MILAN — The word “community” popped up frequently in a conversation with E.l.f.’s chief marketing officer Kory Marchisotto, who touched down here as the beauty label is expanding its footprint in Italy with the help of Douglas.
After launching online on the retailer’s platform a few years ago, the brand is extending its presence in the country with a physical rollout at 105 stores of the chain’s network. The move was sparked directly by the strong demand from consumers.
“It was time for us to give the community what they were asking for,” said Marchisotto. “At first there was a lot of the community that was asking for E.l.f. so we said: ‘OK, let’s put it online.’ E.l.f. is digital native, so for us starting online is in our DNA.” Surprised by the reaction and by customers actually walking into Douglas stores to ask for more from the brand, the company decided to scale up its presence in the market.
“We take all the signals from our community, both in where we show up, where our brand is available and what it is that we’re actually making available for them. We shape the brand with it,” she added, underscoring that this approach affects also the innovation pipeline. Cue the recent launch of Glow Reviver lip oils, which she claimed were expressly requested by customers.
The two years of online testing in Italy also offered interesting data about the behaviors of local consumers which, according to the executive, don’t differ much from the U.S. customer base.
“I think my biggest surprise is that [the brand] is actually universally appealing, whether it’s the Italian consumer or the Dutch consumer or the U.K. consumer. It’s universally appealing that we make super premium products available at an accessible price point. And I thought we were going to have to maybe change more in language or the tone of voice or approach, but what we’re actually finding is that it’s exactly who E.l.f. is at its core that people love everywhere in the world,” said Marchisotto.
Yet at first she thought that some E.l.f. products that became viral in the brand’s domestic market wouldn’t resonate as loudly here, starting from the Power Grip primer.
“The Italian team here and even market studies told us that Italians don’t really like nor use primers, that was not a thing. Well, guess what? Now it is,” said Marchisotto about one of the bestselling products in the market, right next to the Halo Glow Beauty Wands and Liquid Filter foundation range and the Holy Hydration makeup removing cleansing balm. “That’s actually the true E.l.f. spirit, because the brand disrupts norms: what people think can’t be done, E.l.f. does it over and over again.”
Asked about the target demographic in Italy, Marchisotto said the brand is “just starting here” and it was too soon to define one. Yet she restated that the label’s tagline — “for every eyes, lips and face” — ultimately mirrors E.l.f.’s scope.
“You can’t pigeonhole us into one demographic. Sure, Gen Z loves us but they just happen to be the loudest.… We are loved by Millennials and Gen X, and we get letters on a regular basis from older communities, which is why we chose Jennifer Coolidge,” said Marchisotto, referencing the viral Super Bowl spot aired earlier this year and the recent launch of the Dirty Pillows lip kit designed in collaboration with “The White Lotus” actress.
“Every marketing book and guru is going to tell you, you have to find a specific audience. I will tell you the opposite because our brand demands universal appeal since what we are doing is applicable to everybody,” she added.
The same approach informs the communication strategy of the brand, which also in Italy won’t rely only on its strong impact on TikTok but on a combination of different platforms across social media, gaming, music and entertainment. “What matters to us is where the community is calling for us. We go where the community is, which is how we ended up on TikTok in the first place,” recalled Marchisotto. “There was a hashtag ‘E.l.f. Cosmetics’ that had 3.5 million views before we even got there and that was our signal [to say that] maybe we should be the ones talking with them and creating with them.”
“E.l.f. is a brand that never stops to surprise us,” said Fabio Pampani, chief executive officer and president of Douglas Southern Europe. “We immediately understood and appreciated the uniqueness of this American brand with its original, playful and inclusive approach, which we feel very close to,” he added, underscoring the success the brand had on Douglas’ e-commerce channel and the retailer’s commitment in bringing the brand even closer to consumers by taking it into stores.
To celebrate E.l.f.’s boost in Italy, the brand took over the streets of key cities with subway and tram takeovers, bus wraps and digital screen ads, as well as plans to take the “BFF Beauty Bus” on the road, further engaging with fans with makeup stations, product demos, goodies, giveaways and live performances by local music artists.
The first of such activations was staged in Milan last weekend, which was followed by stops in Rome on Saturday and Sunday and in Bari — in Italy’s Apulia region — next weekend. These implementations are intended to further amplify brand awareness and to establish “E.l.f. as a true, desirable, community-driven brand for the Italian market” before eyeing a bigger reach through possible future collaborations locally.
Overall, E.l.f. Cosmetics has been increasingly taking steps to expand its international footprint. Marchisotto said that 87 percent of the business is done in the U.S., leaving the company “a very wide runway for growth” outside the country.
“The place in which we started was the U.K. and the response has been incredible. We are now the sixth-biggest ranked brand there and that happened with us operating business from California,” said Marchisotto. “So the way in which we’re now leaning into global potential is opening our first overseas office in London in December and we have already hired a significant number of people,” she added, stressing that the new infrastructure “will allow us to move further into global territories.”
E.l.f. also has a partnership with Douglas in the Netherlands and is already in the Indian market, where “we see a lot of signals about the popularity of our brand.”
“We see the global demand. Now we just need to make sure that we do it right and with the right partners,” said Marchisotto.
Founded in 2004 and based in Oakland, Calif., the brand is distributed by the likes of Boots and Superdrug, in addition to Douglas and Target, Walmart and Ulta Beauty. Incidentally, Douglas also distributes Alicia Keys’ brand Keys Soulcare, which is included in parent company E.l.f. Beauty’s portfolio alongside W3ll People and, most recently, Naturium.
Listed on the New York Stock Exchange since 2016, E.l.f. Beauty posted $497 million in beauty sales last year, earning it the number 63 spot on WWD Beauty Inc’s list of the top 100 beauty manufacturers in 2022.
As reported, in August E.l.f. Beauty marked its 18th consecutive quarter of net sales growth and market share gains, allowing it to raise forecasts. Net sales increased 76 percent to $216.3 million for the three months ended June 30, compared with $122.6 million a year earlier.
As a result of the better-than-expected quarterly performance, E.l.f. updated its full-year outlook for fiscal 2024 to reflect an expected 37 to 39 percent year-over-year increase in net sales, as compared to an expected 22 to 24 percent increase previously. It is now expecting net sales to be in the region of $792 million to $802 million, up from previous expectations of $705 million to $720 million.
“What’s really important for us is responding to our community in real time, so we’re really excited about what they’re going to tell us… We are looking forward to understanding more about them so that we can do the best job we can to serve them,” said Marchisotto.
Asked about what customers want today, the executive made a generational differentiation. While the more mature target is inclined toward making sure the brand delivers on its promise product-wise in terms of formulations, texture, payoff as well as value for money, the younger generations have a more holistic approach in their purchases.
“If we talk about Gen Z and upcoming Gen Alpha, because they have so many choices and grew up digital natives, they’re really looking to vote with their wallets. They want to know the values of the brand, who is behind it, what they stand for, if they care about the same things [they] care about,” said Marchisotto.
“E.l.f. is already built for that. We are an open book. I go on TikTok Live all the time. I bring my CEO, my CFO, the C-suite talks to the community. We are open. We are not in an ivory tower like most companies. We are the community. There’s no distance between us and them,” she concluded.