In Ep. 96 of Earned, Conor sits down with Amy Liu, founder and CEO of fast-growing clean beauty brand Tower 28. From January to July of this year, the brand enjoyed notable expansions in both its creator community and post count, resulting in a 99% year-over-year surge in EMV.
To start the show, we dive into Tower 28’s success both online and off, and Amy shares the past investments she’s made that are now paying off. We hear why she believes you have to earn your reputation, and how investing in people and products have fueled much of the beauty brand’s success. We take a step back and learn why Amy was grateful to get laid off from Accenture in her early 20s because it forced her to evaluate what she wanted to do. Her path led her to USC business school, and then into the beauty industry.
After running marketing teams at Smashbox, Kate Somerville, and Josie Maran (where she grew sales 5x in three years), we learn why Amy decided to take time away from her career to focus on family, before going all in on her own brand, Tower 28 Beauty. Amy reveals why she’s happy she waited to found her brand, before explaining why she created the Clean Beauty Summer School, a professional development program designed to accelerate small, BIPOC-owned clean beauty businesses. As we wrap up the show, we discuss Tower 28’s thoughtful, personalized approach to building relationships with relevant creators, and Amy gives her take on where the influencer marketing landscape is headed next.
The following interview has been lightly edited for concision.
“I believe very deeply that you have to earn people's money and their trust, and people vote with their wallets”: Why Tower 28 Founder Amy Liu Invests Deeply in People and Product
Conor Begley: I'm a big believer that the results that you're seeing today are really the result of work you did two or three years ago, rather than what you did last quarter. So if you were to think about the decisions that you were making two to three years ago that led to your success today, what would be some of those decisions?
Amy Liu: One thing I really believe in is that you earn your reputation, and I believe in investing in relationships. So whether we're talking about our relationship with Sephora—we have an exclusive partnership with Sephora that I think has been really good for us, and for them, I hope—or whether it's the influencer community, or my team, I think it's really about investing in people.
I would also say [investing in] products. I came into this experience from the corporate side, but I am not in any way an influencer. I almost never post personally. I don't really show up a lot in our current content, so that was never really part of our positioning. So for us, it's about making really good products. I believe very deeply that you have to earn people's money and their trust, and people vote with their wallets.
And so from the very beginning I was like, we have to have good products. Not that anybody wants to have bad products, but early on, people said things to me like, “you just need the product to be 70%. The rest of it is marketing.” Nothing irks me more than when product developers tell me that because I'm like, I want [the products] to be amazing.
“Other people can outspend us, but we can be thoughtful and clever”: Tower 28’s Personal Approach to Building Influencer Relationships
Conor Begley: So let's talk about influencers, since that's the business that we're in, and you are killing it. For the first half of the year, Tower 28 is up 96% year-over-year. You were the number 67 ranked brand by EMV last year, and you’re number 37 this year. You passed brands like Glossier, Revlon, and other big players. What were some of the specific things that you were doing to get [your influencer marketing program] off the ground?
Amy Liu: We definitely have gifted [product]. I always think of these things like any other sales funnel. So you want to send products to people who you feel might actually be interested in them. Our products are designed for sensitive skin, made for all. We're the only beauty brand that is 100% compliant with the National Eczema Association. So very early on, we were looking for signals of people who were saying that they had an issue that we could help solve with our SOS spray, or whatever it was.
So I think there is a part of it where you have to do a certain amount of stalking, for lack of a better word. You want to give them a product that actually meets their needs. And then it's just telling them, “Hey, I noticed that you were having an issue with eczema. I would love to send you this product for you to try. It's made a huge difference for me. Can I get your mailing address?” I think that that step of being a little bit more personal [makes a big difference]. I still really believe in handwritten notes. I think it's really important.
Influencers get so much product today that there has to be a reason to open it. It has to be thoughtful. So I've always said, I think other people can outspend us, but we can be thoughtful and we can be clever. Those are things that don't necessarily cost a lot of money to do.
And I think the other thing we really do is try to think about concentric circles. For instance, really early on, one of the girls on my team was like, “I would love for Patrick Ta to try our products.” And I was like, “okay, we could try, but who does Patrick Ta pay attention to?” So then we gifted Carly Fisher, because Carly Fisher used to assist him. So we do little things like that. And when I met Patrick Ta for the first time, he was like, “Carly Fisher loves your products,” and I was like, it worked!
I had a founder not too long ago who was like, “can you just give me your list of people and addresses and save me the time so that I can take your list and send them all this product?” And I was like, I could. But I don't think it's that valuable. I think what's valuable is, you have to develop the credibility and the relationship with those people so that when they get that box, they're actually excited to open it. If you just blind send people one, I think it makes them kind of angry, because they're like, how did you get my address? I wouldn't do it for privacy reasons anyway, but even if I just gave people [social] handles, I don't think that's helpful because you need to be the one who's initiating that relationship. So early on, we were very thoughtful about, why would this person care about our products?
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