The Badass CEO

EP 10: Global Marketing Strategies and Execution with eSalon's Vera Koch

August 27, 2020 Mimi MacLean
EP 10: Global Marketing Strategies and Execution with eSalon's Vera Koch
The Badass CEO
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The Badass CEO
EP 10: Global Marketing Strategies and Execution with eSalon's Vera Koch
Aug 27, 2020
Mimi MacLean

With over 15 years of professional experience, Vera Koch is Vice President of Global Marketing at eSalon and Colorsmith, leading global marketing, brand strategy and campaign development. In her current role, Vera has been instrumental in leading the creative redesign for eSalon, its expansion into new markets, and the brand’s strategic pivots in response to a significant increase in demand during the COVID-19 pandemic, among other notable achievements. Leveraging her wealth of creative and analytical expertise, Vera drove the marketing strategy and execution for the recent launch of Colorsmith - a first-to-market salon-grade, at-home hair color solution for men.

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Show Notes Transcript

With over 15 years of professional experience, Vera Koch is Vice President of Global Marketing at eSalon and Colorsmith, leading global marketing, brand strategy and campaign development. In her current role, Vera has been instrumental in leading the creative redesign for eSalon, its expansion into new markets, and the brand’s strategic pivots in response to a significant increase in demand during the COVID-19 pandemic, among other notable achievements. Leveraging her wealth of creative and analytical expertise, Vera drove the marketing strategy and execution for the recent launch of Colorsmith - a first-to-market salon-grade, at-home hair color solution for men.

To learn more about the Badass CEO Podcast go to: To get the Top 10 Tips every entrepreneur should know go to:

Please subscribe above to be notified of our new episodes. 

I put together a Free Top 10 Checklist for Every Entrepreneur.  Click here to get your copy:

To learn more about our podcast guest, click here:

If you enjoy this podcast, please help support the the podcast by using the link to our sponsors and companies I use for my business.  I receive a small percentage for each sale.  Thank you so much for your support!!

Follow us on Instagram at:

Mimi (00:01):

Welcome to the Badass CEO podcast. This is Mimi McLean. I'm a mom of five, entrepreneur, Columbia business, school grad, CPA, and angel investor. And I'm here to share with you my passion for entrepreneurship. Throughout my career, I've met many incredible people who have started businesses, disrupted industries, persevered and turned opportunity into success. Each episode, we will discuss what it takes to become and continue to be a badass CEO directly from the entrepreneurs who have made it happen. If you're new in your career, dreaming about starting your own business or already an entrepreneur, the bad-ass CEO podcast is for you. I want to give you the drive and tools needed to succeed in following your dreams.

Mimi (01:00):

Welcome back to the Badass CEO. This is Mimi. And today we have Vera Koch with over 15 years of professional experience. She's a vice president of global marketing and eSalon and Color Smith, leading global marketing brand strategy and campaign development in her current role. Vera has been instrumental in leading the creative redesign for eSalon, its expansion into new markets and the brand's strategic pivots in response to a significant increase in demand during the COVID-19 pandemic among other notable achievements. Leveraging her wealth of creative and analytical expertise, Vera drove the marketing strategy and execution for the recent launch of color Smith, a first to market salon grade home hair, color solution for men.

Mimi (01:49):

Thank you so much for coming on today. I really appreciate it. And I'm so excited to learn about your career path and how you came to spearheading this global marketing, the two brands. So I'd love to just hear more about your, your journey.

Vera (02:02):

Yes, absolutely. So my journey started a long time ago. I always had a passion for storytelling and something that I even as a child already enjoyed was when everyone else kind of stopped watching TV. When the commercials were on, I always enjoyed kind of hearing the stories that were crafted around brands, so that passion continued so pretty early on actually even in school already, I knew that I wanted to work in marketing someday because I've always had a great admiration for the good storytelling of brands. And so my journey continued, I chose to study international business. And one of the reasons I did that was because growing up in Germany, I've always enjoyed traveling. I've always had the dream of going abroad someday. So it was clear for me that I would want to choose a career that would allow me to do that one day. So those two things combined led me to studying that. I studied abroad in Australia and in France, had some great opportunities to do internships abroad, and that ultimately brought me to marketing. And at some point in business school, we actually had the opportunity to do a workshop with L'Oreal and where it was our job, our task to build a brand. And so I really enjoyed the project. And after the project, I was offered to join the team. So that's where my career in the beauty industry started. And I was first working in the active cosmetics division, then had the opportunity to join their luxury brands division. And then ultimately I chose to accept a position within Henkel beauty care, which is a global corporation that has their international headquarters in Germany. So what I really enjoyed about working there in the international team was that it felt a little bit like the United Nations of beauty care because, um, even though that was over 10 years ago, actually it was a team that was with members out of all different countries of the world, coming together to build new beauty brands. And so I absolutely enjoyed working there and the spirit of that team and having the ability to think about concepts that were not just relevant for my own country, but would be relevant with marketing and consumer insights worldwide. And so that mentioned, it had always been my dream to go abroad. So when the opportunity opened up to join our newly acquired Schwarzkopf professional division in Los Angeles, that for me was a dream come true because ultimately it brought both things together working for an amazing beauty brand, but at the same time, the opportunity to go abroad and live in beautiful California, where I still live in which I absolutely enjoy. So it was a long journey really but the dream off or the passion for story telling was there early on, the passion for marketing was there early on. And what brought me to the beauty industry was more of a coincidence, but I stayed in this industry ever since, because I think that our industry is especially good at storytelling.

Mimi (04:44):

That's great. And it sounds like you've pretty much kind of stayed under the same umbrella of brands or are they different owned companies?

Speaker 2 (04:51):

The international team, I worked on different brands and worked on a body care brand. And in fact, I worked on different hair color brands. And then here in LA, I worked first with Schwarzkopf professional and then as Henkel chose to acquire additional brands and integrate them into the family. I had the opportunity to work in a regional marketing role where I supported the integration of the brands, Kendra professional, alternate and sexy hair, just from a marketing perspective, welcoming the new teams to the family, then Henkel acquired the brand Pravana. So I had the amazing opportunity to take on the role as VP of marketing and support the integration off the provider team into the Henkel family. Before then Henkel chose to do a joint venture with eSalon, which then brought me to eSalon where I've been for almost a year. Now I absolutely enjoy working in the direct to consumer business. And so that has been my role ever since. So it's been a long journey of working for a consumer brands, professional hair, beauty brands, and different retail spaces. So it's always been beauty and a lot of it has been hair, but working for many different brands. That is one thing that I absolutely enjoy because they all had their very individual spirit, their very own culture. And that's also something that was always very important for Henkel in that entire journey is to keep the DNA of each brand unique and their own, rather than merging them and making them a one size fits all, which I think is a good strategy because that's what makes the brands unique and what makes people passionate about the brands.

Mimi (06:19):

Right. That's great. And so you've been with eSalon for a year and in the past year, what have you brought to the table as far as marketing? Or how has it evolved, especially with COVID right now?

Vera (06:28):

Yeah, it's definitely been an exciting year. I think one important piece for me in that journey was that eSalon had, this year marks the 10th anniversary of eSalon. eSalon is the first that builds truly custom. And actually we're still the only brand that has truly custom hair color. So one important aspect of that though, is that when you look at custom was unique about 10 years ago has turned now into a brand attribute because so many brands are out there that are talking about the fact that they are custom. So how do we differentiate in a world where everyone speaks about being custom, which used to be a USP, but is no longer because so many friends talk about that. So what we've done is basically a workshop with our entire brand team and discussed a lot about how, how we define our brand in this world. And one thing that we noticed is that when we look at our brand archetype from a storytelling perspective, we are kind of a little bit everywhere we were talking about asking all about being individual and different, we're talking about ourselves as being a very technical brand, but really when we looked at all the messaging that was truly relevant and important for our customers, we were actually a companion brand. So looking at the model of storytelling here, we are really a brand that is by the side of their customers throughout the entire color journey. We have personal colorists that are available to our customers. And so what we really identified there was that the core of our brand moves away from customer individuality and something that seemed very technical to something that's very personal for us to be really the personal color is by the cipher, our consumers. Then that really changed everything we did in our messaging. Looking at, for example, our models being very approachable and relatable. They look into the camera, they smile at you or they're your friends versus a lot of beauty brands that play from a very, very distant kind of unapproachable image. So that's one of the examples of how we've really evolved our brand. And we will be sharing a relaunch with our customers very soon that will speak even more to the fact that we made every single item that is made, is made just for you. So I think that's been one major element. The other component was really brand building during COVID times, which we knew was such a difficult time or is still such a difficult time for so many people. We experienced actually a spike in demand. So knowing that we've been at it from the situation, we wanted to take that as an opportunity to give back because it really impacted all of our lives. And with our team, we discussed many different ways. So one example when COVID had was that we had a plethora of gloves. So, and we knew that medical supplies were tied. So that was something that was really important to us as to be able to donate, not just financially, but also with medical supplies needed. So we donate gloves, but at the same time we were discussing how many gloves can we donate? Are our customers going to accept that instead of two gloves, they're just going to get one. So we chose to go that route. We chose to share with our customers to say, we love you. And we know usually you prefer to have two sets of gloves in your color set. But in this case, we were have made the decision that we prefer to donate the gloves. So you will only have one set of gloves. And we got so much positive feedback from that because customers were seeing that we cared and that this matter to us, and that we're able to make changes quickly to share medical gloves, where they were needed the most. So those were a couple of examples where we had to adjust really quickly. We had a very high spike in demand and our HR team had hire many more colorists to support our team, many more customer service agents to ensure that we keep the same quality level. So it's been a very busy time for us. And then one other aspect was the launch of our new men's hair color lines. So launching a rent to income, it was definitely an adventure. We were lucky enough that we were able to do the concept development working with agencies, and also our photo shoots a little earlier on, but when it came to content creation for our acquisition advertising, all of that had to happen to remote. So we reached out to different influencers to see if they would be willing to film how to videos and campaign videos for us at home, safe at home, in their bathrooms. And they actually did. So we ended up having some really fun videos and they really played along and say, well, this is my tiny New York bathroom. It was a very real life scenario with a really small and New York apartment bathroom, things like that, that I felt made. Ultimately it was this picture. Perfect. No, but what did it make us more real and relatable? So we're all in this together and we are being creative to tell our story. Yes, I think it did. So those are some of the examples from, from the story of the past year.

Mimi (11:06):

That's exciting. I mean, I love the charity component to it. That's amazing. And then also the fact that you were able to start a whole other brand during it is great, but I'm curious just as from a marketing standpoint, why would you choose to do a brand separately, like name it, Color Smith versus just having another line within eSalon? I'm curious, like, is there a benefit that you would get from having it under eSalon or what was the benefit of having it separately from color? I'm not a marketing person, so I'm truly asking, I'm just curious why you would do this because I think there's a lot of entrepreneurs that probably have their go to product, and now they have another idea that could come out of compliment it or it's a completely different customer base. And, you know, should they be just creating a whole new brand or incorporating in their current brand? Yes,

Vera (11:54):

Absolutely. That's a very valid question. Actually, something we also have discussed quite a bit. So what ultimately led for us to be the driver and the decision was the following as eSalon, the way our brand is spilled, it is a very feminine, appealing brand. Our packaging, our core colors on the world of the pings, our models are telling the story of how they're going through transformation through change with new hair color. We're encouraging them to feel comfortable. And they're kind of doing hair at home and their own femininity. And when we look at the men's line, men actually have different insights when it comes to hair color, while women like to show that color change in many ways, usually men prefer to handle hair color in a way that is rather a discreet women will enjoy a compliment. Oh, you just came back from the stylist. You just changed your color. Men will be very hesitant about that as we've noticed from any color service that we've done, that was not just an assumption. And they prefer to have a more discreet approach to blending or the fact that they color their hair is not obvious. And so that's a major consumer insight that led us to build two different brands where eSalon will show you beautiful color transformations on the covers of the world. Whereas on the Color Smith side, we have built a brand and a gradual gray coverage program that will allow you to blend your grays over time so that you really can avoid the moment that someone says, Oh, did you just color your hair? Because our custom color technology will allow you to choose a program that allows you to blend your race step-by-step. So with your first order, they blend a little bit with your next order. They blend a little further with your next order. It's even a little farther. So again, a gradual transition program. So based on those two very different insights, we felt it was important to tell a different story. Something else that we noticed is that our advertising word men like kind of very real life imagery seems to do very well with men. So it's also good for us that from a branding and imagery perspective, we have a separate brand there. So when you have a different core insight and a different technology that you can offer and to even have different imagery that resonates in a different way with new audience, it's probably good to both the friends separately. So you can build an individual brand world for each one of them with hair color being as mentioned before a fairly sensitive topic for men that is not necessarily something that men want to speak about out of the gate or are proud of doing. I would probably be a different scenario in a world where your friend is a little more unisex and your insight and your consumer when you won't be the same.

Mimi (14:28):

Right. That totally makes sense. And what's good is you probably get the benefit of already having everything kind of set in place where you're just kind of doing the same. You know, setting up your company and being able to roll it out, leveraging off of your existing brand with just a new label or logo. Great. I love the concept of like the staging of the gray hair thinking they're not just doing it all at once. That's amazing. And then was it harder to get, I would assume it wasn't as hard to spreading the word because you already had an existing brand and also COVID and you're using the digital marketing to get the name out for Color Smith.

Vera (15:03):

Yeah, absolutely. And actually that was a big decision though for our organization. You're saying that we have built our organization to be like a multibrand platform, if you will, because for many people in our team, it was a true job enrichment. Now we'll be working on two brands. So what we did not do was build a separate team for color Smith, but what we did instead was basically enriching most of the roles and our teams so that people had the chance to work on both brands in different ways, building out their expertise in their difference, that specific field even further. So we have only very few people on the organization that are a hundred percent dedicated to either a salon or a color Smith. And so that being said, getting the word out. Yes. In terms of an advertising side, the majority of our advertising is done through Facebook and Google advertising. Yet at the same time, we have expanded further into different opportunities, such as brand partnerships to get the word out. And in addition, we also work with an amazing PR agency Ballantine's PR who has helped us out with fantastic editor relationships to get the word out as well. And so one thing that was important for us is, as we were telling and pitching our launch to the press is to build different stories around the launch. So not just coming with a message of here's your product, but basically building the different stories around the product, depending on which media outlet we were speaking to, which was very important for us. So yeah, we've had, we've done a lot to get the word out, but of course, more to come, it's still a young brand and we're still testing a lot to make sure we're testing different angles to see which ones are most effective.

Mimi (16:42):

That's great. If you could give some advice to a listener who's has a new brand, or is thinking about launching a new brand, what would you give as first advice for marketing or advertising to help them get their name out?

Vera (16:55):

Well, the advice I would give for people starting a new brand would be that it all starts with the story that you're looking to tell, because that is what makes your brand differentiated, distinct and interesting. So build your core brand values, build the mission of what you're looking to accomplish and the 

 needs that you're looking to fulfill. And then you can start to get the word out there. And my recommendation would be to always test different angles. Some brands do extremely well in Facebook and social media advertising either make a good story and PR, or it could be both combine the mix. It find different places where your audience might be looking to brand partnerships or different platforms where you can get the word out. Of course, in the pandemic, it's more difficult than usual circumstances, but it's always an opportunity to test different angles and then see what resonates most with your audience and where you get the best cost per acquisition. And then at the same time, while it's important to stay true to your story and stay true to your values, always observe what is out in the world. What is changing in your surroundings? Because we're in a time where change has never been faster than in today's world. So new platforms evolve, other platforms go what worked yesterday well for your brand may already be a fad tomorrow. So it's really important to constantly monitor your environment, stay connected on platforms, such as linkedin, Ted talks or some of my favorite places to get inspiration. Yeah. To always know that how do you have to adapt your story to be successful in different environments?

Mimi (18:26):

Right. That that's great advice. So a lot of times when people start out with a brand they're pretty limited on funds and PR agencies are super expensive to hire as an outside consultant. Is that something that you would recommend to do for a brand if they have limited funds, like that's where they would shoot to put their money towards, or is that something they can do on their own?

Vera (18:46):

I think a strong PR agency with very good editor relationships is incredibly helpful. So if the funds are available, I think it's good. I think it's also always an opportunity to partner for me. I would recommend a depends on what's the core message of the brand is and where people are going to be most likely to relate with your brand. Are people most likely to relate with your brand through media outlets or are you better off going to, obviously not in COVID times, but are you in regular times better off to find people where they usually tend to shop, but they usually tend to research for information. And of course, social media is another tool that allows to target people very specifically. So I would say, look at your brand and your story, and then evaluate where you have the highest chance of finding your customers and for them to be in a mindset where they're open to hear your story and see what you're offering.

Mimi (19:44):

So both answers you gave was very specific, like know your customer. So it sounds like it's very, very important to kind of really know your avatar customer. However you want to call it, like down to the detail, right. Almost I've heard before you almost want to make a picture in your mind or a picture exactly who that customer is and that's who you're targeting.

Vera (20:04):

Absolutely. Yeah. It's good to build that image. And of course, in some cases you have a vision of who you hope your customer will be and maybe add in reality or customer might be different from what you were hoping to reach. But at the same time though, I think it's important to paint that picture and to be very realistic with that picture. So make sure that you don't build a picture of someone that you just personally like, but think of where does this person shop? What are the struggles that this person has in everyday life? What are you trying to solve for them? So be very, very realistic in their day to day.

Mimi (20:34):

That's great advice. Okay. So, you know, we're all trying to like juggle life, right. Especially being home and you probably have tens of people that you're managing at work as well. How do you stay organized? Like, do you have any good tips? Are you a paper person? Are you a digital person? I think everyone's kind of always looking for, you know, what do you do in the morning that makes you be able to pack it all in a day and be super successful? Like what's the secret sauce? Like, do you have any secret sauce?

Vera (20:59):

Secret sauce? I wish, um, well just stay organized. It's definitely a magical question. But the one thing the first tip I would have is differentiate and said longterm goals, midterm goals, and short term goals. So let's use a brand as an example, you wish to do a relaunch in a year from now or in a month from now sets what you're looking to accomplish and what the values and the messaging are, and then make your roadmap towards that. It also applies towards life. I remember this year, my husband and I will be celebrating our 10 year wedding anniversary when we, when we just got together and we were super young, we were, we were just thinking about what all the things we wanted to do in life. And we were dreaming and we're thinking about, Oh, maybe one day we can have kids and maybe one day can, we can go abroad and think of all these things to a point where we're both very creative, we're both streamers. We got almost overwhelmed. We have all these ideas. We have all these plans, what are we going to do now? So we actually made a little, um, we painted like a little picture, almost like a little report to think about, okay, what do we want to do first? Because then that can add our, our time spent together 10 years later, there's so much that we've been able to accomplish, but it was also due to kind of a vision that we painted early on. So can you have dreams and can you think big? Yes. But sometimes it helps to kind of think of the steps that will take you there.

Vera (22:23):

And sometimes maybe you have to go one step at a time, but in order to do that, to have to have that longterm goal. So I think that helps me stay organized, but it's an in personal life, but also at work to know where we're tracking towards to be able to kind of reduce the workload into different steps. Another thing very day to day is beginning off the week, actually my team and I, we always get together to talk about our biggest success from last week, our most memorable moment from the weekend and our biggest priority for the coming week. So why is this helpful and important? Because speaking about the biggest success from last week allows, and it's a group of, of 19 allows to, to share and celebrate success together, to acknowledge each other and sometimes realize because we're all perfectionists, we all work really hard. Oh, I actually accomplished something really good last week. So I'm excited to share it also helps us understand what everyone else has going on. Cause sometimes we get so busy, we are in our own bubble. So we don't realize what everyone else is working on. So that helps us, especially in covert times, the memorable moment from the weekend helps to say, and it's on purpose. We've used to be the best moment, but sometimes it has to be a memorable moment because when a team member has something hard happen to them over the weekend and I've happens, it's a safe space to share, which helps people understand that doesn't mean that the person will talk for hours and hours about the personal life. No, but it's to something really tough happened to me this weekend. So it might be a little harder for me this week. It's that's okay. And that's what teams are there for. But most of the times people share just really wonderful things and that helps relate and know what's going on in everyone's personal life. Especially in COVID times when all our life right now with our team happens over zoom. So there's really no space for personal conversation in a way, because the meeting starts to talk about business, the meeting ends and everyone goes back to their work. So that allows that. And then the last very important piece that I'm coming to is the priorities for the coming weeks. So every team member will share their most important priorities. It requires everyone to kind of set their goals for the week. And that is what I do myself to say, what is, what are the most three most important things I need to accomplish this week? And then it goes even further down and on. That's something where I love traditional piece of paper to write down at the end of my day, what are the most important things that I have to accomplish tomorrow so that when I start fresh in the morning, I will not get distracted by going into Slack or emails right away. But to look at what's important to accomplish and kind of kick off those most important things first, before I then check what else has happened in the morning or who needs support from my side or whatever it may be. So that was kind of a long story on how to stay organized, but.

New Speaker (25:00):

I love it. That was awesome. I loved every part of it. And I love the three questions that you ask on the Monday morning meeting. I think that's fabulous and it ties up everything Right. That's success from last week, the personal needs During the weekend, and then, you know, tease up

Vera (25:16):

The week. How long do those calls last? I mean, 20 people that's a lot. I mean, each person could almost be talking five to 10 minutes, right? We actually keep a chart. We retry to accomplish it in like 30 minutes. So 30 minutes, sometimes 45 minutes, but usually we keep it fairly short because, and that's something important that when we introduced it first, it was, I think everyone has to enter the meeting, be mentally prepared to bring their contribution. And there was a definitely a risk that someone who was not entering the meeting prepared could start kind of mumbling along its list, which I will in a very friendly way, you know, suggest to everyone. It's not like, let me read. You might tend things that I just, you know, that I have to do because it's about what's your priority. Yeah. And I think it's helpful. And another aspect too, in order to time manage and stay organized is also choosing or planning your day always wisely. So meaning which means do I have to participate in every meeting? Probably not. It sometimes it's hard to let go, especially as our organizations grow or as we grow in our careers, we're used to being in every detail, but by being involved too much in every detail, we're also taking space and opportunity for someone else was growing and would like to own a piece of the puzzle as well. So I think making wise decisions on where to involve yourself or where to transfer ownership and responsibilities, I think is really important as well, to manage your own time wisely. I think that that's also been helpful for me to always challenge myself to say, should I be participating in this meeting? Should I be delegating this task? Or do I need to be involved yet at the same time for my team to know when you need me, I'll be, I'll be there for you.

Mimi (26:54):

Right. It's a great balancing act because you can just keep saying yes. Right. And the next thing you know, you didn't get your work done and it's five o'clock.

Vera (27:00):

Yeah, exactly.

Mimi (27:03):

Especially with zoom meetings, everyone says they don't even have time to go to the bathroom anymore. Cause they schedule them on the hour and then they last an hour and then the next one starts. And then, you know, when people manage a lot of people, like they're like, I'm just on a zoom meeting. I never even went to go to the bathroom the entire time we've got a drink of water. So yeah, it's so much harder, but this has been awesome. I really appreciate your advice and your time. And is there any other last words that you would either give to somebody who wants to kind of go through the corporate channel and become, you know, chief marketing officer or wants to start their own brand and kind of go for it from that way?

Vera (27:41):

Um, the biggest piece of advice I would give is to, I mentioned before the aspect of the storytelling. So owning your story, build your story yet at the same time, never be scared of change. The world has never been accelerating shiny pasture and today, so know your surroundings and never stop learning, find the right resources to educate yourself, listen to podcasts and learn from other people's stories. I mentioned Ted talks, Simon Sinek are great. There are great brand stories out there to learn from. So I think while you have to stay true to your own values, to always follow and observe carefully the world around you so that you can pivot quickly similar to how we just went through a major or we're just going through a major pandemic and it has challenged all of us, but by observing the surroundings well, I think, and by staying creative, you know, it allows us to get through difficult times as well. That's great. Yeah. Another aspect I would actually have is always allowing space for creativity. We get so busy with the day to day. So block time, take a piece of paper. Don't forget to be creative and brainstorm based on the inspiration that you receive. Sometimes a piece of paper independent, all you need to find the best ideas.

Mimi (28:56):

So true. I really agree with that. This has been amazing. I really appreciate your time and thank you so much for coming on today.

Vera (29:03):

Thank you.

Mimi (29:04):

Thank you for joining me on the baass CEO podcast. If you enjoy today's episode, please leave a review and see you next time. Thank you.