As E.l.f. Cosmetics gears up for the holidays, Chief Digital Officer Ekta Chopra said the Gen Z-focused beauty brand has a few tricks up its sleeve, including a bigger emphasis on value amid tough economic times. However, the executive also indicated the end-of-year strategy isn’t differing too much from its usual playbook as E.l.f. tries to stay nimble and continues to prepare for a post-cookie world.
“Digital strategy, for us, has always been sort of the umbrella,” Chopra said. “What we do [during the holidays] is probably no more unique than what we do for every holiday, but with a couple of finer points.”
Some of those finer points this year include boosting the company’s positioning as “premium quality that doesn’t break the bank,” according to Chopra. That messaging theme is taking precedence as consumers grapple with inflationary pressures and mounting fears of a recession. Additionally, E.l.f. is putting more effort toward a better shipping experience for online shoppers, who show no signs of slowing down.
This quarter will also see E.l.f. lean further on its connected ecosystem, targeted messaging and customer data platform (CDP). These moves are of greater importance as the beauty brand looks to continue winning Gen Z despite third-party cookie deprecation.
Meeting Gen Z
E.l.f.'s loyalty program, called Beauty Squad, currently has over three million members. The brand is seeing double-digit retention rates, Chopra said, and much of the audience is composed of target younger consumers. E.l.f.’s success with its digital strategy stems from properly representing its brand values and adopting a “high-risk tolerance” across mediums, the executive explained.
“We like to ensure that we’re testing and learning constantly,” Chopra said.
In an early example of E.l.f.’s winning approach, the executive pointed to an #eyeslipsface challenge on TikTok tying into the E.l.f. acronym. As part of the program, users could upload a video of themselves dancing to an original song and post using the hashtag for the chance to win $250 worth of E.l.f. products.
The campaign was the first branded hashtag challenge TikTok to feature an original song and today has earned over 9.7 billion views. Celebrities eventually added to the traction, with names like Reese Witherspoon, Lizzo, the Pussycat Dolls and Jessica Alba trying it out without an official sponsorship from E.l.f.
“It went like wildfire,” said Chopra.
Key to E.l.f.’s TikTok entrance was a partnership with agency Movers + Shakers, which has specialized in the ByteDance-owned platform, Chopra said. Subsequent E.l.f. TikTok campaigns have also generated billions of views, showing the strategy was no fluke.
“You really have to keep your head in the stars, be where your community is and know that you’re not going to know everything, but surround yourself with partners and an ecosystem that can help you deliver,” she said.
E.l.f. was also one of the first major brands to join the so-called “anti-Instagram” app BeReal, which now sees 20 million daily active users. The marketer utilizes the platform for a variety of tactics, whether sharing a photo from its Halloween party or sneak peeks at products. Since joining BeReal, E.l.f. has risen to be the number one beauty brand on the platform, according to Chopra.
“We’re a bold disruptor with a kind heart,” she said. “We’re not just going there to capitalize on what’s happening there. We’re going there to build communities, we’re going there to build connections.”
Game of keeps
Aside from its presence on Gen Z social platforms, E.l.f. has also upped investments in its CDP through a tie-up with ActionIQ. The firm works with other brands, including American Eagle and Michael Kors, to create actionable insights based on a wide breadth of consumer behavioral data. Such tactics are growing paramount to brands as cookies fade out.
“E.l.f. was prepared in many ways with our three-million-plus loyalty members and making sure we invested in our CDP strategy well ahead of the cookie deprecation,” Chopra said. “That really helps us ensure we leverage that first-party data to go after the right consumer and really serve our existing loyalty members in the best way possible.”
Additionally, E.l.f. has increasingly explored organic search over paid search and evaluated upper funnel spending to show up in optimal ways. Regardless of the season, the retailer places a heavy focus on decoding consumer activity.
“They have several customer lifecycle journeys — onboarding, post-purchase, retention, replenishment — that are being run on an ongoing basis,” said Tamara Gruzbarg, a data and analytics leader at ActionIQ. “They see all of their [key performance indicators] moving in the right direction.”
Several initiatives have been driven by insights from the CDP, Chopra said. In one example, she pointed to the company’s use of quiz software Jebbit to create an online skincare analysis that collects information like skin type and number of products used, along with more basic details like birth dates, names and email addresses.
E.l.f. has also invested in a mobile app to keep traffic localized. Today, 95% of its loyalty members report that they prefer shopping on the app over the web, Chopra said. The app offers features like a virtual makeup tool and shoppable stories. Like other efforts by the brand, it chases a consumer connection by going straight to the source.
“We’re bringing our community directly to our channels,” said Chopra.