Soul & Science
Soul & Science

Season 2, Episode · 2 months ago

S2 Episode 1: Rare Beauty CMO Katie Welch | The Beauty of Leading with Purpose

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Is Selena Gomez the next beauty billionaire, gliding along a path set by Rihanna, Kim and Kylie? That’s what Skinnygirl mogul turned TikTok beauty influencer, Bethenny Frankel, believes. Katie Welch, CMO at Gomez’s Rare Beauty, is helping build the brand along a purpose-driven platform that welcomes all and supports good mental health. Welch, who has marketed Bliss, Burt’s Bees and Hourglass Cosmetics, discovered beauty could be a career when she met a college classmate’s stepmother, who was an Estee Lauder exec. She moonlights as a TikTok influencer herself, with 80,000 following her marketing/career advice.

In this episode you’ll learn:

  • A brand narrative can shift a business forward.
  • If you wake up at 5 a.m. to do something, you love it.
  • It’s very easy to sell lipstick the same way over and over again, so don’t.
  • Create a space where people feel welcome.     

Brought to you by Mekanism.

Welcome to season two of the soul and science podcast, where you can fast forward your marketing mind and about twenty minutes. Last season we spoke with some of the world's top marketers to help us answer the burning question. Does marketing live more in the heart or more in the head? We've gained some brilliant insights, learned some hard truths and met some great people along the way. If you like our show, please take a moment to subscribe, rate, review and share on apple, spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. You can follow us across social platforms at mechanism M E K A. N I s M. Welcome to the podcast. Katie Welch is the CMO of rare beauty, a makeup brand founded by Selena Gomez in Katie is a creative thinker and brand storyteller with more than twenty years of marketing experience. Katie has worked in the beauty industry since the beginning of her career, with a few detours working with media agencies and innovative thought leader, Katie has continually pushed the envelope while working with globally respected beauty brands including hour glass, bliss, elmis, birds, bees, and uni lever. You can follow Katie on Tiktok, where she has over eighty thousand followers and shares career advice and marketing mentorship advice. She is at Katie Welch K A T I E W E L H on Tiktok. Alright, today's episode theme is leading with purpose in your marketing and we're going to dive right in. So thanks again for coming, Katie. We always like to start with an origin story. So did you always know you wanted to go into marketing? Did you always know you wanted to be in the beauty side of the industry? No, I didn't know. I didn't know beauty was even a career path, which is part of what what inspired me to get on Tiktok. But I grew up in Satlis, Missouri. I went to college in Ohio. While I was in school I met someone who was an executive at at estate lauder. She was a friend's stepmother and I said that that's a that's a job, you can do that like. I didn't even realize that that was a career path. I was an English Major. My parents didn't do anything related to sort of beauty or fashion, but that piqued my interest and sort of from that day forward I knew that this was a path that I wanted to go on and once I graduated college I went straight to New York. My my first job actually was in the buyer training program at macy's. First I was placed in the Christmas Trim Department and then in luggage and frames, neither of which are close to beauty whatsoever. But I saw those beauty buyers and I thought, Oh man, that's exactly what I want to do. That's the path that I want to go on. You want to stay in the luggage area. I learned a lot to me et, cetera. I learned a lot. Actually. Macy's was a great foundation for my career because I was an English major, I didn't know anything about sort of retail math, markups, any of the language. It was a great foundation from which to to go. But that was that wasn't for me, but I was it wasn't for me, but I was able to get into the Communications Group of Victoria's secret beauty from that position early days. This is two thousand so that's Victorias secret beauty. Was My first sort of entree into the beauty industry and very low level, clearing messages off of a voicemail called on her bath where the stores from around the country would call in and say that they needed more love spell or some sort of Victoria's secret beauty product. And, you know, was that the future of my you know what? Did I see my marketing career starting there? No, but what I did see was the industry happening around me. I was able to observe all the different departments, how they interacted, the the individuals, a lot of the sort of nuanced industry language and it was that was just where I started and then worked worked my way up and worked my way up through communications primarily, and a lot of communications agencies before I then landed at the lists, which was my first in house marketing job. What...

...did you sign up for? Their Bliss? What did you have to do? I was the VP of integrated marketing communications. And what was interesting about a bliss? I when I was on the agency side. I was at an agency where we worked on the birds bees account and with that work I became worked closely with their chief marketing officer. But at that time this was two thousand and maybe six or seven and births bees was trying to make a stake in the ground of ground natural. They were the first brand to really do that. They were placing a percentage on their label that's that we're natural or with each of their products, which at the time was totally unique, as before clean beauties, before any sort of that. It was the first of its kind. But at the same time brands like a Vino and other brands were throwing the words natural on their products when they were at all, because there's no sort of regulation of of language. So Bert said, Hey, we want to do something about this, we want to sort of come out as a thought leader in this area. So I worked on that and I worked on their campaign, for the campaign for the natural standard, which was there sort of defining uh brand, defining campaign that sort of catapulted them into this natural landscape. The CMO eventually left burt's bees and became the president of Bliss. When he became the president of Bliss, Mike and Durski, he called man said Hey, can you come over and do this marketing job and I thought, oh my God, how cool to keep working with Mike, how great to work at this brand which I've loved for so many years and so when I was it blissed it was at the big, very beginning of social media. It was story scraps, sort of scrappy story telling. We didn't have big budgets but we were able to storytell around the spas and the products and sort of what it means to bring the spas home to your skin. And they have a really fun voice. They have a very fun punny voice. So bringing that to life and social it was the perfect platform for that brand at the time. So we obviously our collection of our experiences and you've worked at a lot of different brands and on the agency side. was there one in particular killer that really shaped who you are? Honestly, that that moment at Birdsby is at the agency that shaped that was a big tipping point for me because I think not only did I was able to take everything that I had learned from the agency side of sort of really thinking how how a brand narrative can shift aback, can move a business forward, and I remember at that time I was waking up at like five o'clock in the morning to to write these decks, which just sounds nerdy as can be, but yeah, I love to sleep. So the fact that it was like getting me up like. That's when I first sort of noticed that was in my flow state where you really know that this is something specially you love doing this. So that was one part. But then really, to answer your question, was probably my years at our glass cosmetics, which I worked very closely to the to the with the founder, Crissa James, who was brilliant, and it was sort of how could I help bring her ideas to life in a way that continued to leverage sort of what social and influencer marketing was doing within the beauty space. And that was around eighteen. So not only was it doing some really powerful product launches and sort of defining the brand and launching a platform around cruelty free luxury beauty and then, going through the brand was eventually acquired by Uni Lever. So all of that, whether it was launching powerful product franchises, to launching pretty defining brand campaigns that set the brand on a on a path, to then working so closely with Unilever, awesome. You have a background in PR and marketing. Yes, those lines get blurred a lot. Where do you see the big difference between those disciplines being and how that those came together in your career? Um, I'll start with the second question. I saw those two come together. I think it's it's more relevant now than ever before. I think marketing has changed so much in the last and that's obvious, so much in the last twenty years, five years, one year, for goodness, six UH, the foundation of communications...

...and storytelling and understanding a brand's narrative. So what we used to have to be able to do to secure, let's say, a brand, a story about a brand, not just a product placement but a but a feature story, a thought leadership story, whether it's executive positioning, brand narratives. But what you'd have to do to that do for those? It's courts brand storytelling, and so that today, yes, of course you can continue to sort of tell those stories in in media, but really what you need for that right now, that's what your community gathers onto. That's the core of brand building and I think to be able to do both brand building and then sort of take that to the next level of storytelling, whether it's storytelling to new audiences and bridging that through influencer marketing, or storytelling to traditional media, or storytelling within traditional advertising or digital advertising, it's all sort of this core base foundation that you need. And Mike comms background stuff that I learned at Weber Shandwick, working closely with Gail Himan, with Susan Howe. You know, whether it was something where we were doing client work or going in for a new business pitch. It was like I got a crash course in brand narratives and I was, and I think you were, able to take that and bring that to life now across all of the marketing channels. Versus perhaps, I don't know, old school marketing where it was like okay, here's your here's your customer. It's sort of this like two dimensional she's she's one individual. It's not as dynamic. It's you're in communications. You're forced to be a little bit, I don't know, more fluid, and I think that's what works in today's in today's marketing landscape. So I think it's set me up for the storytelling in the startups and the brands that I've been able to work for so where that's really social led, digital lead, influence creator. Lad that's helped a lot. What do you see as the advantage when you went from agency side to brand side? Well, I will say the brands that I have been fortunate to work on are not giant corporate brands. When I was on the agency side, what I loved about it is the the people, first and foremost, but second, you know, the big thinking, creativity. It's just ideas all day long. I can spit out ideas all day long. With that the agency side, which is great, you have that opportunity to come out with ideas for all sorts of clients, all sorts of businesses. We don't always get to see them through because sometimes the client may say, you know, may stop it or as a pitch or what have you. But on the brand side, fortunately, because I've been at these smaller brands, I've been able to have that same ability to come up with ideas all day long and most of the time execute them. So when you're able to see your ideas come to life, or the team's ideas, doesn't have to always come from me, but I can help amplify them. When you see those ideas come to life, actually make an impact on a business and moving business forward or define something or make some sort of impact, that feeling, Yuh, I loved and that's what I fell in love with. But I will say like I've never worked at a big giant corporation. I don't know if I would have that freedom, of that flexibility. Perhaps there's a little bit more red tape. I don't know, I've got to ask someone from like Pepsi about that. At the agency side, one thing I've always loved about it is the diversity. You can go from the retail to food to finances using your mind in a very elastic way. Do you find that when you work on one brand over time that gets less fulfilling, or do you find that you're diving deeper in and it's more fulfilling? Well, okay, man, that's a good question and it's so true. I loved the elasticity, you're right, of your mind and the way you're able to go from business to be I mean Web Weber, I was working on Choboni to Amazon to Unilever. So you really did have to shift your brain to think about the different business objectives and not only, I think, does that keep you engaged and is it interesting, but it also it keeps your mind sharp. What I don't like to do now in the current position, because I've worked in beauty specifically for so long it is is look for...

...inspiration from other beauty brands, because I think then you're it's very easy to sell ellipstick the same way over and over again. I'm sure, of course there's things that you sort of have to do to make sure that the ellipstick the lips, the proverbial elliptick cells, shade swatches and tutorials and that sort of thing, but I do like to sort of try. I try to stay on top of trends or what's happening outside of my industry to say, okay, what's going on there and is there a way I can that can inspire something for beauty? You talk a lot about brand purpose. Can you tell me about ways you kind of break that down or think about it, because I know brand purpose can mean a lot of different things to, you know, different audiences. How do you see brand purpose and how do you weave that into your strategy of what you do on on the various brands? I'll talk about rare beauty specifically, and I it's a unique advantage with this brand because I was I worked on it with Selena from the very beginning. So I joined in and we collectively came up with okay, Selena, why do you want to do this and what's this brand story that you want to tell? And she herself as an individual, as a human she's so purposeful and so purpose led and she wanted this brand to make a difference and she wanted to do something within mental health, and so we were able to build this brand from scratch that echoed her sentiment and what she wanted to do. So then, to answer your question, that is everything from how we the social content we share, how we engage with our community, down to within our office, all of our employee engagement, employee communications. We have mental health Fridays. We have a rare beauty mental health counsel which is comprised of Experts Within Academia, nonprofit, the mental health failed certainly the medical field, who helped advise us on our strategy. Because we are a beauty brand, we can't just spouse, we can't just give out mental health advice. So we lean on these experts to help it our whether it's our co creation of content, our content strategy, but also our employee engagement. We are a mission led beauty brand to help destigmatize mental health. Sometimes the content that we do around mental health can be saved just as much as a beauty tutorial, which says to me, Oh my gosh, we're doing the right thing. It's educating people. Were the conduit to these trusted resources. So it's community, it's content, it's employee engagement and then, finally, we created a fund called the rare impact fund, where a percentage of sales goes towards mental health grantees and we've raised over three million dollars so far. Well, that's awesome. I love that. So I always wonder when, because the brands fairly new, did it sort of start with you guys care about mental health? What's the product we can make, or is it we're going to do a beauty brand, and what's the purpose behind the beauty brand? Which one comes first? It's all tied together. It all starts with sling that. She was the one who said I want to make a difference and I think I want to start with beauty, and let me tell you why. And she posted a post back in about the beauty myth, the beauty myth of physical perfection, and at the time fashion designer or the media had criticized the way she looked and as she was scrolling through social it just made her feel worse and worse and worse, and she said, how is this happening and if this is happening to me, and here's this person who has access to make up artist or stylists or everything, and she's like it's it didn't even feel great. And she said, how can I make a difference? Or from the inside out, and how can I get in and helped sort of break down these physical standards of perfection, and can I join the industry itself, the industry who was maybe putting out these images of perfection and and start to break it down? And so she had this idea of a beauty brand that does just that through the images that it puts out, through the words that it uses, through the products that it creates so that they are fun...

...and easy to use and not intimidating, but then also could have presentage of proceeds to go to something within mental health, and she's been so open and honest about her mental health journey that it was a natural tie. But also it sort of gets back to this celebrating your uniqueness, it's okay not to be okay, and just creating this community around breaking down and sort of empowering. I'm powering you to break down these physical standards of perfection, and that's where it sort of started. Did she know right then and okay, I want to create a fund, I want to do this. No, and that's what we all worked together to figure out. How did you handpick you to start this thing? What was that like when you got the call? So she was connected to she found our CEO and our CEO found me. So I was at a conference and he came up to me and said, Katie Welch, I sent you a note on Linkedin and you never replied and I was like, I'm on Tiktok, I don't check linkedin. This is pretty tiktok. Yeah, I I've was embarrassed and now, so this is a lesson. Large check check your linkedin. If I didn't know, you want and I said, I'm so sorry, Um who? And he said well, so I I he had just the beauty industry is small and I'm grateful to have a reputation. I don't want to sound and you know the beauty industry is small. Say That and I'm sure they interviewed a ton of people or whomever, but from there he said I hadn't signed an I D A or anything, and he just sort of said, you know, I want to talk with you when we're back in L A and I'll tell you about this project that I'm working on with someone, and the rest is history. I always wonder when the celebrity driven brands start, if you know, the celebrity has an idea but the team's not for it, how that Balance Work? Honestly, it's been. We all work so well together and I think part of it is because it started so much in her, in her vision. I mean the first thing I remember, the most interesting thing that she said to me that struck out the most when I first chatted with her and I said, Selena, why do you want to do this? Why do you want to create a beauty brand? Like I knew about the beauty myth and we had talked about that, but I was really like why? And she said I want, I want to create a space in beauty where people feel welcome. And it was the use of that word welcome that really that struck me because I think in beauty for so often we talk about empowerment or self expression and man and none of these brands even brands that could be community lead. You look at the content or the words or whatever they're putting out, or even sometimes the product, and it doesn't feel welcoming. Welcome, welcome. That idea of like yes, come sit with us has, I think, was sort of the opposite of what the beauty industry has been. It's sort of like too cool, yeah, you can't sit with us, and that is so much of a reflection of who she is. When her superpower, in my opinion, is man does she connect with people and people feel seen like it's unlike anything I've ever it is a superpower, the way she makes people feel welcome. She it's just incredibly hard felt in kind, and so I thought, okay, if there's a way we can do that as a brand and bring that to life, whether it's through the community that we have cultivated and how we continue to how we get to know them personally, to the product that we put out so that they're fun and easy to use and not intimidating. Two, the mental health resources that we're able to post so that people feel that they have a place to which they can turn. Is it ever hard to tie in the brand purpose with the product, or is it usually follow pretty naturally sometimes, and I think that's why you don't force it. You do it when it feels right, because, I mean, we are talking about makeup and we are talking it's talking about self expression and makeup artistry and sometimes or that. You don't have to talk about mental health every single time. But I think what's been interesting is that, because we have this community, one thing I think that's interesting, and some people might say, oh, that's just an instagram post, but I think it's meaningful, is that we'll post user generated content. You DOC will post a pay sure of an individual wearing one of our products, and a...

...lot of times that's nothing new. Of course beauty brands do that all the time. But what I love is that we take it a step further and we'll ask some questions and we get to know the community. So sure, it's okay, here's Katie wearing a lipstick, but it's here's Katie wearing a lipstick. Katie, what are you grateful for this week, or what do you tell us about a time when you something, and so it adds a little bit of depth and dimension. We do stuff like that that I feel like the community likes. And then they feel seen, they feel welcomed, because it's not about just wearing the lipstick and we've done things like pre covid before. We didn't obviously didn't know the world was going to be shut down and we were building the brand. We did a we wanted to do a campaign shoot that that involved the community. Nothing innovative like that's shirt. That's nothing new, but I want we wanted to do it because if we were all about community and building connection and making people feel welcome, then we should bring them a part of it, but get them to know one another. We did a cast, for lack of a better word, of casting call, but we called it a community call, where we said send us your story, send us while you're rare, we don't want to see it's not about your head shot. Don't send us your head shot, but we want to know your story. And we had a hundred and fifty thousand visits to our website within a few days, entries, and I thought the entries would be I wanted me to you know, Selena's my going you know, it was it. They were really warm, wonderful engaging stories of of people and we went into lockdown. We started hosting zoom calls with our community. We didn't know what to do. So we thought, well, let's just start to get to know them. So every week we would chat with fifteen or so people who had submitted their story to get to know them and just and at that time it was so it was especially, especially special because people were potentially feeling lonelier than ever, and so if we're able to connect someone in Iowa who just wants to talk about makeup, to someone in Missouri who who really loved Selena, or someone in Florida who who really wants to wanted to just chat about what they're watching on Netflix, I don't know, which is a very sweet kind moment of connection, not only for our community but from them for the rare beauty team. And now we started doing community events in person, now that we can. We did a hike in L A with the community, and so we're trying to do as much to get to know them and bring to life that feeling of welcome. Even if it's for fifteen people, it's still that's meaningful to me. It doesn't have to be fifteen thousand. You started the company with a purpose in mind and it's clear you're not purpose hopping, because I know a lot of brands will jump on whatever is happening in pop culture and they'll kind of move from purpose to purpose first as being really grounded in one purpose and not, yeah, not moving from that. Thank you for noticing that. You know, when you're when you launch with a clear purpose, it's much obviously, much tighter linked to the brand. What trends are you seeing in the beauty and wellness industry that are influencing how you make different marketing choices? Today? TIKTOK is just as impacted how we talk, how we demonstrate product, product trends, product sales. I mean, at one point there was a tiktok trend where people were blending a highlighter and a blush and then from that we were saying, Oh Gosh, okay, this is a this is a real trend. What else? How can we create more content? Is there something we can do, you know that celebrates this on our website, onto for dot com, so on and so forth. So really it's these trends are happening in real time. They're happening at the speed of culture, so much so driven by TIKTOK. So I think it's crucial in the beauty industry now to be to have a tick, not only have a Tiktok strategy for your brand and for creators, but also to stay on top of the trends and see how those trends can translate to Your Business. You also getting a TIKTOK following. Tell us how you did that and how long it took you and how you approached that. Yeah, so I did that. I started thinking about it when we were building as the rare beauty team and I and I really started thinking about how I got started in the beauty industry and how do you find information about finding an entry level job in the beauty industry? And there was nothing. It was sort of gate kept and at the same time I was watching Tiktok get...

...more and more popular. This is and I know that if you really want to understand the social platform, you've got to use it, and not just use it, you have to create. And so I thought, okay, I'm sure as hell I'm not going to dance, but maybe I can create career content to pay it forward and help people figure out not just their beauty career but maybe any sort of career path. And it just started to take off and I've developed a really awesome community. I would get a ton of questions like how do I do this? Can you look at my resume? Did I probably I did about a hundred zoom calls with people to help them and just to read their resume and figure out, help them figure out their path, because they may not have anyone to chat with about this, and it was just it was so it felt good. Of course, why? Of course it would. But then from there I'm like, okay, let's it kind of inspired me to really keep it up because I saw that people were listening and that there was no one else really doing this. So it's been really fun to get D M s from people saying Hey, I sheer interview prep video and I got the job, or hey, thanks for chatting with me. I now work at makeup forever in influencer marketing and it's like, Oh my God, I'm so happy that I was able to help. That's how often do you post? I try, I try to post a lot, but man, it's hard. That's the other thing that I've learned how hard content creation is and like working with influencers or creators, it is tough, and how much you have to pay attention and so I try. I try to post a couple of times a week. was there a product that catapulted rare beauty? You know, absolutely crushed it? Yeah, it's our our soft pinch liquid blush was something we launched with and I think it was a product that sort of brought the fun back to beauty. It's a super pigmented liquid blush unlike anything that's out in the market. The other thing that was really interesting, I think it was it's a highly demonstrable product. So people were applying it on Tiktok and it was was creating really fun content. That then, in my opinion, that said to someone who I want to try that myself. So that was probably the product that helped put us on the map. And how did you guys come up with the name? It's slew his idea. She has a she had an album called rare and a song called rare and it's inspired by that and the red the word rare. She has always been super meaningful and special to her and it's all about so our tagline is, uh, makeup made to feel good in, without hiding what makes you unique. So it's about celebrating what makes you rare? What do you see as the next one to three years for rare beauty? Where do you see the brand going? You were just getting started. We're just scratching the surface. There's still so, so, so much more. I think we have a young Gen z community. I think it's just continuing to get to know them. I don't know, I don't really know what the future is. I know what the products are, but I can't tell you like we already have the product mapped out, because you have to work that fore in advance, but I can't tell you. All right, cool. So who are some of your role models that meant a lot to you as you were developing your career? Gail Himan, definitely. WHO's the global the global hit, the global president, GLOB CEO? Now I should know of of Webber Shandwick. She definitely I learned a tremendous amount from her, working so closely with her, working so closely with Kathy Calhoun, Susan Howe. There are women at Webber Shandwick that will forever I will be forever grateful to them and to the impact that they've made on my career. Chris and Jaynes at our glass cosmetics. All I think I've I've been fortunate to work closely with really brilliant women and to learn from them, not only from marketing, management, innovation, the way they think. And I think you know when I when I chat with other people on Tiktok, it's so much about just pay attention to what's happening around you. I mean so many of the Times, let's say, that I was in a meeting or in a new business pitch with gayl at Webber. She wasn't speaking directly to me, it was me with a ton of other people, but my God, did I pay attention and listen and try and understand. Why is she doing that? Why is she thinking about that? Would you take you have to take something from it's a really sort of being an active participant in your career, and...

...so those are the people who, I think we're so fundamental in shaping my future. Do you have a favorite quote or mantra that you always go back to? And I say it all that you have a few, but the one I think I say all the time at work is don't let perfect be the enemy of good. That's a good one. Sometimes you just got a pencils down let's go. Um, so this is okay. Then there's another one. Where did I find it? Honestly, it could have been like a on a pillow at home goods. I have no idea. But the secret, just what the Hell Um this? This secret to having it all is knowing that you already do, which I always like, but it's probably seriously on a mug. I love that. That's a good reminder while you're in the right spot and you're doing great things. And Uh, the brand rare beauty. And it's been great to talk to you. I think we've learned a ton, so thanks for being on the PODCAST. Thank you, m thanks so much for listening to soul and science and we'll see you next week. Soul and science is a mechanism podcast produced by Maggie Bowls, Ryan Tillotson, Tyler Nielsen, Emma Swanson and Lily Jablonsky. The show is edited by Daniel Ferreira, with theme music by Kyle Merritt, and I'm your host, Jason Harris.

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