39 - Susan Kim, Kopari Beauty

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This is a podcast episode titled, 39 - Susan Kim, Kopari Beauty. The summary for this episode is: <p>In Ep. 39 of Earned, Conor sits down with a true industry titan: Susan Kim. Now the CEO of fast-growing, coconut-powered skincare brand Kopari Beauty, Susan previously led the marketing divisions of influencer-favorite brands Huda Beauty and Benefit Cosmetics. We start by learning about Kopari’s focus for 2022, and Susan shares why she’s prioritizing top-of-funnel brand awareness and articulating the brand’s DNA. We then dive into Susan’s global marketing experience at Benefit, hearing how it helped shape her approach to the diverse U.S. market. Next, we discuss Susan’s time at Huda Beauty, and she emphasizes the importance of understanding your community. Circling back to Kopari, Susan reveals the key opportunities that have contributed to the brand’s impressive growth. We explore Kopari’s strategies for driving organic awareness, and Susan explains why brands must build a strong foundation prior to testing out different tactics, before sharing her thoughts on traditional advertising. Finally, we hear about Susan’s authentic leadership style, and close the show by unpacking Kopari’s sustainability-focused rebrand.</p>
Kopari's Focus on Top-of-Funnel Brand Awareness
05:48 MIN
The Importance of Understanding Consumer Dynamics
02:20 MIN
Why Huda Beauty Prioritized Community Building
04:38 MIN
How Kopari Achieved Impressive Growth
07:16 MIN
Susan's Authentic Approach to Leadership
04:29 MIN

Conor Begley: My favorite line today from Susan was that," Other people collect things, I collect friends." You can see why Susan's been so successful in her career. I would tune in today. The depth of marketing knowledge on this one is high. Thanks again for taking the time. Remember, if you love the episode, be a friend, tell a friend, and subscribe. Thanks, guys. Enjoy the episode.

Intro: Influencers, inspiration, and Instagram, Instagram, Instagram. This is Earned by Tribe Dynamics. Here's Conor Begley.

Conor Begley: Hi, everyone. Welcome to Earned. Today we're going to learn from one of the best people I know in beauty, Susan Kim. Susan recently took over the helm as CEO of Kopari a little over a year ago, and your growth has been nothing sort of impressive, I'll say. You've also been a good friend of mine in Tribe for many years. Thanks for joining the show, Susan.

Susan Kim: Thanks, Conor. I'm glad to be here.

Conor Begley: I am kind of amazed that it took us to episode 40 to get you on the docket. We're way, way behind.

Susan Kim: Well, thanks for the invitation and the consideration. I'm happy to talk to you on air or off air. You know that.

Conor Begley: For those that don't know you, I'm going to do a little bit of bragging.

Susan Kim: My favorite part, by the way.

Conor Begley: So for some background on Susan, she did her undergrad at USC, where she was a Presidential Scholar for four years, then did five years in brand marketing at Mattel, followed by an MBA at Harvard, then eight years, primarily at LVMH, but a little bit of time at L'Oreal, and then SVP of Marketing at Huda, who had recently raised money at a billion dollar valuation. And then finally, CEO of Kopari, which I think this is part of the reason I wanted to delay your episode. I wanted to see if you were good or not at inaudible before I brought you on here. No, I'm just kidding. I mean, the numbers are crazy. I was running all the numbers last night. You're growing 95% year over year in EMV, since the time that you started. You are the fastest growing brand out of the top 30 skincare brands we track, and number three crosstalk-

Susan Kim: That blew my mind. That one blew my mind.

Conor Begley: Crazy, right?

Susan Kim: Definitely. Yeah.

Conor Begley: Yeah. And then went from number 62 to number 25, past Sunday Riley, Neutrogena, SkinCeuticals, et cetera. And then I know that you can't talk about it, but supposedly your sales have doubled in 2021, according to WWD and industry sources. But yeah, congrats. It's super impressive.

Susan Kim: Thanks so much.

Conor Begley: Both what you've done in the past, but particularly the last year.

Susan Kim: It's been a wild ride. I am fortunate to have amazing founders and a brand that is so full of DNA and an amazing team. So it's not one person show here by any means. And I'm just really grateful for the experience.

Conor Begley: Yeah. I can tell you, we now have at least three Kopari products in our shower and in our bathroom that are actively used, so something's working.

Susan Kim: Yay. I hope to fill up your shower and your bath time and your self- care, Conor, and get you from three to 25. How about that?

Conor Begley: Awesome. Well, I want to get into your background, but I really want to hear, you have cut your teeth as a marketer, especially a forward- leaning digital marketer. And so, I want to hear 2022, what's the plan? You've got some very precious kind of marketing dollars. How are you spending those? Where are you investing? Where are you not investing? Give me the plan for 2022 because I know that this is planning time right now.

Susan Kim: Yeah. We do have our budget set for 2022. We have high, high ambitions in terms of top line growth. We have some really great inaudible around skinification of body care, and there is just so much potential within body care, and as consumers, knowledge around ingredient profiles and formulations really deepen. There's an opportunity and a white space there with body care. So we are allocating our dollars where we believe that it's going to be the greatest impact on brand awareness, because that's what marketing dollars are supposed to do. We do have a good chunk into tools, like Tribe, which I believe we're paying way too much, crosstalk-

Conor Begley: Oh, right, right.

Susan Kim: ...but a good chunk, I would say 50% plus, is going to be spent on really harnessing our community, so our community of content creators, a community of influencers across platforms. So I think it's a really exciting time because of the unknown. Also, the ambiguity of iOS 14 and 15 that's coming out, and how that plays into our entire funnel. So we're going hard after upper funnel. We're going hard after all of the platforms, and especially leaning into TikTok.

Conor Begley: It's funny, you mentioned that comment off hand, which is using our marketing dollars to build awareness, which is what it's for. And actually, I would argue that the prevailing wisdom right now is very much focused on bottom of funnel, right?

Susan Kim: Yeah.

Conor Begley: How do I get last click attribution? How do I know exact ROI on this? Which it doesn't sound like the way that you spend your money.

Susan Kim: Oh my gosh. As e- commerce people, we are addicted to data. As a native D2C brand, we are addicted to data. Especially in this time of ambiguity, I have to go back to the basics, like marketing 101. A consumer has to be aware of your product and then be tipped into the basket. Right now, if we focus on that bottom of the funnel and that conversion, it doesn't make any sense for us, because we're relying on the platforms. The platforms are built to find the person who is most likely to tip into the basket. That is not controlling your messaging. That is not really going back to the basics around positioning and hierarchy of communications, and all of that within marketing 101, I would say. So I think that there's a real benefit to flipping that and thinking about it from upper funnel, and there's so much innovation in upper funnel right now, whether it be attribution for CTV, or even editorial in PR, or prospecting for direct mail, that there is a great opportunity there in upper funnel. And then letting the e- commerce team do what they're supposed to do, which is taking that pool of potential consumers and then tipping them into the basket. So I'm a big believer in brand awareness and really creating a very strong distinction of what marketing is supposed to do versus e- commerce.

Conor Begley: Yeah. No. That makes sense. And especially for a brand like Kopari. I think the people that like it are very passionate about it, but there's a lot of people that just don't know who they are yet, or who you guys are yet. And so, it's an important activity. Does that mix shift for a brand like Benefit that you were at? Do you still think of it the same way, if you're a big brand that most people know about, versus kind of an up and comer?

Susan Kim: You know, Conor, I started at Benefit when we were around like$ 250 million in sales. And I was at Benefit for around eight years or so, and I worked for Jean- Andre, who's amazing. And I remember in my interview with him, he's like," Yeah, we're going to be a billion dollar brand. We're going to sit along MAC and Estee Lauder, and we're talking about the big boys' table." And I'm like,"Okay, cool. You're supposed to say that because you're the CEO. I get it. But we're really small." We used to never do brand tracking studies, and then it started after I started, and we would measure how much brand awareness there was around Benefit. I'm talking 10 plus years ago, back then, people who knew about Benefit loved Benefit, because it made them laugh. They loved the products. They loved the problem solution, the packaging, and the names, and all of that. But not a lot of people knew about Benefit, and that was one of the challenges. So I find myself to be in the same position that I was when I started at Benefit. And one of the things that I'm really excited about is the richness of the DNA. One of the things I learned from Jean- Andre, which I think this is one of your other questions, but one of the things I learned from Jean- Andre over the years was the importance of DNA, a brand's DNA, especially if you're asking a consumer to pay a prestige price point. You're not asking them to buy a$ 4 eyeliner or whatever it is. You're asking them to pay up for an emotional connection with a prestige brand. And so, DNA is one of the things that we at Kopari try really hard to articulate, to cement, and to thread in every single thing that we do.

Conor Begley: Yeah, that makes sense. It's weird to think about doing$ 250 million in sales, and you're like," Awareness is still our issue." It's a crazy concept. It just gives you an idea of how big the market is, right?

Susan Kim: Oh, absolutely.

Conor Begley: That you can have that many people buying your products, and yet still the majority of people don't know you, or haven't tried you at least. Yeah. Let's go back a little bit. The thing I like to think about is, who's listening to this? So the people that are listening to this, occasionally there are people like you,, that are experienced and have achieved a lot in their careers. But a lot of them are going to be people that are just getting started. And so, they're making decisions in their 20s or early 30s or whatever. And so, I like to go back and say," Hey, what were some of the things that you learned?" And so, one of the decisions that you made that I thought was interesting was going back to grad school, going back to get your MBA at Harvard, after six to seven years, versus I think it's more common to be like three or four years. I honestly considered this for a very long time, but ended up just had to focus on Tribe. What was it that made you decide to go back? And would that be something that you would recommend to other people that are facing the same decision?

Susan Kim: Yeah. I mean, it definitely depends on an individual's idea of what they want to do and what they want to achieve. When I look back at that time, and I'm like," Oh my gosh. It was so long ago," but when I look back at that time, I was really having a moment back then. I was in toys and entertainment, and I did some really fun things at Mattel, like created new brands and really built a lot of dolls, a lot of fashion dolls, a lot of glitter, too.

Conor Begley: I'm in that stage right now. My kids are like three and one and a half, and the amount of toys that we have purchased is out of control.

Susan Kim: You know what's amazing? I went back and I found on eBay some of the toys that I created and bought it for my daughter when she was in that age, and it was just full circle kind of surreal to know-

Conor Begley: crosstalk.

Susan Kim: ...that my daughter was playing with a toy that I created. That was-

Conor Begley: That's so crazy.

Susan Kim: Yeah.

Conor Begley: I'm surprised they have that shelf life, that they would stick around for that long. I mean, you're-

Susan Kim: Ariel's Pop- Up Castle. Look it up.

Conor Begley: crosstalk.

Susan Kim: That was my favorite toy I created. No. So when I look back at that time, I could have stayed at Mattel forever. I love just lighting up kids and really surprising and delighting them. And I thought about what I wanted to do, and I, back then, thought that I wanted to become a management consultant. It just felt very sexy to me, like travel the world, and then go in and be a hired gun to solve problems, and do all this amazing analysis, right?

Conor Begley: Yep.

Susan Kim: I thought that was the world that I wanted to live in.

Conor Begley: McKinsey. Yeah.

Susan Kim: Exactly, BCG, the whole thing. And I thought that grad school would be a really great reset. So if you're changing industries or changing functions, it's a really great reset to be like, okay, actually what I really want to explore and do is not this but something completely different. Obviously, I am not a management consultant today, and I'm kind of grateful for that, but it-

Conor Begley: There's a reason that there's very few lifetime management consultants. I think it's like, you do it for a few years, and then crosstalk.

Susan Kim: That is true.

Conor Begley: Yeah.

Susan Kim: I think everyone who was a management consultant when I graduated, and today, I'm aging myself again, is no longer a management consultant.

Conor Begley: No.

Susan Kim: Yeah. But going back to grad school really helped cement my love for marketing, my love for the consumer focus, but also this bigger picture aptitude around business models, how to create sustainable business models and really look at it from a full focus around general management. And my years of experience, to your notes, six and seven, inaudible, three to four things for that, Conor. Really crosstalk-

Conor Begley: You know, some people are slower movers than others. I understand.

Susan Kim: Listen.

Conor Begley: You're just a little behind.

Susan Kim: Listen. I put this in quotes," best practice" is to go back three to four years because numbers will tell you the ROI on your investment of business school is because it's expensive, so you have the opportunity cost plus the cost of business school and living and all of that, is greater when you get younger. So as a lot of these business schools and their business modeling is around getting people to have a high willingness to pay, they're going to convince you the earlier that you come in the greater your ROI on it. I think I have great ROI on it. Bring friends, but what's the ROI measure? It's ultimately your life. And so, for anyone listening today, you'll hear things like quote, unquote," optimal time" and quote, unquote," best course of a career pathing." My advice is to be super purposeful about what you want to spend your precious time on and how you want to measure that time spent. So to each their own. I have a lot of thoughts around grad school. My time was amazing. I loved it. I wouldn't have some of the friends that I have today because of it. And the things that I struggle with today, I reach out to my HBS network, especially my friend group, and really just think about the ways that they approach certain things, even though they may not be in the beauty industry, some of them are D2C owners. Some of them are founders in different ways or just investors, for example.

Conor Begley: Totally. Well, I think I mentioned it on the podcast before, but I think one of the underrated elements that people don't take into in consideration, and obviously this wasn't a decision at the time that you made it, but is kind of this idea of personal branding. So now people search for you and they find information about you very quickly without your being involved. And so, I think that that kind of logo being attached to you actually matters more than it did in the past, because you didn't walk around with like your resume stapled to your chest, people saying, hey, this is where I've worked, this is what I've done, da da da da. So now I do think it takes on in a heightened role, and I do think that the idea of the reset seems to be kind of what I've found to be consistent in terms of people finding values, like I wanted to switch, I wanted to go here. I wanted to do that. So makes a lot of sense.

Susan Kim: Yeah. And that logo, while additive, and I tend to minimize it sometimes, which maybe I shouldn't, it's funny because when you go out to dinner in New York, you throw a penny and you could hit someone who's an HBS grad. We were sitting at a dinner table once in a restaurant and then we heard the table next to us, and they're like,"HBS," da da da da. We're like," Oh, class of 2011 is right next to us." The further you get from Boston, the more rare it is, I guess. And especially with the last name Kim, it travels very far with my family.

Conor Begley: Earned some brownie points with that one, I'm sure. If I'm reading your background correctly, I think you spent quite a bit of time on the global markets before shifting to the US markets. What differences did you notice between those two, and then how did that impact your approach to the US market? Because obviously you didn't live in those markets at least as far as I understand.

Susan Kim: Yeah. When I was at Benefit, I started in the global marketing role, strategic planning and global marketing. And I was fortunate enough to visit so many countries. Benefit operated in 52 different markets when I started. And it was a pretty difficult task of, I mean, as Annie Jackson would say, she would say herding goats or herding cats where each market had a different interpretation of what funny was or what LOL was or what the brand meant. And it was really being able to corral everyone together on a single stream around what the definition of the DNA is and the brand expressions in each individual market. And I really enjoyed that time because having a global lens with operating in a global brand is tremendously valuable for an organization. So when I look for marketers, I think about how much empathy can you have around consumer sets that may be different than what you are used to or expecting and those consumer differences. I mean, the biggest mistake in marketing is to project your own beliefs and behaviors onto your consumer set. I see it all the time, well, I-

Conor Begley: crosstalk.

Susan Kim: ...like this. Yeah. I like this.

Conor Begley: My sister likes this, and I like that.

Susan Kim: Yeah. And I would use this face wash because it brightens, whereas that may not be what the consumer set or your target market may want. And so, having this perspective around the differences of individuals that culminate into how you should think about your messaging and your hierarchy was beneficial for me. And as I think about that to the US and how that translates, the US is a really big country. I mean, each individual geographic region has their own culture. The consumer in Kansas has a very different experience than the consumer here in San Diego, for example. So having this hyperawareness of those dynamics will always serve marketers and business owners, I believe.

Conor Begley: Yeah. No, absolutely. It's tough. It's tough to get out of this is the way that I see the world. And so, why don't people see it the way that I see it? I've always found that those notions go away when you just talk to people, right. You just have conversations, you get feedback, you look at data, and then you come in and you kind of test your theories. Right?

Susan Kim: Exactly.

Conor Begley: Yeah, which, it seems super critical. I mean, frankly it's even critical in the US market where we live here, but I don't know what most people's experiences in the US are. I only have vague notions.

Susan Kim: Yeah. Yeah, exactly.

Conor Begley: So you spent a lot of time at LVMH, obviously Benefit specifically there. And I do think LVMH, it's become a bit of a gold standard when it comes to kind of finishing schools, particularly on the luxury side, but we'll say beauty, fashion, luxury, kind of all those sectors. What do you think were some of the most impactful learnings for you during your time at Benefit as well as at LVMH? What stuck out? Why have they had such consistent success over the decades?

Susan Kim: Yeah. I think with LVMH, what they do really well is this idea around Maisons. Each individual Maison has their identity and their DNA, and they're very big on DNA. Right?

Conor Begley: Yep.

Susan Kim: And so, they don't do things like shared services or they force you into a big RFP with agencies and suppliers and all of that. They let each individual Maison operate independently. So I wasn't talking to the Fresh people about how they approach marketing. I wasn't talking to some of the other brands around collective shared resources. That was not a thing. And this independence really allowed brands to thrive on the basis of their DNA. And so, working for someone like Jean- Andre, he was like," Be bold, take risks, as long as it's rooted in the DNA." I would come to him and be like," Hey, I think we should get vending machines that look like pink buses." And he'd be like," Cool."

Conor Begley: I still see those everywhere. And I think you guys-

Susan Kim: Aren't they so cute?

Conor Begley: ...you killed it with that one. It was-

Susan Kim: They're so cute. And they're margin contributive. That's the amazing thing. They're big billboards and margin contributive, which is great. No. He gave us a fresh runway in testing and iterating and learning and then doing better and better and better. I still hold that today in terms of this environment that we're in, how can we test, learn, do better, test, learn, do better? And so, I think LVMH as an umbrella company allows individual brands to be able to do that. You do have to be very confident in knowing what your brand is, the essence of your brand. And when I think back at my time at Benefit, we had visuals like They're Real! Mascara that was like art noir, black and white with a model with a little bit of tongue in cheek around the comment, they're real, to be really pink boutiques. That was really fun with big, bold lips and big, bold brows. And visually, there's not a strain there. There's not a connective strain there, but you could see how each individual element could be connected from the same brand because it was that tongue and cheek sort of LOL factor, which was a big part of the DNA there.

Conor Begley: Yeah. I think that in the discussions I've had with people, that element as well as kind of the long term view, which I think gets into this concept of DNA, is the thing that stood out to me about the way that LVMH approaches things. And I think it's actually a pretty stark contrast, particularly more in the beauty sector than in the fashion sector. But if you were to look at the way that some of the larger strategics operate, it's almost like a strip mining operation. You have this brand, it's growing very quickly, you buy it, you blow it out, you strip it down, you cut costs, and then you just ride it for as long as you can until the brand dies or it just continues at whatever rate. It's just such a different approach. Yeah, it's unique. I think it's the right way to do it.

Susan Kim: I mean, it's definitely if I was a management consultant today, I would be like, do it the L'Oreal way or the Estee Lauder way, go in, optimize in efficiency and all of that. But it takes a lot of risk as well as just confidence in brands that have strong DNAs. Right?

Conor Begley: Yeah.

Susan Kim: And how do you really maximize that versus below the line optimize operations?

Conor Begley: Yeah, for sure. Well, you spent some time at another brand that's got pretty strong DNA, pretty strong characters at Huda, right?

Susan Kim: Yeah.

Conor Begley: So I'd love for you to talk about that time, obviously what it's like to work with her and to work with the fantastic team, but then also, it's a very interesting time in that they had taken on a very large fundraising round. And I'm sure they're very long term thinking, but at the same time they took on this very large valuation in a time when makeup as a category was facing some pretty significant headwinds. So talk to me about kind of navigating that, what that was like, as well as just generally what it was like to work with somebody that's such a powerhouse.

Susan Kim: Yeah, I mean that time-

Conor Begley: Or a family, frankly, that's such a powerhouse. Their whole family crosstalk-

Susan Kim: Yeah.

Conor Begley: ...that.

Susan Kim: Yeah. That time was super exhilarating. And also, I was in perpetual jet lag as I was going to Dubai every six weeks, so that was fun. For anyone who doesn't have jet leg, that's a fricking superpower. I don't know how people do it.

Conor Begley: I used to be able to do it. I can't do it the same way I did before. I can still do it, but it's tough.

Susan Kim: I love my sleep. I don't get much of it, but I love my sleep. Anyways, it was awesome. I mean, I was employee number two in the LA office. We were in a WeWork. We built teams, we built processes. We built things, and it was incredible spirit of just doing great work and get stuff done with a great team like Mike McNeil and Nathalie Kristo. I mean, my title was SVP of marketing, but I was responsible for US marketing, global digital, global e- commerce, global e- tail. Oh, and by the way, why don't you also open Asia, Korea and China?

Conor Begley: Yeah. Wow.

Susan Kim: That was-

Conor Begley: You had launched Wishful, too, right?

Susan Kim: crosstalk.

Conor Begley: You launched Wishful during that time.

Susan Kim: We launched Wishful. We also had Kayali. I mean, it was a pretty phenomenal time of fast growth and lots of projects. We built massive e- commerce business and we together her blog and her e- comm into one site. We brought the payment processing from Dubai to the US. We did it with three people, this whole e- commerce machine. And that e- commerce business is much bigger portion of the pie than it was when I started, so super proud of that. But this idea of rolling up your sleeves and just doing it yourself because who else is going to do it? And it is this indie spirit that I just absolutely love and I'm quite frankly addicted to. Huda and her family, Alya and Mona are just amazing people. I mean, I would say to Huda," Oh, we should post this or we should do that." And she knows her audience so well. She will say," Oh, it won't resonate with my audience," or," Oh, they'll find that funny." She just knows her feed and her community super, super well. One of the things I took away from that was this closeness with the consumer is so important to the essence of a prestige beauty brand. It's simply as you're thinking about all the different ways that they're have a touch point with the brand, that direct line is such a valuable asset. And I say valuable asset as a business person, but Huda just knows her fans. She knows them. And she knows who's going to comment, and she knows like who's going to repost. One of the first things that I did when I came to Kopari as a result of that learning was to get all the passwords to all of our platforms and just moderate on our platforms. I mean, my social team is deathly scared whenever I do that. But for the most part, really getting to know the consumer, spending a little bit of time on customer service and spending time in the stores is so, so important. You're not in a vacuum anymore. And so, chargergirl777 always comments and likes on our posts, every single one, and knowing who the super fans are and knowing the community, that's super important.

Conor Begley: Yeah, for sure. I mean, I've talked about it a dozen times, but the special thing about the internet is the ability to connect directly with your customers regardless of physical boundaries in a way that's meaningful and that you couldn't do when everything was retail. And so, it's just consistent with what we see work. So let's hop into Kopari. Obviously, you mentioned it. The last year, and Kopari was a great brand before, but I think the last year has been really impressive. I mean, I cited the stats earlier. When you came in, I would hope that a lot of this came from you. So when you came in, what were some of the things that you saw opportunity for kind of growth improvement, whatever you want to call it, that you implemented that you think had an impact on it?

Susan Kim: Yeah. I mean, I would like to say my impact was day one, but it wasn't. Trust me.

Conor Begley: crosstalk to know the brand and the community.

Susan Kim: Yeah. There's a lot of long term things that needed to be done and not fixed, but really focused on, and then some short term things that won some immediate ROI. The long term things, and this continues to evolve every single day, but it's that articulation of the DNA. Kopari is one of the richest when it comes to the DNA. I remember I learned about the brand because my team, my very young and very cool team at Benefit, back then was like, have you heard of this brand? It's amazing, from San Diego. And I was like, oh, okay. I'll just keep tabs on this brand, just keep my eye out for it. And I remember thinking that it just is so rich in DNA, founded in La Jolla with four founders and really this clean way of living, articulating that into clean formulations. That's one of the first beauty brands that was super clean in the category like some five years ago. Right?

Conor Begley: Yep.

Susan Kim: When there wasn't this big category explosion. So we continued to work on articulating the DNA and torturing my founders and being like, why the wave, why the turquoise, why coconuts? And really torturing them quite frankly. And then building out a product architecture that is specific for prestige beauty, which is where we operate in. We had come out up with a couple of products that was within personal care and our deodorant took off and it's an amazing formula, but that's not necessarily the business model that we want to operate in today. We are a prestige body care and skincare brand with personal care as an extension of our current lineup. And how do we think about our assortment and our architecture in the long run to fulfill that consumer demand in the places where we sell? And so, really being able to clarify that and create a framework around that for the long term has been helpful, I believe. And then organic awareness. Again, people who know us love us, but not a lot of people know us, So organic awareness through our community and really leveraging all the different ways that we could increase that top line awareness. I also am a big believer in being the owner of our own destiny and articulating what our destiny is. And because our D2C business is such a big percentage of our total business, we were able to drop newness when we wanted, how we wanted, and help prop up that traffic issue in the era of iOS 14. Right?

Conor Begley: Yep.

Susan Kim: And so, we see it in the results. You named the EMV, but also our social engagement is crazy these days. We were last among the brands that we tracked in the beginning of 2020 in terms of engagement. And this year alone, we've garnered the number one position in engagement four months out of the year. So it's resonating with our consumers as we think about newness and core and that mix. And we are continuing to ride on that wave. And 2022 is really when you're going to see some amazing stuff from us.

Conor Begley: Let's dive into that organic awareness piece because I think that just the results over the last year are super impressive. And obviously, that's something that we pay a lot of attention to. There's a lot of people that want to do what you did, which is go from number 60 to number 20 whatever and blah, blah, blah.

Susan Kim: Number 12 in March, just wanted to point that out. Just wanted to point that out.

Conor Begley: Heading in the right direction, too. Get real tactical with me there. Actually, before we get that, you said D2C is such a big portion of your business. How big? Is it 10%? crosstalk.

Susan Kim: I'm not going to tell you that. Come on, Conor. Why are you asking me that?I'm not going to tell you that.

Conor Begley: I got to put it out there. I got to ask. Okay. I think your point though on-

Susan Kim: You tried.

Conor Begley: ...not being beholden. I tried. Not being beholden to some third party because you control your own destiny is a really big benefit of being so strong direct to consumer. Okay. Let's go back to awareness. I tried there. Let's go back inaudible, see if you let it slip. So awareness. What has worked? What are some of the things that you guys are doing that you think are really innovative?

Susan Kim: Yeah. I mean, it's back to the basics, I believe, around the consumer journey, the consumer loop, and really creating that loop around advocacy and back to the basics around positioning, product positioning and hierarchy of communication. People will say, oh, try this tactic and try that tactic and try this platform or try this tool. Tactics and levers are good. However, I think fundamentally your brand has to not only really resonate with your target audience but have the right assortment, the right pricing, the right distribution, all the basics, the four PS of marketing, right?

Conor Begley: Yeah.

Susan Kim: To then add a layer of tactics. And so, if you do tactics without having that foundational work, it's going to fall flat like, oh, we tried that tactic a year ago and it didn't work. Well, a year ago, your framework or your architecture may not have been in the right place. So I think about that a lot, like when can we start utilizing some really amazing tactics? And I have a couple of ideas, but we're not there yet. You'll start to see some of it in this year once we get our architecture and assortment and pricing right. And so, there's a lot of work done on the foundational pieces. And it's interesting because being able to affect that right now is super exhilarating and so much brain work that it's super fun to dive into.

Conor Begley: Yeah. It's funny, the way that you talked about that, I mean, it just makes me think about this podcast. This podcast is a tactic. And if we had tried to do this when we started Tribe, it wouldn't have gone anywhere because we didn't know anybody, nobody knew us, we had no credibility, et cetera. But now because we've built relationships over years and years and years and years, it just makes it much easier to actually do it. And we built an audience that trusts us, right?

Susan Kim: Yeah.

Conor Begley: When we talk about things. And so, yeah, I think you're right. Thinking of tactics in context of who you are, where you are in the journey, what are you actually able to do versus not do is super important. Interesting. Okay. So I'm going to pull a quote that I don't even think you like, but I'm going to pull it, that you were quoted on that," Traditional advertising does not work." First, you were quoted in the article saying that. You don't have to agree with it because I know how the press works. It's not always the perfect quote. But one, at what point did you start kind of realizing that? That's the first. Question. Second question is, do you guys dabble at all? Have you tried anything out? I was just talking to a brand called Fair Harbor, which is a fantastic men's apparel brand. And he's like," You know what, we started doing radio advertising," and he's like," It kills it, just absolutely kills it." So have you tried dabbling in anything inaudible?

Susan Kim: inaudible.

Conor Begley: And is that something you would do in the future?

Susan Kim: Yeah, listen, I started my career as an intern for BBDO in Chicago for Big League gums.

Conor Begley: Okay, very good.

Susan Kim: And back then I was recording radio messages or project managing that as an intern, so I'm really aging myself here. And I think I said that in the context of traditional advertising in the era of digital disruption and leaning into that disruption. So I agree with my former self to a certain extent, but I also disagree with my former self. Given the current challenges around performance market and targeting and segmentation, I think that there's real innovations that's happened over the last couple of years because traditional advertising without signaling and without attribution, I don't think is a worthy endeavor. Now there's so much innovation around CTB and programmatic and PR and editorial even and direct mail, I mentioned, that what's old is new again. And there's a real benefit that I found when you start integrating messaging and integrating platforms. And so, we've tested a few things here and there. What I would say, it's not just the tactic itself, but it's what you're communicating about. I saw a piece of artwork that was just a whole bunch of products and then was just like, give the gift of, whatever, the season. And I was like, no, let's go into the product. People want to know what are they supposed to do. It's supposed to be like, here's this amazing product, and here's what it does. And it's going to solve this problem. And you should believe me because of A, B and C. Give them a very strong purpose and a very strong CTA call to action of what they're supposed to do. It's not only the platforms and the medium but also what you are communicating and the piece of creative that you're communicating with.

Conor Begley: Totally. It's so funny because I just have this Fair Harbor story fresh in my head. They create these. It's all out of plastic bottles. They originally did swim trunks and whatever else. And he's like," Yeah, it's funny though, what people actually latched onto is we have a liner, and it's a different kind of liner, and it's anti- chafing. It doesn't chafe." He's like," We just started pushing that messaging because that's what people latched onto." And he's like," That's what works in radio ads. We have anti- chafing swimwear, and people are just like..." But it's like you said, what am I going to get out of this? And that direct call to action worked really well for him.

Susan Kim: Chafing is a big issue. You could use our deodorant for anti- chafe.

Conor Begley: Exactly. And it's funny, that wasn't the plan. That wasn't what he thought was going to be the benefit, but it kind of emerged. Let's talk about leadership a little bit. You've talked about the CEO of Benefit, who is possibly the one that I've heard about the most. I don't know if I'm just too in the Benefit community, and so I just hear about him all the time. But I would actually turn the mirror a little bit and say that I've always heard really good things about you as a leader. Right?

Susan Kim: Huh.

Conor Begley: Huh. Surprising?

Susan Kim: Right. I want the names of the people who didn't say good things about me.

Conor Begley: I'd love to hear a little bit about what your approach is to leadership as well as management, so managing teams, managing people. What does that look like? What are your systems? Do you weekly one- on- ones? What have you found that works well for you in managing and leading?

Susan Kim: It's so funny. You know what's so funny? Some people ask me, what's your leadership style? I don't think I have one.

Conor Begley: Totally.

Susan Kim: I guess my leadership style is authentic. I don't know.

Conor Begley: That's a thing, right?

Susan Kim: Yeah. I mean, look, some people collect purses, some people collect watches. I collect friends. That is my thing. And the best parts to me is reflected in my community. And I'm grateful you're a part of it. I'm grateful for Toto and Annie Jackson and Kory from [e.l.f. 00:40:23] and Melanie from Versed. I really think about how we land with each other, not only in this community, but with my team and also with my board. We all grow up in a world where you're pitted against one another. You'. Re graded on a curve, you see dramatizations of schools saying, look to your left, look to your right. One of you won't be here. And I've seen it in real life where people want to, quote, unquote," take down" other people or they're competing against other people in a really negative way. I truly, truly believe that it does not take away from you when you build up others.

Conor Begley: inaudible.

Susan Kim: Actually, it adds to the richness of life. I truly believe that. And so, as builders of businesses, we're so keen every day to set goals and hit our KPIs. And in the context of life and leadership, I really think about how will we be measured at the end of all of it? Right.

Conor Begley: Yep.

Susan Kim: And how do we think about hitting those life KPIs and saying that it was a success. There is this quote from Clayton Christen, who was a Harvard professor of mine. And he recently passed away last year, and he was famous around this framework for life KPIs. And he said," Think about the metric by which your life will be judged and make a resolution to live every day so that at the end, your life will be judged as a success." And we're so keen on closing that collab or making that product or hitting in stock percentages or hitting launch metrics. But at the end of the day, we're all just people trying to do the best we can and build on one another. And so, that kind of threads everything I do, whether it be with family, with friends, my team. So I guess in a roundabout way, I don't really have a leadership style.

Conor Begley: I think what you described is one. I mean, because it's natural. It's survival. You're short term focused. And in a lot of ways, it's funny. I've read a few of Clayton's books, and he's fantastic.

Susan Kim: Phenomenal.

Conor Begley: It's interesting you say, how you will be judged at the end of your life. And actually, I think the judge that matters the most is you. How will you judge your own life at the end? Because that's kind of, I think to me, ultimately the toughest judge, at least for myself.

Susan Kim: I will say that on my tombstone, I will want the number one fastest growing inaudible.

Conor Begley: Also, that is part of the judgment criteria at the end. You're rolling out, what was your EMV from crosstalk?

Susan Kim: Exactly.

Conor Begley: What were your tactics? Absolutely. Well, I want to ask one more question, and then we'll do a fun end of show question that was actually furnished by Toto. So you're going to inaudible. You guys went through a really big rebranding, repackaging, rethinking of the brand. It just launched in the last week or two, or I think recently you're doing the kind of partial roll out during the holidays and then full roll out afterwards. And it seems like a lot of that commitment is around sustainability, the environment, clean beauty, these kinds of things. I took the time, I looked up where your husband works as well, and he also works in clean energy. Their motto is clean, reliable energy affordable for everyone in the world. So I have to imagine that this has shaped not only part of the reason probably why you chose Kopari in the first place, but also has to have been part of the reason or part of the rationale, or not the rationale, but kind of the reason that you pushed this direction was both personal as well as brand DNA.

Susan Kim: Listen, I would never give my husband the satisfaction to know that he influences me whatsoever. That is the signs of a good, strong marriage. inaudible competition. Conor, you're setting me up here. No, he works for a company called Bloom Energy. They are doing fantastic, fantastic things. He's been in energy and renewable energy for a very long time. And he talks about kilowatt hours all the time. I usually fall asleep like two minutes in to the conversation around kilowatts, so that's really fun. But while I would love to take credit for really driving the sustainability piece of our brand DNA, that has always been part of the brand even before me. And so, Kopari has always been focused on sustainability. We live right by the ocean here in La Jolla. We're right by La Jolla Cove. And we see the ocean every single day, and we're really inspired by it. So that kind of threads into the sustainable piece but also the transparency of our new packaging into seeing our formulation. And we're able to drive it further with that repack by diversifying our supply chain, working with partners, and choosing who we work with based on what are they able to do from a sustainability piece. It's really hard to have transformative supply chain that is anchored in sustainability. I think the industry has come a long way since years before, but I think that there's still a lot of work to do. And more than anything, this is a core tenant of our DNA, and we're going to be thinking even beyond just packaging because that's one component of sustainability. We're thinking about upstream and downstream and all the ways that we're in and impacting our footprint but this deep sense of responsibility, not only as a brand but as an industry and really thinking about how we collectively work together to combat some of the things that are happening with climate change. And I think Melanie has done a phenomenal job by corralling all the beauty by together as a industry for code red for climate and continuing that journey.

Conor Begley: Yep. And that's Melanie Bender, the president-

Susan Kim: Of Versed.

Conor Begley: ...of Versed.

Susan Kim: Who has amazing brows, by the way. I always think about brows.

Conor Begley: I've talked about Melanie before, but we tried to hire her as our first kind of head of business development, sales, et cetera. And she couldn't do it because her husband I think, was getting his PhD from UCLA. We thought being in the same location was important back then. Yeah, so definitely jealous we didn't get her, but she's awesome. So let's do one fun end of show question. This one comes from Toto, who's a previous guest, SVP of marketing or global marketing at Huda, or not Huda.

Susan Kim: No, Benefit.

Conor Begley: Benefit. He used to work with you.

Susan Kim: One of my favorite people.

Conor Begley: Yes. For those that don't know, Susan dresses up her entire family, just finished Halloween, dresses up her entire family in a variety of themed costumes. But he wants to know what your most elaborate costume was in terms of time spent making it. This doesn't have to be during the family time. This could be in previous years. What was the one that you spent the most time on, and what-

Susan Kim: crosstalk.

Conor Begley: ...did the process look like?

Susan Kim: These costumes were at first really fun to do, and now they're burden because they're like, oh, we can't wait for the family holiday card and we can't wait for the Halloween shoot. Now it's a burden. For Halloween, I have to make a family costume and then the kids get their individual costumes because they don't want to dress up like Squid Games. inaudible. That was this past year. It was so inappropriate. But I think the hard one was I had dressed up my daughter as Daenerys from Game of Thrones, long blonde wig, chiffon dress, little dragon and all, so that was a fun one. And then when my son was around two, I dressed him as inaudible with the wig and the gloves and the tuxedo. I think those are my two favorite. By the way, he's six and still has no idea who inaudible. I was like, " You'll get it later." And then I don't know for the holiday cards, those are hard because I like Photoshop myself and I do have a green screen that I make my kids do individual pictures and then I layer them on. So there was this one Christmas card where my son was chewing on an electrical cord, my daughter was lighting the painting on fire, and I was just making martinis with my husband in the background.

Conor Begley: Oh, man.

Susan Kim: Those are fun.

Conor Begley: I love it. Well, I really appreciate you taking out the time today. I know I learned a lot. I'm sure everybody else learned a lot as well. And congrats.

Susan Kim: We got a little deep. We got a little philosophical, Conor.

Conor Begley: crosstalk.

Susan Kim: Yeah.

Conor Begley: Wow. Yeah. No, that was a good time. I knew it would be. I just can't believe it took us 40 episodes to do it. Also, those numbers are wild, number one, number one.

Susan Kim: Number one.

Conor Begley: That's pretty good.

Susan Kim: I want you to text Joe at Youth To The People.

Conor Begley: He'll appreciate that one. Awesome, Susan. I appreciate it.

Susan Kim: Thanks, Conor.

Conor Begley: Bye.

Intro: Hit subscribe now. Earned by Tribe Dynamics. Tribe Dynamics unlocks your social media influencer community. Our platform not only tracks and measures your best influencer relationships but discovers new influencers to grow your business through earned media. Get started with a demo today at tribedynamics. com, tribedynamics. com.


In Ep. 39 of Earned, Conor sits down with a true industry titan: Susan Kim. Now the CEO of fast-growing, coconut-powered skincare brand Kopari Beauty, Susan previously led the marketing divisions of influencer-favorite brands Huda Beauty and Benefit Cosmetics. We start by learning about Kopari’s focus for 2022, and Susan shares why she’s prioritizing top-of-funnel brand awareness and articulating the brand’s DNA. We then dive into Susan’s global marketing experience at Benefit, hearing how it helped shape her approach to the diverse U.S. market. Next, we discuss Susan’s time at Huda Beauty, and she emphasizes the importance of understanding your community. Circling back to Kopari, Susan reveals the key opportunities that have contributed to the brand’s impressive growth. We explore Kopari’s strategies for driving organic awareness, and Susan explains why brands must build a strong foundation prior to testing out different tactics, before sharing her thoughts on traditional advertising. Finally, we hear about Susan’s authentic leadership style, and close the show by unpacking Kopari’s sustainability-focused rebrand.