Earned Ep. 26: Marianna Hewitt on Why Being an Influencer Was the “Greatest Preparation” for Launching Summer Fridays

Skincare Podcast
marianna hewitt summer fridays

In Episode 26 of Earned, we chat with the one and only Marianna Hewitt, powerhouse influencer, host of the Life with Marianna podcast, and co-founder of sustainable, fast-growing, and oh-so-Instagrammable skincare line Summer Fridays. The brand ranked among the Top 10 skincare brands by EMV in Q1 2021 and proved the second-fastest growing, with its $11.6M EMV representing a 46% YoY increase.

 

In the episode, we explore how being an influencer equipped Marianna to be a brand founder, and conversely, how being a brand founder has made her a more effective influencer. But first, we learn why Marianna, who now boasts over one million followers on Instagram, started her blog in 2014, and how she built her passionate fanbase before working as an influencer was an established career path. Marianna then shares how the influencer landscape has since evolved, with the rise of new content creators and new social platforms. We dive into Summer Fridays, which Marianna launched with fellow influencer Lauren Ireland in 2018, and hear how the pair’s lessons as influencers (and inadvertent consumer research) informed the brand’s development by helping Summer Fridays formulate effective products and think “social-first” with Insta-worthy packaging. We also unpack why Summer Fridays debuted with a single product (the hero Jet Lag Mask), and discuss the brand’s hypergrowth and continued success. Finally, we talk about Summer Fridays’ influencer marketing strategy, as Marianna emphasizes the importance of brand alignment and giving influencer partners creative freedom over their content.  

We’ve included a few discussion highlights from the episode below, but be sure to check out the full video above, or tune in to the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Google Podcasts!

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The following interview has been lightly edited for concision.

“Being an influencer was the greatest preparation I could have had for starting a brand”: How Marianna’s Influencer Career Informed Summer Fridays’ Development

 

Conor Begley: I'd love to hear about what from your content creation career did you bring to Summer Fridays that influenced the brand? What learnings did you bring from one to the other as you transitioned? 

Marianna Hewitt: We started working on Summer Fridays in 2016, so I don't think that Instagram Stories were around at that time, but whenever I would get products from a brand, they would want me to post on my Instagram, and I was like, I love the product, but maybe the packaging just isn't great. So thinking about content creation at this point, we didn't know we were going to launch in Sephora, so we were like, if we're going to be a DTC brand, if we're, e-comm only, how do we get people to want to try something just from seeing what it looks like in a picture? So in addition to having really amazing formulas that were effective, we wanted to combine that with great marketing and great packaging. 

We found that either products had great packaging and the actual product was not great, or the product was great and we didn't love the packaging. So we thought about Instagram, and we thought about, how will this translate for a picture and how will people want to take a picture and share this product? So we came up with the idea for the tube for our first three masks, and we loved that because one, it was sustainable—and obviously sustainability has taken off, so in 2016, we were ahead of the curve thinking about aluminum packaging that long ago. So we had sustainable packaging, and it was photogenic. I remember when we got our first samples of the packaging, instead of just looking at it, we took pictures on our iPhone, and then we looked at what the picture looked like in a square. And we were like, make the logo bigger, so if you're taking this in a flatlay, you can see Summer Fridays really clearly. We thought about it from a content creation standpoint. 

And then, because we knew at the time, this was the phase of only pink and white Instagram feeds, no one was posting a color ever. Millennial pink was such a thing at the time, it was like Glossier pink, millennial pink was like the thing. So we were like, let's make it stand out and be really different. [We made] this iconic blue tube that became so recognizable, you couldn't open Instagram without seeing this blue tube for a very long time, and it just really stood out. 

I think that the fact that we thought about Instagram first and social first was really important. Because we were influencers, we knew how we would photograph a picture. We knew how we would talk about a product. And so I think that helped us so much in the original couple products we had, but then also in every product that we have moving forward.

Conor Begley: So you mentioned that you guys launched with just a single product to start (the Jet Lag Mask). Talk me through the thinking on that, because that's not typical for brands. I'm a huge fan of the hero product approach that you took, but talk me through what led you to it.  

Marianna Hewitt: So it goes back to being an influencer. I think being an influencer was the greatest preparation I could have had for starting a brand. Because as an influencer, you are so many things: you're a photographer, you're a videographer, you're an editor, you’re a publicist. You are so many things, and one of the things that we are is someone who receives free product, and we receive product in hopes of sharing it or working with the brand. And as influencers for so many years, we would get these packages from a new brand or a brand that already existed, and it would be 20 products in a box. And I'm like, I don't even know where to start because there's so much here. I've never met you, I've never seen your brand before, or maybe I am familiar, but you send me 20 things. I don't even know which one to begin with. So maybe I don't even try anything because I'm so overwhelmed by just the sheer option of things. So that's one part of it. 

Another part is being a new and indie brand, there's only so much to your capacity, and your resources are very limited at the very beginning. So starting with a low-risk assortment is much better. And for us, when we started, we said, okay, we know we're overwhelmed as consumers, so let's not overwhelm our new customers. Let's launch with this single product. At the time, people weren't really doing this. And eventually we did pitch it to Sephora, and it's easier for retailers to just say, okay, I'm going to take a risk on you and just buy into one product versus you're launching with 12 things and I have to buy all of them. So I think it makes it easier as retailers, too. But it is high risk and high reward. 

I think anyone who's starting a company, if you're coming out with a product, you have to feel really good and hope that people like it, because if they don't, until your next product launch, you could have a quarter or a year with not a lot of sales. So you have to feel really confident in this, because if it works, it's amazing. If it doesn't work, it's not so great. So it ended up working out for us and the product took off much faster than we anticipated and we've been really grateful. I think WWD just recently named it one of the 100 greatest skincare products of all time, and we won a CEW award, too. And it’s just so crazy that we got lucky with our first one. 

Conor Begley: Lucky is a strong word for it. You guys are really intentional. When you think about the journey and the starting of the brand, you guys just hit on a number of things that were really important, whether it was sustainability, clean, being really focused on the actual products that you released, having really, really solid packaging. It wasn't just one thing, it was a bunch of things that you put a lot of effort and time into. 

Marianna Hewitt: We really tried to think of everything. We're obsessed with branding and packaging, we're also obsessed with formulas, and we were like, the product has to be good. The packaging might reel you in, but once you try it, you have to really love it. We want you to hopefully repurchase it forever and ever, and [we want it] to be your new Dove soap or Crest toothpaste, where you're going to buy this forever and ever and ever, and it's going to be your favorite holy grail product. That repurchase rate was really important to us, too, so the formulas have to work. We were really critical with ourselves through our product development process. So it's definitely a combination of all things and you hope for the best with each launch, and that one people really responded to.

“Give them creative freedom”: Marianna Hewitt’s Advice for Working With Influencers

 

Marianna Hewitt: Being an influencer, I hope, has made us an easier brand to work with, because when we're coming up with the campaign or the one sheet that we send [influencers], we give them a little bit more creative freedom. I think when you're working with influencers, if you just want them to reiterate what you're saying, you may as well just run digital marketing ads and do it yourself. But if you want to work with an influencer, they know what works best for their audience. So give them creative freedom to share the product that they think works best for their audience, in a way that they think their audience will resonate with it. 

And tell an influencer ahead of time, “Hey, I really want to work with you because we need a boost in sales,” or “We really want to work with you because we want really great content.” Then the influencer knows going into the job how they will photograph or speak about the product. 

Because if you just want a pretty picture and that's why you're working with me, I will share it differently than if you just want pure sales, because that's a different type of content. So I think just giving [influencers] creative freedom, and then also letting them know what your goals are ahead of time, is really helpful for a successful campaign. 

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You can watch the entire interview here, or listen to the full episode on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Google Podcasts. To catch up on our other 25 episodes, featuring leaders from brands like ColourPop, Gymshark, Huda Beauty, and Ulta Beauty, visit our Earned Podcast page.

 
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