Season 4 | Episode 8

The challenges of customer acquisition and building a beauty brand in a saturated space

Erin Dwyer is the CMO of Matter of Fact, a skincare brand started by former K-Pop star Paul Baek, and a former professional dancer herself. Erin draws on her experience as VP of Digital at Drunk Elephant and OUAI, to build a brand in today’s competitive, noisy landscape. She tells Dave that being consistent with your messaging, no matter where a consumer is hearing about you, is crucial. She also emphasizes the importance of partnerships to acquire new customers in the beauty space, because the modern beauty consumer is savvy and does their research. Dave and Erin dive into her journey so far, and why Erin believes there is no ‘sales funnel’ but rather a ‘sales pinball machine.’

Episode transcript

Canned Intro [00:00:01] Welcome to The Partnership Economy. This podcast explores the power of partnerships through candid conversations with industry leaders. Join our host, Dave Yovanno, CEO, and Todd Crawford, co-founder of as they unpack the future of partnership as a lever for scale and an opportunity to put the consumer first.


Dave Yovanno [00:00:24] Welcome back to The Partnership Economy podcast. This is your host, Dave Yovanno, and we have an amazing guest lined up for you today. Erin Dwyer is CMO of an up and coming skin care brand with an inspiring story, MATTER OF FACT. Her career journey has spanned a diverse range of industries from beauty, including working at Drunk Elephant and OUAI to entertainment to online gaming. Erin is passionate about keeping up with the online landscape and staying ahead of e-commerce trends, emerging social media apps and web platforms. In this episode, we discuss what it really takes to build a brand today, especially in a noisy space like the beauty industry. We compare marketing and customer acquisition to what it was ten years ago and how this evolution brings about new challenges for modern marketers. We also delve into the rise of influencers and how to effectively work with and compensate them to see success. This is a jam packed episode and I strongly suggest tuning it. Today, I have the pleasure of chatting with Erin Dwyer, CMO of MATTER OF FACT. Erin, how are you doing today?


Erin Dwyer [00:01:35] I’m wonderful. Thanks for having me, Dave.


Dave Yovanno [00:01:38] Awesome. We’re going to unpack who, MATTER OF FACT, is here in just a minute. But I thought we can maybe start with you telling the audience a little bit about yourself and how you got to where you are as CMO of an up and coming skincare company.


Erin Dwyer [00:01:50] Sure. I have an unusual background, but a fun one. I think I started in advertising and general marketing at big agencies like DDB, J. Walter Thompson, and then I kind of pivoted over into digital for a while and heard the Internet was going to stick around and some mentors told me to get involved. So I got into digital and then I’ve been in the beauty industry for the last eight years. Before that, I was in everything from video games, technology, online gambling and online gaming, and I found my way to the beauty industry eight years ago and I’m so happy to be a part of this community.


Dave Yovanno [00:02:25] I got to ask you this question because I understand you used to be a professional dancer. Did that have anything with you getting into beauty?


Erin Dwyer [00:02:32] I love that. Yes. There is a whole other part of my life where I was in a couple of professional dance companies. I actually did marketing for a couple of those dance companies.


Dave Yovanno [00:02:41] I love it. So you’ve had some incredible experience at a very diverse set of companies. Was there a common thread between entertainment, gaming, beauty, dancing that you discovered?


Erin Dwyer [00:02:52] I think passion is a key component there. You have to have a lot of passion to do what we do. But I think also the consumer base is extremely passionate. And so when you look at video games and people who play video games, that’s a very strong community. It’s very passion based, love and hate based. You have the same in entertainment. People become these ultra fans, whether it’s TV shows or entertainment, such as movies, music, and then you have the same thing in the beauty industry. People are extremely passionate, so I love finding passionate consumers and harnessing that to build community and advocacy. And then the other thread of all those industries is they’ve always kind of been on the cutting edge of innovation and pushing things forward. So whether that be adopting new things like when social media came out or even the Internet when online gambling happened, they were the first to do an only online business model. So being in parts of industries that are willing to kind of challenge, press forward and innovate has always been a little bit of a thread for me.


Dave Yovanno [00:03:47] That’s great. So it sounds like, you know, your current role and the timing of this conversation fits perfectly in with acquiring new, passionate consumers. Think people are doing a lot of research now before they’re buying products online, for example. I know that matter of fact, just launched in Sephora. Could you tell our audience just a little bit more about matter of fact, as a company, what it’s all about?


Erin Dwyer [00:04:07] Yeah, absolutely. So one of the reasons I chose to come to MATTER OF FACT, was the passion of our founder and his unrelenting dedication and commitment to making products that are innovative. So again, passion and innovation was at the heart of this brand. And and when I met him. And so it just was very serendipitous. So MATTER OF FACT, was created out of Paul’s own needs. He’s our founder and formulator and CEO Paul Baek, and he is the child of Korean immigrants who came to America with a big dream and worked really hard for his family to have a life here. And that led him to have a lot of time to make things and be home and solve puzzles. And he is just a highly, highly intelligent person with an amazing heart. He was also one of very few Asian-Americans and where he grew up. And so when he was introduced to K-Pop, he got really excited and he fell in love with K-Pop was like, I want to be a K-Pop star. Of course, the child of a parents who just came to America where like maybe go to college first. And so he didn’t just go to college, you know, he got himself a full ride to Harvard and still put his demo tape on VHS to the different recording labels in Korea. And after getting an internship over there so he could afford his housing because he didn’t have enough money for housing, he got picked up for a record deal. And then sometimes when your passions become your reality and I can say the same thing happened for me when I was dancing. You see things from a different light. And so he became a K-Pop star, but then he experienced the real image conscious feature of that industry, and he had a very acne prone and oily skin. And the need for him to be perfect by the labels was a lot. It was intense. And he was going to dermatologists, he was trying all kinds of things and he was always finding that it wasn’t one or the other. Either his acne was gone, but his skin was red, irritated and painful, or he had these terrible breakouts that there has to be a better way. So being the puzzle solver he is, he started doing his own research. He got on forums. He met his mentors that way. He built his own frameworks for how to deliver the most research and effective ingredients. He saw that most of the ways it was being done was inefficient. And so he now has over 10 patents that he’s written. And here we are.


Dave Yovanno [00:06:18] It’s an incredibly inspirational story, But, you know, just understanding that challenge as a relatively new brand, I really would love to discuss what it takes to really build a brand today. It’s a very noisy, very crowded space, especially in beauty. What are your current priorities as CMO? What are you focused on right now?


Erin Dwyer [00:06:35] Great question. It’s hard. Building today is very different than a decade ago, but that’s also what’s fun about it is because you have to keep iterating and changing. It’s one of the reasons I stay in industries like this. So right now we’re in test, learn, deploy mode. We are very much in a let’s try it, let’s get some information and then decide to double down on it or try something else because there isn’t a playbook for the way that the world is right now. I think we’re building that playbook that’ll last for a little while. But we’ve been through so much change over the last five years that you have to kind of build it for yourself. We’re also in a stage, so each company goes through a variety of needs. From a marketing perspective, zero to five million dollars is one phase five to twenty million is another, twenty to hundred million is another. Your marketing needs in what gets you to those milestones is very different in each of them. So we’re very much in a grassroots meets your brass tacks kind of stage, right? We’ve got to do the basics, but we’re also trying different things referral programs, ambassadors, leveraging our major advocates. We have education, our partnership with Sephora. And then as those kind of exponentially work, then you can invest in some of the more fun things like podcasts and sponsorships and things like that. So we’re kind of in that first phase of making the most of kind of grassroots and brass tacks and heavily in customer acquisition, which to your point, is really crowded right now. There used to be a couple of really easy ways to do that, quite frankly, when Facebook first launched ads and now it’s not. It’s really expensive. You need to be turning a ton of revenue to really maximize the data and to be able to optimize on the platform. If you don’t have that number of conversions, you’re just not getting what you need. So you have to be more creative today.


Dave Yovanno [00:08:17] Yeah. And just knowing that the consumer source of information has changed quite a bit, just curious how people are discovering about your product through other people. And when we talk about like what it really takes to build a brand today, are there any like hard hitting tips, things that you’re realizing that you’re experiencing right now just to kind of have MATTER OF FACT become known?


Erin Dwyer [00:08:39] So there’s a few things. One is being consistent. You really need to be consistent with your message. I consider today no longer a funnel. I heard somebody years ago call it a pinball machine and a sense. I don’t know where your consumers are going to hear your message, whether it’s an influencer from your channel, from a press outlet, an affiliate person, a podcast. So you have to be very consistent so that no matter where they bump you before they end up down the conversion hole, you have to make sure that wherever they’re touching that and wherever they’re bouncing, it’s a consistent message. And the other piece of that is you have to have an incredible differentiated product that you can prove, especially in our industry works. I think the consumer is highly educated today and you have to build trust, and that’s done by having other people like influencers talk about your brand ambassadors, but also you being able to back that up. That’s one of the things I respect deeply about Paul is from the beginning. He’s done more clinical research on the products and on the products on actual people than I’ve ever seen before. We do it for every single product to make sure that it does what we say it will do, and that we know that people will have the results that we’re expecting and hoping for them.


Dave Yovanno [00:09:43] I couldn’t agree more, and I think that really hits the nail on the head. And what I was hoping to hear that, you know, because consumers are sharing their experiences much more broadly, whether they’re compensated for their stories or not. People are talking about brands. I think brands need to realize that and embrace that, find ways to draw alliances with those sources of commercial information. Ultimately, all these factors benefit the end consumer because they’re demanding higher quality products, higher quality marketing that ultimately is better products, a better product experience. So in that vein, when you think about it, you’ve been doing marketing for a long time. Think about customer acquisition and marketing today relative to call it 10, 15 years ago where there wasn’t as much of a source of truth out there about products, not the way that it is today. When I think of the journey of a platform like Youtube, for example, the way we’re using YouTube now to source reviews and, you know, other people’s experiences with products is is very different than it was ten years ago. So what’s it like today? The challenge is marketing call 10, 15 years ago to now. What are the biggest changes that you’ve encountered?


Erin Dwyer [00:10:51] There’s so many because one is that I think is an interesting evolution. I’ve noticed is 10, 15 years ago metrics and analytics were kind of like a dorky thing. And I worked in direct mail, so I got early access to understanding cluster testing and KPIs and audience segmentation. And then I remember being in entertainment and no one really talking about KPI, right? You were still doing kind of these print things and billboards and TV buys with limited accountability. And now it’s almost we’ve over corrected. We’re almost addicted to metrics like it’s hard to, as a marketer today to be like, I want to do this thing without being able to say I’m going to get X, Y, and Z. I got to be able to prove it to you in this many days or weeks where marketing used to be a mix. And I think we actually have to figure out that balance again, because the way we built brands before was with a little bit of trust in upper funnel things that we weren’t going to just immediately churn out KPIs and creating custom KPIs for that. So saying, okay, guys, we’re doing this, but we’re not trying to make money, it’s just an awareness play. So let’s just look really hard at impression, reach and quality of the traffic we get. If we make everything about conversion or adoption, we’re really kind of choking out the brand development. Another piece that I think has changed a lot is that there was the digital transformation moment. So again, adoption into digital, whether that be performance marketing, social media, all of that initially was slow and then we went through a really good adoption, I would say around 2014 to about 2020. Those six years were great. Then we had the pandemic. Everyone was kind of on this. It’s all digital. It’s, you know, drones are going to deliver everything. No one’s got to go to stores. And what really happened, I think, is it over saturated digital. And now we’re in a situation where you can’t do with digital what you could even five years ago because there’s so many people marketing on it, there’s so many people on it, there’s so much content you can’t break through. So now you’re actually seeing the cycle come back. Print media, outdoor guerilla work, this is basically new radio, and I think that you’re going to have to find a balance in your marketing so you can break through because it did get so crowded in the digital space.


Dave Yovanno [00:12:57] Well, the things that I’ve learned from you in prior conversations is that the interest that you have at MATTER OF FACT, to build out the brand. Right. And have that brand mean something. One of the things that I see personally, a sample size of one on platforms like Instagram, for example, is a lot of transactional sort of advertising. They’re selling this product and it’s a quick, almost like an impulse purchase to to buy, but there’s no real brand development happening when you kind of think back to your early days of marketing. I remember, you know, kind of sharing concepts around TRPs and things like that and building brands. Like how do you think about that then?


Erin Dwyer [00:13:35] Yeah, I think building a brand solely in digital is exceptionally hard today. I think it was possible when Instagram wasn’t littered with marketing as it is today. And so as a brand, you have to be careful too. So you don’t so people know that you’re legitimate, right? It goes back to being able to feel legitimate. So that’s the hard part with brand. And that’s why I think there’s this component of what you say. But then you have to have other people talking about it in a way that feels honest and feels informed and feels genuine and authentic, which is hard. But otherwise you’ll constantly be in that point. The sales pitch that has become a lot of the social channels and I think with the movement of TikTok shop. It’s going to be a very interesting tipping point for that platform. It was huge in China. Social shopping was big for about six, seven years. But they’ve also had their tipping point where it’s become oversaturated. Do I really believe what this person’s telling me? So it’ll be interesting to see how social moving into the social commerce space impacts itself, becoming more of a transactional part of your brand versus the place where you used to build community and information and advocacy. And it’s kind of flipping it a little bit and where it was five to seven years ago.


Dave Yovanno [00:14:45] Yeah. Yeah. You know, I think that while the changes that we’re witnessing today are largely due to that modern buyer taking back control, not wanting to be sold to all the time via [00:14:55]blade and [0.0s] advertising. What channels have you found to be the most successful in customer acquisition today? When you talk about the brass tacks and things that you’re that you’re doing to acquire customers, what are those channel strategies for you?


Erin Dwyer [00:15:08] I wish that there was just a lightning bolt answer for that because that would make my days much easier. It’s hard right now. It you see Meta. Meta was a really cost efficient means and we all know that Apple made some changes and since then it’s never quite been the same. So the cost on there is just kind of become unsaleable for a lot of brands, I think at certain stages. So influencer is a big part of it because what I think is interesting about the platforms is I’m spending more money with influencers and aim with the platform now because the advertising is inefficient as the reach and the potential I get with some of these phenomenal creators. I think being discovered as a brand on social is a lot harder. No one goes to social media and go, I want to find MATTER OF FACT today. They go and they look at cool content and what they’re talking about, and that’s how you kind of become a part of the conversation. So that’s a key part of it. Lower funnel has worked well, but that’s more past acquisition and then collaborations, partnering with like minded brands and like minded people that have similar approaches to what they do and maybe are complementary is a really great way for us to build that out as a small brand. And then the typical grassroots stuff, right? Ambassadors referral program. We have hardcore fans of our products. People use it and then they swear off everything else. They love it. So if I can take that and fuel it, that’s the most genuine form of marketing, right? Used to be called word of mouth marketing and everyone try to figure out where that was coming from. That’s been decades of that. So I think it’s that same piece for us that’s the most efficient is using those ambassadors and advocates in real life and online to kind of help spread the word.


Dave Yovanno [00:16:41] Yeah, I mean, that’s quite an evolution when you think about it. I don’t want to go too far back, but, you know, used to be able to get your message out via TV and radio even are other print. And I think because there was less competition, that was a maybe a more successful strategy. You look at digital. It used to be a lot easier. There was this deliverable, it was called Google paid search, right? You pay a certain price and you’re at the top of the sponsored listings. And I think you’re right. I think there has been a lot of saturation in the market of choice. What I’m hearing you say is that rather than getting in there, fight the competition of traditional ads, find people who command an audience, who have a trusted relationship with an audience or a base of customers, draw an alliance with them, form a partnership with them, and let them, you know, speak on your behalf.


Erin Dwyer [00:17:29] It’s so funny because I was talking to someone on my influencer team about how we talk about TRPs and that’s how old I am. Total rating points and frequency and reach and how we talk about follower counts and retention of reach and retention of quality of the impressions, everything. Like we have all these new metrics that are very different. And it’s interesting because I was watching football last week on YouTube lives and I had these ads come up and they were all clearly targeted to me. They were all skin care, hair care, beauty brands. And I sat there and I was like, man, I remember buying on ESPN or ABC on football. And the assumption was it was mainly men and there was a signet. There was only a very specific amount of inventory, and that was it. Now we have infinite inventory. It’s just evolved so much of how do you pick and how do you target and how do you know your audience well enough to know that, you know, Erin, who loves skin care, also loves her fantasy football and her Buffalo Bills. And so find her on YouTube live on Thursdays and Sundays. And it’s a lot to think about. It is so much simpler, you know, 30 years ago.


Dave Yovanno [00:18:33] Back then, you would see an ad be influenced by that ad and go and buy a product with limited research. Now, I would say the common modern buyer journey is when you find out about something, let’s say in that football experience, you find out about it, right? The first thing that people are going to do time, if you disagree, is get online, see what other people have to say about that product. It’s actually right. So I would argue that, you know, you’re not relevant as a brand today unless other people are talking about you.


Erin Dwyer [00:19:00] So funny. I actually feel the influencers are evolving the platform versus the platforms moving towards what the influencers need because they’re just on the pulse of it much more than the platforms they can move faster. I feel that the balance between sales and collabs with value is going to be an interesting thing to watch both of them deal with. So like I mentioned, Meta could be making so much more money if they figured how to monetize the content versus just the ads. It’s the economy of all of this. It’s all dollars. And seeing how that evolves and how the algorithm will adjust for that because, you know, ultimately what is earned media anymore. And it’s really hard to get truly earned media and grass roots anymore. Somebody wants a free product or they want an affiliate link or they want to be paid for the content they created. So I think watching how the platform algorithms adjust to what’s genuine content versus collab and partner content will be interesting. I think they have a real chance if they balance the valuable content to a consumer versus just the transactional content. And that’s going to be in how the algorithm plays.


Dave Yovanno [00:20:05] Yeah, and talking to a lot of creators, they want longer term relationships. Also, they don’t want to be seen as transactional, okay, You know, today or this week, you know, here I am talking about a different brand. I think the more successful ones are playing the long game. Is there an example of an influencer partnership in the beauty space that you can highlight as a as a partnership done right?


Erin Dwyer [00:20:26] Yes, it’s hot off the press, but Mac just did some really cool stuff with the girl. She dances in the tube in like the subway, and she’s, you know, a lifestyle influencer who makes fun content, but she’s not a beauty influencer, right? That’s not her initial platform. And so I even have to call myself out on that in that a lot of times as the head of marketing, you’re like, Oh, but they’re fashion. Instead of being like, Ooh, what’s in a creative way? We could use this person. And they love her content. They love that she was an she was a creative expression which aligns so perfectly with the Mac brand. It’s all about creative expression has been from the beginning, again, consistency. And so they reached out to her and she made a video, but then they had her walk on the runway at one of their shows recently. So they also took it from online to offline, and they’ve made it also beneficial to her. She’s now just not too girl. She’s too girl who has walked in a show and has Mac in leggings and a beauty thing and can kind of bend and has that flexibility. So it’s mutually beneficial. So I thought that was really amazing. And I’ve been a fan of Mac on a lot of levels and they’ve stayed so true to themselves over the years and it shows in those kind of activations and it was fun. That was fun.


Dave Yovanno [00:21:41] I love that example. Another hot topic that I always come across is how brands compensate different partnerships, especially influencers and creators that they work with. In your experience, how do creators like to be compensated for their work and what do you recommend for other brands?


Erin Dwyer [00:21:56] It really depends on the creator and the brand and the stage of the relationship. I think in the beginning most creators are going to look for some sort of commitment, some sort of transactional experience. But as they get to know you and you can build that relationship, you can expand it. There are some that know their lane, though. There are some that are like, I sell product really well and I want to cut of that. I’ll make more selling in a cut of it than I will if you pay me per post or per video. And so I think it’s about having an open dialog just like you have to, about the type of approach to content and what they’re going to make about what serves your business and serves them knowing how their quote unquote economy works. Are they mainly upper funnel? And you want to do a lot of awareness and they get a lot of views, but they’re not going to get a ton of clicks in like purchases or are they more middle lower funnel where they’re like, people buy this stuff. So I’ve also seen a lot of hybrid where they get paid a little bit for the content and then they’re an affiliate partner and they can get a lot from a variety of different platforms when you shop myself, for example. So it really depends on the creator knowing where they think they’re the strongest and then a brand supporting that. I think you have to be flexible to make the whole kind of economy work well for everybody. It also depends on where it sits in the marketing funnel too, right? So I mean, we’ve got a couple of creators that their purpose is really to tell a very key part of the brand story. And they come with extreme credentials. They’re MDs or PhDs, and so that comes with its own KPI value for me. That’s different than somebody like, I know a couple of influencers who could sell for us. They can talk about it. They have honest reviews, they show their results and it sells. So I can justify a large payment for a single piece of content because its purpose is different than somebody. I have a long term, just like ongoing relationship with to sell products.


Dave Yovanno [00:23:48] I think it definitely makes sense because as you pointed out, you’re incentivizing creative creators to be a marketer for your for your brand, but also a salesperson. So having an incentive for them to keep working towards your brand. So yeah, a really good example of where kind of a hybrid model or a post plus model makes sense. Erin, we’re nearing the end here. Erin, just to wrap up our conversation, I always like to ask what trends are you paying attention to right now?


Erin Dwyer [00:24:10] So I would say my core trend is to not easily get distracted by trends. You’ve got to focus on your own audience and maximize that. I do think that there’s moments, though, right? So making especially a small brand like a TikTok shop, being in beta and some of the ability to get on that quickly, you can leverage the fact that, you know, they’re going to benefit people who are on the shop in the algorithm and it can kind of be a little hack. Same thing with YouTube shorts right now. That content platform is well benefited in the algorithm because it’s new and they’re trying to kick it off. Right. There was a moment where if you if you leveraged it, you know, those moments are great, but that doesn’t mean to fully pivot your strategy, right? It’s kind of additive to take advantage of those moments to have. So for me, it’s really making sure that you know your audience and which trends apply to it. So gen z is a huge topic. There’s an article every day, every hour about gen z, but that doesn’t mean that I need to build a whole strategy around gen z. You know, it can be a distraction to kind of the focus. And so just making sure that you’re paying attention to those. I think another trend that I really love is making moments out of things instead of mentions. So making moments instead of mentions. I talked about Mac doing what they did, but I also really admire K18. They do a lot of really amazing stuff in the creator and influencer space, but they have a great instant results product, which works really well in social content, but they go above that. They could just leverage the before and after and like the story, but they see creators and consumers as people and so they search and they find people who are having breakage issues with their hair or having some sort of hair crisis, and then they send their pro stylist teams to help them and to use the product and to get them into whether it’s a wedding or a prom or they’re experiencing something. And ultimately, that’s the core of what social was supposed to be, right? It was based in humanity. It was based in community. And so that’s a trend I hope comes back more, is using it around humanity and community, which I think K18 did a really great job with how they’re activating there.


Dave Yovanno [00:26:16] And I’m assuming that with all that still holding on to the authenticity aspect of it as well, not doing it, you know, with, with the constant intention just to keep promoting your brand. So at the end of the day, just being a hell of a lot more relevant to people today, right? Nobody again wants to be sold it. Well, thank you, Erin. That was awesome. Thank you for joining us on this episode of The Partnership Economy Podcast. We cover a wide range of topics. Can’t wait to watch, MATTER OF FACT, continue to grow. For our listeners, thank you for tuning in. We’ll see you next time on The Partnership Economy podcast. There’s a lot to unpack from this episode. One point that stood out to me was just how difficult customer acquisition is today. Channels that used to be efficient like Meta have become increasingly expensive and oversaturated. All of these trends lead to brands needing other people to talk about them in a way that feels genuine and honest and not like a sales pitch. It sounds like MATTER OF FACT is seeing success with partnerships when it comes to building their brand, whether that’s working directly with creators, partnering with like minded brands, or turning customers into strong brand ambassadors. Erin highlighted the point that the customer journey today is no longer linear, and I like the analogy that she offered up instead, that consumers move along a pinball machine. You don’t know where your audience is going to hear your message, whether that’s on a podcast or through an affiliate. So you need to ensure that your message is consistent across wherever that ball is touching. This is why it’s so important to have a truly differentiated product and build strong relationships with partners so that they know how to speak about your brand. I really enjoyed this conversation with Erin. I can’t wait to see what MATTER OF FACT does next. Thank you, Erin, for joining us on The Partnership Economy podcast. And thank you for listening.


Canned Intro [00:28:06] Thanks for listening to The Partnership Economy brought to you by If you enjoyed today’s episode, be sure to subscribe to the show and rate and review it on Apple Podcasts.

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