In a fast-paced industry that’s always looking for the next opportunity, beauty brand marketers have to have their finger on the pulse; but understanding the industry from the inside isn’t enough. You have to be closely connected with the market from a consumer perspective too. Matt Teri is the co-founder of clean men’s grooming brand Huron, with previous VP roles within the Estée Lauder Companies. He’s known for his innovative, human-centered, and highly effective approach to beauty brand marketing, and has helped drive the growth of brands including (but not limited to) Tom Ford Beauty and Lab Series skincare for men. So how does Teri get a handle on the market, and create the building blocks for a successful new brand?

Why Sell Beauty Products Anyway? 

“Huron,” Teri explained, “is founded on the premise that guys everywhere deserve really great personal care products that fit into their daily lives. We recognized the opportunity to create a range of products earmarked for the super premium customer and bring them to a guy looking to invest in himself — who doesn’t know where to start, where to go, and doesn’t want to spend $75 on skincare.” 

This founding premise is an example of the power of simplicity; of having a strong ‘why’ for your brand, that you can explain succinctly and that makes sense in the market you’re launching into. I see loads of new brands come to the market with a strong mission, but without a ‘why’ that makes it relevant for that market, at that moment in time. And without that, it’s much harder to connect with the right customers. Finding a succinct reason for selling your products isn’t as easy as Teri makes it sound, though; and the impact of his industry experience can’t be underestimated when it comes to identifying a strong consumer need. 

“Having worked across men’s brands in the prestige space,” he noted, “there’s a larger, under-served middle ground of male consumers that we had opportunity to connect with.” So the market for Huron was clear — and the question the brand faced wasn’t why to create products for that market, but how to “build the best quality personal and self-care products, help them [that market] save without sacrificing performance, and establish a direct relationship with them for the best user experience.” 

A Customer-First Approach Sets A Brand Up To Be Loved

For Teri, the customer has always been central to the building of a brand. His passion for the beauty and personal care industry comes from its relationship with the people it serves.

“What you create has an impact on people’s everyday lives. Consumer insights and direct customer connection is critical and it’s our role as marketers and innovators to translate trends and inspiration into products and experiences that not only perform, but make them compelling, relevant and enjoyable. It’s important to consistently listen and learn, then connect the dots to surprise, delight, and inspire.”

This approach extends far beyond Huron’s launch, and reaches into the customer journey at every stage, and for each of the brand’s products. “Product tells the story,” Teri told me, and is at the core of all the different touch points that a customer meets. “From the moment someone sees your product, or reads a review, the internal process starts between perception and consumption.” So understanding the brand’s audience, knowing how they shop and how they use cosmetics and what matters most to them, allows a brand to establish its relevance and credibility for that crowd.

With Customer-First At The Heart Of Operational Strategy, Too

Huron is a DTC brand, which Teri said “is an important part of our operational model.” For a brand built on the needs of its niche, with goals to reach a subsection of under-served consumers, DTC makes perfect sense. “It allows us to sell directly to the customer, passing value onto them, and in the process this direct relationship allows us to improve the customer experience.” 

So not only does DTC fit the particular audience for the brand, it also enhances the brand’s ability to hone its voice and exercise control over the entire customer journey — because direct interaction with customers continues to inform brand decisions, and ensures the messaging stays on point. “Putting the customer first,” Teri went on, “and viewing everything we do through that lens has fostered a culture of honesty, transparency, and building strong customer relationships.” 

Building customer needs into the very fabric of a brand’s strategy isn’t something that all brands get right — but when they do, it lays strong foundations for customer loyalty. And the fact that Huron is built in this way is, perhaps, a credit to the marketing minds behind the brand; marketing isn’t something that happens at the end of the line. Marketing strategy is inextricably linked with every other stage of brand and product development, because the customer has always been front of mind. 

From the moment of launch, Huron put meaningful connections at the heart of its marketing efforts, with the development and socialization of the brand persona a clear focus for Teri and his team. “Brand engagement through social media and email marketing was key,” he said, “as was the ability to establish authentic relationships with our consumers, ambassadors, and brand advocates.” 

One of the ways in which the brand has forged those relationships is through the Huron Community —  a group of highly engaged customers, which “helped us gain a deeper understanding of who he and she is, and we invite them to collaborate with us — from testing new products, offering up feedback on design, even the overall user experience.” 

Here at BBJ over the last couple of years, I’ve talked about a number of brands that are leveraging private communities to integrate marketing with product development. And Huron’s collaborative approach to this is increasingly popular among forward-thinking companies, particularly in the DTC space. Hosting an effective community isn’t just about providing a place for customers to interact — instead, it’s about making the most of that community (no matter what size) to garner invaluable customer insights, and create a sense of involvement and ownership around the brand and new products.

So How Do You Find The Next Fresh Idea? 

What we can learn from Teri’s approach is less about coming up with flashy new ideas to wow the market, and more about knowing the market itself. It’s something all brand founders understand to some level, but also something that many forget — it’s easy to give in to the pressure to execute the most exciting and original ideas, instead of drilling down into some (perhaps less exciting) serious market research to build an understanding of what is, and is not, needed by the customer. 

For Huron, the building blocks of this fresh brand were simple: industry experience, and a solid understanding of the market. A clear why, succinctly defined in terms of the target audience. And a customer-centric approach to absolutely everything; from brand conception and product development, to ecommerce design, social media marketing, and shopping experience. 

Teri agreed that Huron’s early success hasn’t happened out of the blue, but is rooted in a great deal of experience — and I’d say there’s a lot of patience in the mix, too. When someone works in the beauty industry for a long time, there are numerous moments in their career when they could launch a new brand. But Huron’s launch seems to have been perfectly timed not only for its demographic, but for the readiness of that demographic to invest more time and attention into their personal care routines.

“Working across organizations of various sizes, complexities and stages of growth,” Teri noted, “you’re able to take those learnings across many functions and apply them in a way to help streamline processes, avoid costly mistakes, accelerate speed-to-market and better understand overall operational, logistical and financial efficiencies. You learn the value of reaching outside your organization and establishing relationships with partners who, together, can help propel a business forward. These partnerships and relationships are something we really take to heart.” 

And at the consumer-facing side, “you learn the touch points that help you connect with your audience and make them love your brand. There are pivotal moments in the customer journey that make a huge impact. Especially today, to build a relevant brand you have to go deeper into  consumer understanding, understand their behaviors, and learn where and how they like to interact with your brand.”

For brand marketers who haven’t built a much-loved beauty business yet, Teri’s perspective can serve as real inspiration. Because selling the products and/or brands that you’re working with right now is building your industry experience and deepening your understanding of cosmetics consumers and markets. Everything we do in our industry is, in a way, market research — especially if we share Teri’s human-centered perspective on products and messaging. Every product that sells (or doesn’t) teaches us something about the interaction between a brand and its audience. You might not have launched the right product to the right market at the right time, yet — but the more you engage with beauty consumers, the more likely you are to notice when there’s a genuine need, and know how to meet it.