In today’s episode of Earned, we’re joined by Jeremy Lowenstein, CMO at cult-favorite mass beauty brand Milani Cosmetics. Jeremy has a storied career in the beauty industry, spending over 15 years between beauty giants Estée Lauder Companies and Coty, before pivoting into the indie space with his time as CMO at Kopari, MeUndies, and now Milani.
We start by learning how Jeremy broke into the beauty industry with a college internship at Estée Lauder, and why he’s remained in the industry ever since. We then examine Milani’s recent success on social, and Jeremy shares how the brand has invested even more deeply in developing relationships with creator partners. Next, we discuss how Milani has been dubbed a “dupe” for many of its prestige counterparts. Jeremy explains why the brand embraces this title, and celebrates its ability to bring prestige-quality products to the mass consumer. We explore the success of Milani’s recent #GRWMilani campaign, before Jeremy explains why he wanted to transition out of large corporations and into the indie beauty landscape. To close the show, we talk through the challenges and opportunities of the short-form video revolution, and Jeremy shares his take on shifting toward “creator-led marketing.”
The following interview has been lightly edited for concision.
“Let creators help tell the story for you, in their own words to their community”: How Developing Deeper Creator Relationships Has Spelled Success for Milani
Conor Begley: Milani has seen a surge in EMV over the last several months. I know that you're investing in it a lot more heavily. Milani has always invested in it, but more recently you’ve made some shifts in strategy that seem to be paying off. What do you think is working? What's paying off there?
Jeremy Lowenstein: I've been with Milani now for two years, and it’s really a gem. I think there's a lot that people don't know about this brand. It’s a 22 year-old brand, and when I come into a brand, it's not about what's broken, it's about how you harness the power of what made it get to where it is today. I wanted to take a step back, because our founders are on our board, [and ask] what inspired them to launch the brand, and what was that fairy dust or magic that brought it to the consumer and has kept it relevant for this long?
There are two qualities to this brand that reflect our purpose. One is democratizing prestige beauty. Why does access to high-performing product have to be limited to channels based on price point? Our goal is to be able to offer that to everybody. So we cut back on packaging, and focus on product and formula and payoff. And then, the second [mission] is serving the underserved, which is why the brand started. Milani was originally started to develop shades for Black women. That was the original thesis for the brand. And over time, the brand has become the leading multicultural brand in mass and color.
So fast-forward to today. When I joined, I wanted to go back to that and understand what makes the brand tick, and have my team really laser-focused on that, helping to tell those two stories together. When it comes to strengthening EMV, there are a few things that we’ve been doing. One is going deeper with our creator relationships, and having great partners like your team and other social agencies and PR agencies that we work with to really help us develop strong, meaningful relationships with creators at all levels. Part of what I think is important when we’re [partnering with] creators is looking for authenticity in their relationship with the category and with the brand itself. I've always found that those who have a history with the brand organically become the best spokespeople. So what has helped us over the past few months is building those deeper relationships with creators, and also being consistent with them. The retention play, just like in DTC, is important in the creator world. How do you continue to work with them? Get those creators deeper into your brand evolution and development. Let them help tell the story for you in their own words to their community.
“Milani has always been at the forefront of developing and delivering prestige-quality product to the mass consumer”: Milani CMO Jeremy Lowenstein’s Thoughts on “Dupe Culture”
Conor Begley: You talked in your interview with Glossy about your Get Ready With Milani campaign, and about this dupe culture. And I think dupes get a bad rap, when in reality it's like, “We can provide the same amount of value at a much lower price.” So talk to me about how you've leaned into that more recently with Milani. What's worked, what hasn't? What has the impact of that been from a brand perspective too?
Jeremy Lowenstein: Sure, we'll start with the dupe piece. You're right, the term “dupe” or duplicate sounds like “copycat,” and that has a negative connotation. I think those of us who have been in the industry long enough know that, especially in cosmetics, it takes 12 to 18 months to develop and launch new products. I think where Milani has always been at the forefront is developing and delivering prestige-quality product to the mass consumer. That is the equity and heritage of this brand. In order to do that, we partner with some of the best suppliers in the world, who also supply some of the prestige brands out there that we're competing with. And what that allows us to do is see and talk about the trends that the prestige brands are seeing at the same time. So we are able to come out with product within the same relative time frame as a prestige brand.
For me, it's been exciting to say, “You want to call us a dupe brand? Have at it.” We are actually launching what we believe is on-trend at the right time and the right place for our consumer, based on what we know he or she is looking for and what we're hearing from our supplier partners. And with the acceleration of speed to market and this gap between fast followers of mass to prestige, as well as the accessibility of product across channels, I don't think consumers trade up or down—I think they just trade around at this point.
Consumers are verbalizing and articulating, “Hey, I bought this from Milani that looks similar to this brand, and they perform the same and it's a fourth of the price, so let me go buy four of these in every shade that I like versus one here.” So it’s really creators and influencers who are telling those stories. I don't think it's the brand's job to talk about that. We're doing what we believe is bringing prestige quality products to mass, which are also designed for the multicultural consumer and for all skin tones.
Where we get to tell those stories is leaning into conversations. Again, this goes back to your question around building EMV and strengthening our position there. Sometimes it's hard for brands, especially indie brands, to create new conversations. And we are still an indie brand—we are the only independently owned brand in the top 10 of mass color. So my challenge to the team is, what conversations are actually always happening in the social world, and how does a brand insert themselves and either participate or make it their own?
So the Get Ready With Milani concept came from the team after seeing the Get Ready With Me hashtag ranking as one of the most used hashtags across all social platforms. We said, “How convenient that both ‘me’ and ‘Milani’ start with ‘M,’ so let's lean into it.” And we just started designing organic campaigns for that. And then we said, “What else is happening at the moment that can be an evergreen concept for us?” So we leaned into the “Clean Girl Summer,” the five-minute face trend, and we developed influencer kits and started seeding them out and talking about our positioning of, “Use Milani for everything you need, from our primers to our setting sprays to our foundations, blushes, mascaras.” And out of that has come amazing content. To date, videos tagged with #GRWMilani have had over 47 million views or so, pretty much all organic. So I will take that as a win for Milani.
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