By Mylena Vazquez
When Glossier hit the market in 2014, it took the beauty world by storm. What started as a four-product line with 953 customers turned, in under two years, into a booming brand with a 10,000-person waiting list. Just four years later, Glossier had grown into a $400 million business. By 2019, they were serving 3 million customers. In 2021, the company was valued at a staggering $1.8 billion. Whether by design or serendipitously, the Blue Ocean Strategy is exactly what Glossier used to become one of the most talked-about and successful beauty companies in the world.
The Blue Ocean Strategy is a theory formulated by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne which states that the key to business success lies in finding a way to not just outshine the competition, but completely separate yourself from it—rendering your competitors “irrelevant.” This strategy is powered by the Four Actions framework: Eliminate, Reduce, Raise, and Create. These four actions, which are meant to be considered simultaneously and in no particular order, all work together to create new value and find new, unsaturated markets for your business.
The first thing Glossier did was eliminate the middleman. While most beauty brands are sold primarily through department stores, drugstores, and beauty marketplaces, Glossier circumvented these norms by establishing itself as a direct-to-consumer company. Not just that, but unlike other beauty brands, the company did not even have their own physical storefronts; they did their business entirely online. By getting rid of third parties, Glossier was able to create a unique and personal connection with its consumers—and also cut down on costs.
At the same time, Glossier was transforming the way it engaged in advertising. In 2017, television and magazine ads accounted for a whopping 91% of all advertising in the health and beauty sector. Advertising through digital channels accounted for just 6% of the total. Glossier essentially inverted those numbers. They did not place magazine or tv ads, instead focusing heavily on digital. This made sense, as the brand was the product of its founders’ uber-popular blog, Into the Gloss. By choosing to reduce its reliance on traditional advertising methods, Glossier was able to focus its budget on avenues that were more in line with the audience they were trying to attract. Their strategy relied heavily on digital advertising, and they chose to spend the remainder to plaster print ads on New York City subway walls.
These subway ads were part of a larger effort by Glossier to raise the level of interactivity between brand and customer. The women in these ads were beautiful, but they were not professional models. Instead, Glossier tapped regular women—some of them employees, lots of them small-time influencers—to represent the brand. This was in line with Into the Gloss’s practice of featuring the beauty routines of normal women in their “Top Shelf” and “#TopShelfie” series, so the strategy felt authentic and on-brand.
Glossier also invited customers to “co-create” products with the brand. Typically, beauty companies develop new products behind closed doors, in boardrooms and laboratories, and then try to convince the public to buy it. Glossier, on the other hand, used its parent blog to seek direct input from its audience about the types of products they would like to see the brand create. Because of this, not only had their audience already bought into the products, they were personally invested in seeing them succeed.
Most importantly, Glossier created a whole new vision for the beauty industry. To start, they launched a moisturizer that primes the face for makeup, a cleanser that removes makeup, a lip balm that preps the lips for lip color, and a sheer foundation. Glossier quickly introduced sheer concealer, sheer gel blush, sheer matte lipstick, and sheer cream eyeshadow. As you can probably tell, there was a theme to Glossier products. It was no secret either; their motto, prominently displayed on every Glossier box, explicitly stated that their philosophy was “skin first, makeup second.” Though other companies had launched products in the vein of natural-looking makeup before, no brand had taken the concept and made it central to their identity. More significantly, no company had made their products come across as being so effortless, aspirational, and cool.
A Blue Ocean in pink packaging
By implementing the Blue Ocean Strategy, Glossier didn’t just tap into a new market—it created one. The brand spoke to millennial women, a generation who spent a good deal of their lives on social media, craved a sense of community, and sought an alternative to traditional notions of makeup and beauty. By identifying the factors that dictate value and strategically reducing or investing in them, Glossier created an oasis in shark-infested waters.
In your opinion, what is it that sets Glossier apart from other beauty brands?