There are interview and interviews.
This one was one of them.
I had the chance to interview Kory Marchisotto, CMO at e.l.f. Beauty and President of Keys Soulcare, a pioneer who is really changing the word of beauty. We talked about being unapologetically yourself, caring about community first and shaping cultures, throughout beauty, and doing it sometimes disrupting norms.
Do you have any products that you consider your must-haves?
I cannot live without Camo concealers, and I say plural because I use three layers under my eyes – I have very dark circles and I’m very self-conscious. So, I start with the Camo color corrector in Peach, then I apply the Hydrating Satin, and then the 16HR Original because its coverage is so phenomenal. True story, I apply it with a fluffy eye blender blush, which is a hack, as normally people use that blush for eyeshadows.
What’s your first beauty memory?
Probably my mom and fragrance. Both my mom and dad were very heavy fragrance users; my mom had Dior Poison, Guerlain Samsara, fragrances that walk into the room before you do, and she always had them on display; so, I always saw beauty as something very special. We had a bathroom in our house that was full mirror, floor to ceiling, and there, as a little girl, I would sit on the floor while my mother would be standing in the mirror doing her makeup, and I would watch her, and for me the illusion that there were so many of my mothers was amazing.
Do you have a minimalistic skincare routine or do you rather “go big”?
I’m a maximalist! [laughs]
My skincare routine is very much Keys Soulcare, which is one of the e.l.f. family’s brands. I use the Golden cleanser because I don’t like cleansers that strip your face, and she’s magic, the smell, the texture, she’s great; if I have a heavy makeup day, I’ll use the Makeup Remover Melting Balm. Then, I have my serums – I use the Illuminating Serum; I use different creams morning and nights: in the daytime, I use the SPF by Key’s Soulcare, when I go to bed at night, I use e.l.f.’s Advanced Night Retinoid Serum and a heavier cream. Also, I have to try a lot of things all the time because I run Innovation, so the team is always giving me new things to try.
Nowadays, when there are so many things to talk about, what’s the real innovation to you?
I think that true innovation is our ability to disrupt norms, shape cultures and connect communities. A lot of brands say things but their actions don’t meet their words. With e.l.f., not only do all of our actions meet our words, but we’re doing things that have never been done before, and that starts inside our company. Just to give you an example, e.l.f. is a publicly trading company on the New York Stock Exchange – there are 4200 publicly trading companies on the New York Stock Exchange, just to give you the size and scale; we’re the only beauty company that grants stock to every single employee in our company. In most of the companies it’s only granted to the managers, while in our company it’s for everyone. Whatever meeting you’re in, everywhere, you know that you’re around the table with people who have a personal vested interest in the success of the company.
The other part is that we put women and diversity in the highest seats of decision making: every publicly trading company has a governing board of directors and our board of directors is 2/3 women, so majority female, and 1/3 diverse. There are only 4 companies out of 4200 that can say that, and we’re one of them. We are actually doing things that nobody else is doing, and I can tell you many more of those things. We’re also the only brand who’s able to do this kind of only available in-prestige quality at these kinds of prices. It’s really truly exceptional. We’re also the first beauty brand to be fair trade certified, to make sure that we’re protecting the communities we’re working with and that’s also something that nobody has ever done before.
From a marketing perspective, our value proposition is very unique, the innovation engine is unparalleled, as well as our disruptive marketing engine – if you think about our ability to react in real time, our entertainment content series, we’re a beauty brand who made a music hit that was topping Billboard charts, we produced mini-movies. We’ve transcended all things that brands represent and we stepped out of being considered just a beauty company. The magazine Fast Company does a list of the most innovative companies in the world, and not only we were on the last list, but we were also the only beauty company on the list.
I have a beautiful memory of when I lived in New York, I worked there for a while, and e.l.f. wasn’t on the Italian market yet, it was 2013, and when I saw the store in the City, I just freaked out, I was so happy; e.l.f. made things possible for me, you know? My love for beauty started with makeup, so to have the opportunity to buy makeup in New York and have affordable products at such high quality was amazing.
We’re happy to finally bring e.l.f. to the bigger community here in Italy because they’d been asking a lot for us, starting from social media. e.l.f.’s Italy followers popped into the Top 10 of the countries where our followers were coming from, so that was already the signal, and then Douglas told us that people were coming into the stores asking for us, so we decided to try it online – our brand is a digital native, we do really well in digital sales. It went so well that we decided to take the next step and what we were actually seeing as our stands were getting set up was that people were taking the products out of the boxes before they were even put on the shelves – that’s how much people had been waiting for e.l.f., so it’s very exciting for us to be here.
What were the most challenging moments of your career and how did you overcome them?
Nothing great comes without a challenge.
It has to start with an ethos, and if you think about e.l.f.’s ethos, as we wanted to create a different kind of beauty company by disrupting, you’re already saying, “I choose the path of most resistance”. Being a trailblazer is the hardest thing there is to do, taking a road that’s never been traveled, carving a new path. A starting point is already a high challenge.
Then, I would say that in the last years as business leaders we have never faced so many crises; it has been a crisis on top of a crisis on top of a crisis: the Covid crisis, social justice crisis, war crisis, environmental crisis, and they all happened in a very small amount of time. So, I think as anyone who’s running a business, whether you are a small entrepreneurial shop – of which unfortunately many had to close during the Covid crisis – or a big company, everybody has been having really challenging times. The redistribution of work, what it means to actually work in a physical location, everything has flipped on its head. On the other hand, we’ve had 18 consecutive quarters of net sales growth and 18 consecutive quarters of market share growth; in the 1800 brands in the US that are tracked by Nielsen there’s only one brand that has grown market shares for 18 quarters: it’s e.l.f. I think the beauty of e.l.f. and the reason why we’ve been able to overcome all of the crises and come out and continue is because by nature we’re agile and flexible, by nature we have a bias for action, our ethos is built to adjust and adapt, move and be fast.
“Disrupt norms, shape cultures and connect communities”
How do you see the beauty industry now? What’s the first thing that comes to your mind?
It’s so blurry, and I love that. I don’t say that in a negative way, I say it in a very positive way. Everything used to be clear lines: there is color cosmetics and it delivers color, there is skincare and it delivers skincare benefits, there is haircare and it treats hair issues. Now everything is blurry: there are skincare benefits in color cosmetics, color benefits in your skincare, skin benefits in your haircare – we call that “the skinification” – and then you have hard-working multi-tasking hybrids. It used to take 5 items to do certain things, while now you can do it with one, so this idea of blurring the lines among how ingredients are used and formulations are done is what’s happening now.
Also, what does beauty actually mean? Is beauty external appearance? Is it how you feel on the inside? This is also in line with the creation of Keys Soulcare, a beauty brand that actually loves you and helps you with rituals that are going to care for you from the inside out; infusing wellness into the beauty space is another of the blurry zones, and I love this because we’re wall-breakers at e.l.f., so we love the idea that rules are going out of the window and things are all intersecting, merging, and integrating, and it’s a beautiful place to be.
It was thanks to Keys that I learned to create a night ritual: I’ve started lighting a candle (Keys’ candle) before doing my night ritual, focusing on the textures and smells. I also love the way they explain the products to us, how to put them on our face, and the breathing exercising… it really is soul-care.
That’s the whole reason why we’ve created Keys Soulcare. Thank you for sharing that, I will tell Alicia!
Disruption, as you said, is often associated with your image and role in the industry. How would you describe your approach to your work?
I have a four-step formula that is applied to how we operate on the disruptive marketing engine. The first step in the formula is “Tune the e.l.f. in”; do not pass that one until you understand your community: who am I speaking to, what do they want from our brand, what signals are they sending, what’s happening in their universe, what’s happening in their head, in their heart, in their soul? You look for the signals. Then you move to step 2, which is “Put your head in the stars”. You have to dream about what’s possible. Step 3 is “Put your feet on the ground”: put an action plan together to achieve that dream – many people don’t get to step 3, but we turn the dreams into action. Step 4 is what we call “At e.l.f.’s speed”, which means move at the speed of culture. So, if I run that through the pipes for you, just to give you an example, in the US there is a big annual football game that 100 million people tune in, of which 50% are women, and we thought, “Okay, that’s a pretty big stage”. However, how many beauty commercials are played during this moment? None because it’s usually all entertainment, cars, food, so we said, “Let’s break some rules here as well!” and we tuned into at this moment. We understood that people were having fun with the sticky factor: people were sticking things to their hands and faces having so much fun with it; so, we put our head in the stars and said, “We could possibly be the cultural icon that has universal appeal who could represent the star in beauty”. And we called Jennifer Coolidge and asked her to be in a commercial for us; then we went to step 3 and put our feet on the ground and we made it happen and – step 4 – we “made it happen fast”, in 3 weeks (while most companies take over one year). That’s the magic formula. Do you know what our mantra at e.l.f. is? “Anything is e.l.f.-possible”.
I’m a founder, as well, of the magazine and a production company, so to hear such beautiful and inspiring things, and you being so open about your strategies and approach, is really enlightening. You know, most of the times people want to keep everything for themselves, so thank you for being so open.
My perspective on that is: if we can help advance this industry, or your industry or any industry, I would be very happy to move the industry forward – if the things that I say can move and advance things forward, then fantastic.
What does feeling comfortable in your own skin mean for you?
Being unapologetically myself.
What was the best fuck you of your life?
This is a fantastic question I’ve never been asked before! [laughs]
The story is going to sound insignificant, but if I think of how this was a defining factor in my life, it’s actually meaningful as part of the journey. When I came out of college, my first job was at LVMH working for Givenchy. I had been with the organization for one year and I was doing great work, I was in the sales administration department putting reports together for all the senior staff and collecting information and I felt I was doing really significant work. I was working full-time during the day and finished my bachelor degree in the evening; so, I was counting up on graduation, and where I was going to go from there, I wanted to stay and work in that company, but I was in the sales and administration department and I wanted to work in marketing. The bosses at the sales team didn’t want to lose me but they understood that my heart was somewhere else, so they said, “Go interview with the VP in marketing and tell them how you feel and what you’re looking for”. I was volunteering for the marketing department while I was working in the sales department so I was already going to the press events and helping them with the work and all the things. So, I went and did the interview, and the gentleman that was running marketing at the time said: “If you want to get your foot into the world, I can offer you a job as my personal assistant”. And I said I quit. I think that was a really important moment for me to stand in my own strength, to stand in my own power, and to recognize that I wasn’t going to bend based on the perception that the other people wanted to have of what needed to be true for certain things to happen. I was going to create what needed to be true to happen, not somebody else. So, I quit and I got a marketing manager job.