CMO of the Week: Olaplex’s Charlotte Watson

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Charlotte Watson joined the science-driven hair care company Olaplex back in January and is on a mission to help the brand expand globally. 

Charlotte Watson joined the science-driven hair care company Olaplex back in January and is on a mission to help the brand expand globally. 

“Olaplex has been built on very strong, very clear brand and business foundations,” explains Watson. “My role is really to strengthen our core brand equities, and really future proof us for that global expansion. One of the key goals has been to continue to drive our awareness, our customer growth and acquisition, at the same time as enhancing the overarching customer lifetime value. I like to describe Olaplex as the combination of heart and science because we combine these incredible breakthroughs in science technology with a really unique, tangible, emotional connection with our community. It’s really the combination of those two things that set us apart from the rest.”

The company’s core products are built on repairing, strengthening and protecting hair bonds. The brand has built this message on a direct-to-consumer model based on getting people to use their products and talking about it on social media and in online videos. The company went public in September 2021 and was valued at $15 billion after the IPO. In May, the company reported a 36% net growth in fiscal 2022 and anticipates growth to continue. 

The brand celebrated its 8th birthday in June and celebrated with events on social media. Olaplex was the number one selling prestige hair brand in the US in Q1 of 2022, according to The NPD Group.

“Ultimately, we're a humble business,” says Watson. “We're here to serve our community to the best of our ability, whether that's providing deep knowledge to our professionals, easy-to-digest education to our customers, and inspiration to our creators and influencers. We're currently the No. 1 number brand in haircare in the US, and several of our products are in the top 10 positions. My great goal for us is that we would reach that point in every market that we launch and expand into by really bringing our holistic health regimen to a wider audience globally.”

Prior to joining Olaplex, Watson served as a CMO of Hourglass Cosmetics and has held senior marketing positions at Pandora, Michael Kors and Kurt Geiger. Brand Innovators caught up with Watson to discuss the company’s growth, user generated content and sustainability. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Can you talk about your brand purpose and how that shows up in your creative executions?

One of the key success points for us is that root in scientific discovery and really having products that really work. That's important in terms of our purpose and how it shows up. We're patent protected, we have a very potent haircare technology system, and you see that through the messaging that we use, which is very much rooted in claims. We undertake a lot of consumer perception and scientific claim work as we're creating and finalizing our formulas, and we bring those claims and data points into our marketing messaging so that we're really providing a transparent view into the benefits of the product for the end consumer. 

You see that in the simplicity of our packaging. If you've visited our website, you'll see we have a very clean and very simple aesthetic that is very easy to digest. For the customer, we have a very intentional product portfolio currently with 12 consumer-facing products that you can use in different combinations depending on the routine that's going to be right for you with your hair needs. 

Obviously, the power of UGC is also huge. We disrupted the industry and revolutionized it back in 2014 when we created this whole new category of hair repair bond building, which was repairing the hair bonds from the inside out. When I speak about UGC, I speak about the power of actually demonstrating with real people how the product works from a before and after perspective. Our product works after just one use, you will really see a noticeable difference. We bring in that real relatable UGC content quite a lot into our content strategy. That goes hand in hand with our mission as a business, not only do we want to make customers feel good on the inside, but we also want to match that with how they look on the outside.

How are you reaching your core audience?

Consumers have had time to reflect upon self care during the pandemic and we've seen very strong engagement in content that's incorporating beauty rituals into everyday life. For example, we have our hashtag movement where our community will put on that Olaplex treatment, or utilize some of their own effects, styling products, and then create a bun style, and capture it as they're going about their everyday, business, whether that's sitting on a Zoom call or rustling something up in the kitchen or running to do an errand. 

It's that idea of self care Sunday has now become self care every day, because of the way that we now live our lives. We got much deeper into this idea of self care and ultimately building out your own hair care routines, and that inspiration has been taken from skincare. What's happened now is that hair care consumers have become much more knowledgeable, and they want the same level of information around ingredients and technology and formula that skincare customers have been expecting over the last few years. 

Can you talk about your channel strategy and what key channels you're in?

Social media is at the center of how we communicate. The foundations of Olaplex are so rooted in social media and in the community that it really is the central part of our marketing function. We have this incredibly engaged community of stylists and consumers and we continue to lead on most of the platforms. It all goes back to our community. We have 100 brand advocates, including licensed cosmetologists on our platforms, we also have a dedicated Facebook platform with 250,000 stylists that share information back and forth. 

Our platform strategy has evolved, and now is mirroring more so our consumer funnel, so we see, the way that I'm sort of building it out is that, we see different platforms, connecting with the consumer at different parts of the journey. So, for example, we will utilize tic tock as, for example, as a way to generate, each at the top of the funnel, to generate awareness. Then we will use YouTube as a discovery channel. It is still a very relevant place, and sort of, deep knowledge, how to content. We're bringing the customer down the journey, utilizing our web of social platforms.

Can you talk if the metaverse and NFTs will play a role for your brand? 

Olaplex is a big thing. So rooted in science and technology. We're very passionate about digital technology as well. And we have all sorts of different tools across our digital landscape, including a personalized hair diagnostic tool on our website, which has a quiz where you can answer several questions and then you will receive a sort of personalized hair routine.

We've recently launched our AI virtual team member, who is a synthesis of if you can imagine 240 brand advocates at styling professional stylists, as well as a combination of them and also our corporate employees. What we're hearing in research is that customers want to see themselves in the content, in the talent that you're utilizing. We thought, what better way to represent our customers but to bring together this incredible synthesis. 

We launched on social media, and we had shortlisted three different names that have very, sort of unique meanings. And we were able to crowdsource the final name and allow our community to be a part of meaning. They're now a virtual team member, who gender neutral, and really a true synthesis of all of our customers and brand advocates. We're really excited to be hosting and integrating into our social media activities. You'll definitely see Kai popping up in other virtual environments. So stay tuned. 

Can you talk about your own background and how your experiences with other companies has helped shape your approach to leadership in your current role?

My background is quite diverse. I began my career in the LVMH fashion group. I began in fashion and I've worked across a variety of sectors including retail, apparel, accessories, jewelry and most recently in beauty. I joined Olaplex from Hourglass Cosmetics, where I was also the global cmo for three or so years. My experience is quite diverse across sectors. It's also quite unusual, because I began in brand and communications but I spent some years in wholesale and retail marketing. What's been great for me is that I got to work very closely with our retailers or wholesalers or distributors in various roles, and really understood what our partners need but also what the customer needs are. 

When I started out over 20 years ago, there was no social media. The whole digital landscape has erupted during my career. I've been able to shift and evolve professionally as the digital landscape has done so. I've been fortunate to work at different businesses, for example, Michael Kors, when they were at the forefront of social media and really experimenting with social commerce for the first time. I've been able to take that with me and bring that into my role at Olaplex. As a leader, I am highly collaborative. I'm agile. I like to be able to empower the team to work together to solve problems and make decisions with my support. 

Can you talk about Olaplex’s commitments to sustainability?

Our core primary purpose is around scientific discovery and technology. But you can't really exclude that without thinking about what is the impact on the environment, also thinking about what is the impact of our products. We're continuing to build upon our sustainability goals, and reducing our carbon footprint. We haven't used secondary packaging since 2015, which in the premium hair care business is not the norm. Through that effort, we've prevented 35 million pounds of GHG being admitted into the environment, and we've saved 57 gallons of water from waste since 2015.

This has grown organically, because we're very much rooted in science and technology. It's been something that's been with us since day one. And at the moment, we're  advancing those ESG efforts by partnering with Eco Vardis on environmental and human rights issues. We're incorporating their environmental stewardship into our vendor selection and our supply chain processes. That's something that we will start to implement moving forward. Then the next step for us, which is longer term, is evaluating our path to reaching that plastic neutrality certification as it relates to plastic packaging. That's just a bit in terms of what we're doing. It's something that's very important to us as a purpose-driven business.

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