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e.l.f. Beauty results radiate, thanks to virality and loyalty
Product innovation, marketing and ecommerce helped boost sales 49% in the holiday quarter.
The clouds are getting darker in today's retail environment, but e.l.f. Beauty is shining. Digital commerce and marketing growth is a primary reason.
The makeup and skincare brand posted the following results for the quarter ended Dec. 31, 2022:
- Net sales increased 49% to $146.5 million year-over-year, driven by retail and ecommerce.
- Adjusted EBITDA was up 69% year-over-year, accounting for 25% of net sales.
- The outlook for the fiscal year was lifted. Net sales are now expected to be $541-545 million, up from $478-486 million.
The brand is also outperforming category trends. The cosmetics category grew 8% over 2021, while e.l.f. grew 36%.
“We grew our market share by 150 basis points and increased our rank to the #4 brand as compared to #5 a year ago,” CEO Tarang Amin told analysts. “We continue to be the fastest-growing top five brand by a wide margin.”
The strong results proved validating for a brand that prides itself on offering affordable cosmetics, and digital-forward marketing. They were also another sign of the resurgence of beauty as people return to in-person experiences post-pandemic and seek affordable luxuries that can provide joy despite tougher economic conditions.
Here’s a breakdown of the digital drivers of growth for e.l.f., and how it is showing strong results in a tough economic environment:
Marketing: Viral brands and sustained investment
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The brand prides itself on marketing that is both bold and pioneering on emerging channels.
One example came in the form of a holiday kickoff with the singer Meghan Trainor delivering a Weather Channel-informed report on social channels to celebrate the restock of the brand’s Halo Glow Liquid Filter, which was a viral sensation.
“The trifecta of e.l.f., The Weather Channel and Meghan Trainor helped us reach new audiences and entertain our community,” Amin said. “The campaign generated over five billion press impressions, exceeding last year's holiday campaign by a wide margin.”
The combination of innovation on product and virality in marketing helps attract a new audience for the brand.
“They see the viral buzz,” Amin said. “They see other people talking about this prestige quality, these great prices and particularly these days with platforms like TikTok, we get consumers doing their own demonstrations and comparisons.”
When it comes to metrics, Amin said the brand explores, “What percent behind each product are we pulling in new users?”
It's often up more than 50%, and attracts the core consumer in Gen Z as well as millennials and Gen X.
“I think the quality of these products at the prices we have and our ability to engage them really are attracting even more consumers to our franchise,” Amin said.
e.l.f. also deepened its marketing investment. The overall share of marketing is now 16%, as compared to 7% three years ago. It will increase to 17-19% this fiscal year.
“We recently completed our annual Nielsen marketing mix analysis and again saw exceptional ROI results, giving us further confidence that our marketing and digital initiatives are driving brand demand and delivering profitable growth,” Amin said.
Strong ROIs were observed across digital advertising and influencer marketing, while PR was “off the charts,” Amin said. Experimentation also plays a key role in developing these channels.
“The other thing about us is, we're not afraid to test and learn our new platforms. So we were one of the first beauty brands on TikTok. In the early days, it was hard to get attribution on TikTok. We now can see almost immediately when something goes viral on TikTok, the impact it has on our business and our ability to be able to attract that,” Amin said.
Ecommerce: Growing the squad
When it comes to ecommerce, Q3 digital consumption trends were up over 75% year-over-year, said CFO Mandy Fields. Digital channels drove 17% of total consumption in Q3, up from 14% a year ago. In the quarter that includes the holidays, digital channels were particularly strong through Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
A big point of emphasis for digital growth is the company’s Beauty Squad loyalty program, which provides early access, exclusives, free gifts and bonus points. The program grew enrollment 25% year-over-year to 3.5 million members. The loyalty program helps to boost the value of individual customers.
“Our loyalty members drive almost 70% of our sales on elfcosmetics.com have higher average order values, purchase more frequently, have stronger retention rates and are a rich source of first-party data,” CFO Mandy Fields said.
No slowdown in sight
Plenty of brands and retailers reporting earnings over this week are speaking of a slowdown in demand as a result of inflation and cooling demand in the economy. They also talk of consumers trading down to more affordable and smaller products that challenge margins. Amin batted away that kind of talk.
“No, we've not seen any slowdown in demand,” Amin said.
The response spoke to the unique place that beauty sits in this moment.
“What I'd tell you is, historically, mass color cosmetics, mass skin care has fared really well in…recessionary environments,” he said, referring to the Lipstick Index that posits beauty sales rise during economic downturns as people seek the small joys when they have less to spend on bigger items.
But there’s also a timing factor coming out of the pandemic.
“This is a category that really did suffer during the pandemic when people were restricted from their normal behavior,” Amin said. “So I've long felt there's a lot of pent-up consumer demand for the categories in which we compete, and we very much are seeing that.”
Trending in Marketing
New Honest CEO plans to apply Amazon experience to ecommerce
Carla Vernón is also bringing learnings from General Mills to the brand's category strategy.
The Honest Company’s new CEO is eyeing upgrades to the brand’s ecommerce strategy, and considering category expansion.
Carla Vernón joined Honest in December, bringing experience as VP of consumables categories at Amazon and leader of recognizable brands such as Cheerios, Annie’s and Nature Valley for General Mills.
Vernón will now marry the commerce acumen she built with those companies to a premium brand that is driven by purpose. Founded by Jessica Alba in 2012, the digitally-native Honest makes products in personal care, beauty, baby and household products. The company has taken off in the baby category, as 60% of revenue came from diapers and wipes in the fourth quarter.
“Honest is a brand built on a number of values... clean formulations, high-quality ingredients and input, products where you can believe the quality is worth the value that you are paying for them,” Vernón said on the company’s earnings call to recap the fourth quarter and full-year of 2022.
Vernón said the brand has “unique DNA,” in that it was built by “thoroughly modern” entrepreneurs that typically speak to a younger set, but cuts across demographic lines. That can set up expansion into new categories.
“Honest is a brand that needs to speak to all consumers, all demographics, all cultural groups, all life stages,” Vernón said. “I am extremely confident that the shoulders of Honest are broad, that the shoulders of Honest are strong to bear the weight of many categories and that there are categories waiting for Honest values to come in and energize the category and change what consumers think they can expect from the category.”
This will require a balance: Honest wants to be thoughtful about where the brand can “lead, innovate and win,” Vernón said.
“We exist to push our categories farther with our purpose-driven ethos,” Vernón said.
At the same time, it wants to find a fit with its margin strategy, and ensure it can maintain a premium positioning that has taken a hit as a result of price increases among brands across the landscape amid inflation. Honest may de-prioritize or exit some categories along the way.
In particular, Vernon believes investing in hero products can help propel the brand.
“That’s something I learned on brands like Nature Valley, a business that had many, many SKU offerings, but some of them are very core, driving the fundamental growth and business model of the brand and then new places to play where they will really fit our business model as we go forward,” Vernón said.
The company’s fourth quarter results underscore why there may be a need to explore expansion. Revenue increased 2% over the prior year, but consumption was up 15%. The company recorded a net loss of $12.6 million.
The results showed a disparity between channels: Digital revenue declined 14%, while retail revenue increased 18%. Revenue was 57% retail, 43% digital.
The company said online orders were lagging consumption. Honest saw 8% consumption growth on Amazon, but also saw the ecommerce giant take a more cautious approach to inventory. With the cost of digital advertising going up amid rising CACs and privacy-oriented changes, it also shifted marketing spend to realize key opportunities in retail.
Vernón said the brand is also aiming to overhaul its ecommerce experience. Vernón is set to draw on her work with Amazon overseeing many of the same categories where Honest has a presence. These include babycare, household products, food, beverages, health and wellness and beauty.
At Amazon, Vernón was credited with elevating the shopping experience for beauty. She introduced more emerging and prestige brands, launched virtual lipstick try-on and created the first-ever beauty-focused holiday shopping event, called Amazon’s Holiday Beauty Haul.
Now, Vernón plans to work closely with the honest.com team to make sure the brand is meeting the expectations of the digital shopper.
“That has everything to do with things from being efficient in the experience of the storefront, really making sure you maximize the storefront so that the consumer transactions are clear, efficient and fast and so that we can really customize what we show to customers on the storefront so that when they are shopping, it’s an experience that’s highly relevant for them,” Vernón said.
While retail has gained more focus as partnerships with Target and Walmart have driven not only growth but incremental customers, Honest Company's overall strategy remains grounded in both channels. That means it is taking care to provide a standout presence on the ecommerce channels of retailers, as well as its direct-to-consumer site.
“As we continue to grow with our retail partners, we want to make sure that Honest is effectively being brought to life in the digital mediums that they are continuing to grow and invest in,” Vernón said.