information Glossier is receiving from its customers.

  8. Very interesting article! Glossier product development strategy is definitely unique and aligns with changing consumer behavior. Increasingly, we have witnessed the transition from a passive consumer to a more active consumer. Today, individuals are more interested in what goes into the beauty products they use and how it was made. Individuals are also more likely to understand the needs of their skin and are more informed about beauty products in general. However, my query with crowd-sourcing is that it may be too broad in identifying products that should be developed because it is trying to be many things to many people. Another risk, as you alluded to, is that it seems easy to replicate, so I wonder if this strategy is sustainable. I think the beauty industry is becoming commoditized and a company who is able to differentiate themselves and connect with customers by addressing their specific pain points would have a better chance of growing a sustainable business. My view is that customization of beauty products would be a winning strategy going forward, so a key consideration for Glossier is how they can leverage their platform, relative to competitors, to address this demand.
    https://www.allure.com/story/custom-bespoke-beauty-products

  9. So this article is very interesting as I am an avid purchaser of Glossier products, but had no idea that they use crowdsourcing. To me, their success is more about being a very cool brand that understood the instragrammability of marketing/packaging, and who also embraced diversity in a way that feels very authentic. I think their best bet to continuing their success would be to crowdsource from people who aren’t Glossier users, to gain an understanding of what they aren’t currently offering that customers want from them and convert them to brand loyalists.

  10. Thanks for sharing. This is such a wonderful playbook for crowdsourcing product development ideas. I wonder, though, how sustainable is the practice? From surveying the users or conducting idea competition between its customers, how much incremental insights can the company extract every time? In a way, customers have no access to the sales and product data, which in a way allows them to only contribute based on their feelings and experiences and personal taste. Are they able to continuously produce ideas that can be visionary for the company? Also, how is this process different than other companies doing focus groups, surveys, and A/B testing to understand user preference and gather product innovation ideas?

  11. Thanks for writing about my favourite brand! Glossier’s current positioning as the “no makeup makeup” brand that introduces and democratizes makeup and skincare for millenials is in direct conflict with current market dynamics which require continuous product launches. It will be tough for them to maintain this level of engagement as they keep increasing their breadth of product selection and lose the small product portfolio which made them more accessible in the first place. One solution could be for them to merge their open innovation approach with an open knowledge approach, educating a broader consumer base on skincare and easing their transition to different makeup and skincare products and routines. They could even have their engaged heavy users provide tutorials and videos for their less savvy mainstream users which would personalize and deepen the connection between the users and the brand further.

  12. What an interesting topic! I knew that Glossier has been extremely successful, but I did not know that much if it was due to a unique crowdsourcing strategy. So far I think they have done a great job of creating a cohesive product line, but I see your point about the risk of straying if stuck solely to customer input. The beauty space has become extremely competitive with the rise of many start up beauty brands so you are right they need to be careful to maintain their current success!

  13. Thank you for writing about this! I absolutely love Glossier and think they have done an incredible job building out their product line and brand so far for many of the reasons you list above. Even though competitors are starting to adopt similar strategies, I think Glossier has a competitive advantage in this space in that is knows how to speak and interact with its consumer better than most of its competitors. Glossier’s marketing is also differentiated from competitors in that it feels younger and more authentic than some other brands. Given this momentum, Glossier can continue to crowdsource and crowdsource well so long as it continues to keep the dialogue open with its consumers and listen to what they are saying.

    On gaining high participation rates, I think the participation does not need to be qualified as diverse so long as it is large enough to be representative of their customer base. Additionally, by being a DTC brand Glossier can easily test small quantities of products and ask for feedback to test ideas before fully bringing larger quantities to market.

  14. Great read. I find what Glossier is doing so fascinating because of how it in many ways is completely reversing the way trends are set. I tend to think of fashion and beauty trends as being determined by an individual designer or tastemaker (such as Anna Wintour) and then trickling down to consumers from there. Fashion seems to be about trying to buy into or aspire to someone else’s lifestyle. Here, I think Glossier is capturing millenials’ desire to participate and co-create with brands to reach beyond simple user engagement or product creation: they are building a community brand. I’m sure customer LTVs are much higher as a result. I agree, however, that it is unclear how Glossier can maintain the uniqueness of its community when better-resourced rivals are trying to copy their tactics. I think the trick lies in maintaining authenticity and a direct line of communication to their fans.

  15. Thank you for sharing this – I was aware of Glossier’s crowdsourcing efforts as a subscriber of Into the Gloss, and it was really helpful to unpack these efforts in the context of Open Innovation. One additional risk to perhaps consider as Glossier expands is sample selection bias: previously they promoted the opportunity to participate on its Into the Gloss platform. I wonder if the readers of this platform share some common traits (e.g., digitally savvy, already willing to purchase beauty products online, likes to try new things, searching for new brands) that are already prevalent in their existing customer base. As it plans to capture more market share, how will Glossier encourage participation from segments their Into the Gloss platform isn’t serving? Should they advertise through other platforms where they can grab attention of customers previously unaware of Glossier / Into the Gloss? Should they even try to expand their customer base at all?

Leave a comment