In our 39th episode of Earned, Conor sits down with a true industry titan: Susan Kim. Having previously led the marketing divisions of influencer-favorite brands Huda Beauty and Benefit Cosmetics, Susan now serves as the CEO of fast-growing, coconut-powered skincare brand Kopari Beauty, which experienced a 96% year-over-year EMV growth between January and October 2021.
We start the episode by learning about Kopari’s focus for 2022, and Susan shares why she’s prioritizing top-of-funnel brand awareness and articulating the brand’s DNA. We then dive into Susan’s global marketing experience at Benefit, hearing how it helped shape her approach to the diverse U.S. market. Next, we discuss Susan’s time at Huda Beauty, and she emphasizes the importance of understanding your community. Circling back to Kopari, Susan reveals the key opportunities that have contributed to the brand’s impressive growth. We explore Kopari’s strategies for driving organic awareness, and Susan explains why brands must build a strong foundation prior to testing different tactics, before sharing her thoughts on traditional advertising. Finally, we learn about Susan’s authentic leadership style, and close the show by unpacking Kopari’s sustainability-focused rebrand.
The following interview has been lightly edited for concision.
Why Kopari Prioritizes Top-of-Funnel Brand Awareness
Conor Begley: You have cut your teeth as a marketer, especially a forward-leaning digital marketer. And so I want to hear: 2022, what's the plan? You've got very precious marketing dollars, how are you spending those? Where are you investing?
Susan Kim: So we do have our budgets set for 2022. We have high ambitions in terms of top-line growth. We have some really great tailwinds around the skinification of body care. There is just so much potential within body care, and as consumers' knowledge around ingredient profiles and formulations really deepen, there's an opportunity and a white space there with body care. So we are allocating our dollars where we believe that they’re going to have the greatest impact on brand awareness—because that's what marketing dollars are supposed to do. We do have a good chunk into tools like Tribe, but a good chunk, like 50% plus, is going to be spent on really harnessing our community of content creators and influencers across platforms.
So, I think it's a really exciting time because of the unknown, also the ambiguity of iOS 14 and 15 that's coming out and how that plays into our entire funnel. So we're going hard after upper-funnel. We're going hard after all of the platforms, and especially leaning into TikTok.
Conor Begley: You mentioned using your marketing dollars to build awareness, and actually I would argue that the prevailing wisdom right now is very much focused on bottom-of-funnel. Like, how do I get last-click attribution? How do I know the exact ROI on this? But it doesn't sound like that’s the way that you spend your money?
Susan Kim: As e-commerce people, we are addicted to data. As a native DTC brand, we are addicted to data. And especially in this time of ambiguity, I have to go back to the basics, like marketing 101: a consumer has to be aware of your product and then be tipped into the basket. Right now, if we focus on that bottom of the funnel and that conversion, it doesn't make any sense for us because we're relying on the platforms. The platforms are built to find the person who is most likely to tip into the basket. That is not controlling your messaging. That is not going back to the basics around positioning and hierarchy of communications and all of that within marketing 101. So I think that there's a real benefit to flipping that and thinking about it from upper-funnel.
There's so much innovation in upper-funnel right now, whether it be attribution for CTV or even editorial NPR, or prospecting for direct mail. There is a great opportunity in upper-funnel, and then letting the e-commerce team do what they're supposed to do, which is taking that pool of potential consumers and then tipping them into the basket. So I'm a big believer in brand awareness and really creating a very strong distinction of what marketing is supposed to do versus e-commerce.
Conor Begley: Yeah, that makes sense, especially for a brand like Kopari, where the people that like it are very passionate about it, but there's a lot of people that just don't know who you guys are yet. So [building brand awareness] is an important activity. Does that mix shift for a brand like Benefit that you were at? Do you still think of it the same way if you're a big brand that most people know about versus an up-and-comer?
Susan Kim: You know, Conor, I started at Benefit when we were around $250 million in sales, and I was at Benefit for around eight years or so. And back then—and I'm talking like 10-plus years ago—the people who knew about Benefit loved Benefit, because it made them laugh. They loved the products, they loved the problem solutions, the packaging, the names, and all of that, but not a lot of people knew about Benefit, and that was one of the challenges. So I find myself to be in the same position that I was when I started at Benefit. And one of the things that I'm really excited about is the richness of [Kopari’s] DNA. One of the things I learned from Jean-André Rougeot [former Benefit CEO] was the importance of a brand’s DNA, especially if you're asking a consumer to pay a prestige price point. You're not asking them to buy a $4 eyeliner or whatever it is, you're asking them to pay up for an emotional connection with a prestige brand. And so DNA is one of the things that we at Kopari try really hard to articulate, to cement, and to thread in every single thing that we do.
“The biggest mistake in marketing is to project your own beliefs and behaviors onto your consumer set”: Susan Kim on the Importance of Understanding Consumer Dynamics
Conor Begley: You spent quite a bit of time on the global markets before shifting to the U.S. markets. What differences did you notice between those markets, and how did that impact your approach to the U.S. market?
Susan Kim: When I was at Benefit, I started in the global marketing roles, strategic planning and global marketing, and I was fortunate enough to visit so many countries. Benefit operated in 52 different markets when I started. And it was difficult because each market had a different interpretation of what funny was or what the brand meant. And it was [important to be] able to corral everyone together on a single stream around what the definition of the DNA is and the brand expressions in each individual market. I really enjoyed that time because having a global lens while operating in a global brand is tremendously valuable for an organization. So when I'm looking for marketers, I think about, how much empathy can you have around consumer sets that may be different than what you are used to or expecting?
The biggest mistake in marketing is to project your own beliefs and behaviors onto your consumer set. Like, I would use this face wash because it brightens, whereas that may not be what the consumer set or your target market may want. So having this perspective around the differences of individuals that culminate into how you should think about your messaging and your hierarchy was beneficial for me. And as I think about how that translates to the U.S., the U.S. is a really big country. Each individual geographic region has their own culture. The consumer in Kansas has a very different experience than the consumer here in San Diego, for example. So having this hyper-awareness of those dynamics will always serve marketers and business owners.
You can watch the entire interview above or on YouTube, or listen to the full episode on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Google Podcasts. To catch up on our other 38 episodes, featuring leaders from brands like Milk Makeup, Gymshark, Gucci, and Summer Fridays, visit our Earned Podcast page.