…Focus on content that really connects people and I think video is the best way because it’s multi-sensory. The content should also focus on inspiring and enriching people’s lives. For example, most early-stage digital companies can get caught up on “buy it now” bottom funnel branding. The problem with this is that people won’t commit until they have a deeper connection and have a better understanding of the brand’s story and what they stand for.
As a part of our series called “5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Very Successful Lifestyle Brand”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sam Alexander who has over a decade of experience in the skincare and digital marketing industry. Prior to PMD Beauty, he worked for a dermatologist in Salt Lake for 5 years and was CMO for an online physician-grade skincare company where his skills in SEO and digital marketing increased the company’s monthly sales to 2 million dollars. Looking to spread his wings, Alexander launched PMD Beauty in 2010 without funding or big budget marketing with the idea of empowering individuals to love who they are and feel confident in their own skin. What began as a single at-home microdermabrasion device is now a catalog of more than 20 different premier beauty products including cleansing devices and skincare. During COVID-19, PMD Beauty saw an increase of over 300% as men and women focused more on self-care. The company focused more on their strategy including launching new products and getting into the subscription business. The effectiveness of PMD Beauty stems from providing achievable professional results in a safe, smart, and convenient way. Today, PMD Beauty has become a premier, household beauty brand available globally in luxury retailers including Nordstrom, Sephora, Ulta, Bloomingdale’s, Harrod’s, and spotlighted in many magazines and talk shows such as, “Good Morning America”, “Dr. Oz,” “The Talk,” “The View,” “The Today Show,” and “The Doctors”
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
Thank you so much for having me! I come from a family of nine kids. I have five brothers and three sisters, so I learned at an early age that I had to be scrappy. If my mom put food on the table and I didn’t act quick, then I wouldn’t get full. I had to eat fast and go for seconds, and if I wasn’t scrappy, I definitely wouldn’t be getting seconds. My parents also taught me at a young age the importance of working hard. I always had a job, no matter what — paper route, detailing cars, you name it.
From the ages of 14–19, my main goal in life was to become a professional snow boarder. I would snowboard 120 times per year. That’s five to six times per week. I ended up getting a lot of concussions and some knee surgeries so, that took me off of my snowboarding path. In school I was really good at math and analytical thinking, but terrible at reading. I just couldn’t stand still. When I decided what degree I wanted to pursue, I chose something I wasn’t good at — history. I wanted to challenge myself and being a history major forced me to read five books a week and write a lot. For two–and–a-half to three years all I did was read and write which led me to become a speed reader and pretty good writer. I always tried to focus on things I wasn’t good at so I could get better. I told myself if I completed this degree, I would go back for an MBA.
Every experience that I’ve had in my life has allowed me to understand the importance of dedication, hard work and perseverance. From being quick to get seconds at dinner, to challenging myself to do certain things in areas where I knew I wasn’t strong. It’s all led me to who I am and where I am today. It’s funny, because doing this interview has made me realize maybe I had the passion and lifestyle in me this entire time. Even from when I wanted to become a professional snowboarder. Those brands are all about lifestyle and there is a lot that other brands can learn about from these niche brands. I never knew I would be doing what I’m doing now, and now I have so much passion and love for it.
Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?
Another life goal of mine has always been to own my own business. So, when I finished my MBA I looked at starting different things, but nothing really worked out. I wanted to go out and get a different experience in a cool field, so my first job ended up being working with a dermatologist and his son. I helped him start an e-skincare company that became one of the largest skincare retailers. We went from having 100 SKUs to 20,000 SKUs and just kept bringing on brands. Through this I was able to see what was selling well and the types of beauty devices on the market. I started to understand what was successful. When I met Paul, he showed me the Personal Microderm and I just knew it would be a success. Right off the bat, I believed the Personal Microderm was going to be a special product. So, I helped start the company. After two years I became a partner and now I own the majority of the company.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’ve made so many mistakes, but my biggest mistake was — I believed that if I got partner distribution, I would sell millions of products. I thought that just by doing that PMD Beauty would become a lifestyle brand and the products would sell off the shelf. Retailers are great, but you have to have your own story. You have to tell your own story and you have to connect your customer to your brand. The only way you can do that is through all the basic things like advertising and PR — all the things you can do that push your messaging and your story. You can only be in control if you can create and tell your own story and then allow those retailers to capitalize on it and allow them to help you tell the story. That took us some time to learn. It was a disappointing thing when we got into all those retailers and the brand didn’t take off right away. We had to figure it out the hard way. It wasn’t until we focused on telling our own story that we were able to really see a difference. The bottom line is — you can’t ever let someone create the story for your brand because it’s inauthentic. You have to create the story first, come to the table with it and then allow them to tell it. Otherwise, they’ll tell a story that isn’t yours.
A lot of the mistakes we’ve made are the type of mistakes that if I were more experienced, we probably could have avoided them. But that’s what makes me who I am, those scars and those mistakes.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
There isn’t really anything that comes to mind that’s like “Oh my gosh this is it. This is what changed.”
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If you like yourself, do you think you’re grand? Do you go to the movies and hold your own hand? “It’s just something funny my dad would say to me when I was younger, but I say it all the time now and teach it to my kids. For me, it’s about having self-confidence and loving who you are. Being appreciative of yourself and nurturing that relationship.
Another one for me is “work hard, play hard.” I truly believe in this saying in that sense that you should give 100% of yourself in everything you do. I’m a hard worker, but that doesn’t just mean at work, it means in general in my life. For example, this morning I woke up early to go on a two-and-a-half-hour bike ride in 14-degree weather. Then I came to work and put in as much as I could and now, I’m going to go home and be with my family and work hard with them. It’s not about just about working hard at the job; it’s about working hard in life.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. For the benefit of our readers, let’s define our terms. How do you define a Lifestyle Brand? How is a Lifestyle Brand different from a normal, typical brand?
To me, a lifestyle brand is more than just a cult following. It’s about the consumer having an emotional connection to your brand. Your brand has played out in someone’s life and impacted them in a positive way.
What are the benefits of creating a lifestyle brand?
For me, the fun of it comes when you feel like you can literally change people’s lives. Our hope is that we literally help build brilliant confidence. All the sudden it turns into not just selling a product but selling a lifestyle and a belief system. You start to believe you’re making a difference in the world. More than selling a product and making money, you’re enriching people’s lives, and that’s the true essence of it.
In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved Lifestyle Brand? What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?
I think Peloton is great. Their products are good, but they’ve created a community and a connection with the actual trainers. I feel like I have a connection with some of the trainers even though I don’t personally know them, and they don’t know me.
Another example is Roark. It’s an awesome lifestyle clothing brand and they’re all about traveling and documenting it and they make you feel like you can live vicariously through them. So, when I put on their clothes, I feel like I’m out adventuring in Patagonia, Argentina. They have good quality clothes, but I’m buying it for the lifestyle side of it.
It really is the typical cliché of you have to have good products, but you have to have a passion and believe in your product too. You have to practice what you preach. You have to have the passion of inspiring and enriching someone’s life. Beyond that, get the economics, get the right products and balance that with passion and enriching someone’s life and inspiring them.
Can you share your ideas about how to create a lifestyle brand that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?
I think the number one thing is creating content. Once you create the content, you have to get it out there. Just because you created it, doesn’t mean anyone is going to see it. So, you have to pay to get it out there through social channels, ads, etc. Then, in addition to that, you need to have passion. You have to truly figure out a way to really connect and inspire people. Your focus has to be more on enriching lives, while still having excellent products.
What are the common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a lifestyle brand? What can be done to avoid those errors?
One of the most common mistakes is focusing more on your distribution, rather than focusing on what you can control of your story. How are you going to get your voice heard or your content seen? That should be the first priority. I’m a big believer in holding onto the reigns of your brand and going direct to consumer, especially when you’re a new brand.
Another mistake is not utilizing your “groundswell” or overlooking your grassroots. It’s important to listen and see the feedback they’re giving you. You need to understand your customer and who your brand ambassadors are. You also need to have data to track and understand how you’re doing as a company. Not focusing on lifetime value is big mistake. Every brand should understand what the lifetime value of their customer is and should have data to keep track of that. You need to have passion, but you also need to have data to track that passion.
Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a lifestyle brand that they would like to develop. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
I recommend going direct to consumer with your own website, creating video content that can tell your story about the products or how the company started. It’s important to show your passion and let your consumer see that. You should also implement KPIs to track direct response, lifetime value and costs for acquisition, etc. Having a platform with content and a tracking system is also important. Consistency is key, until you start seeing the response that makes economic sense.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Very Successful Lifestyle Brand” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
The first thing is — you always need to have passion. The second is that you need to be able to sell more than just products. People need a connection. You need to inspire them and enrich their lives in some way. For example, when we first started our company in 2010, we sent out the Personal Microderm to 500 “mommy bloggers.” We asked them to try the device and let us know what they thought about it. I remember reading one of the blogs from a mom who said she had tried everything, but nothing was working. She would always hide behind makeup. That was until she tried the PMD. After a couple of months of using the PMD Microderm, she started wearing less makeup and loving her skin. Reading that was almost like a spiritual experience; it inspired me, fed my passion towards making a difference and gave me confidence to continue to be passionate about the brand. There comes a point in time where the customer and the brand start feeding off each other, in the best way. It’s a cycle of confidence.
The third thing is you need to figure out how to tell your own story and be your own voice. When you don’t do this, you put your success in other people’s hands. The only way to have an authentic lifestyle brand is to be genuine and have your own story to tell. For example, we were able to get on a popular home shopping network in 2013, and we had made 4.8 million dollars in six or seven months, which was a lot for our brand. At that point, they started to tell their story of our product. Pretty soon we only relied on that and within a few airings we didn’t perform as much, and then all of a sudden, we were off of that network. So that was kind of a wake-up call that we needed to rely on ourselves and telling our own story.
The fourth thing is to focus on content that really connects people and I think video is the best way because it’s multi-sensory. The content should also focus on inspiring and enriching people’s lives. For example, most early-stage digital companies can get caught up on “buy it now” bottom funnel branding. The problem with this is that people won’t commit until they have a deeper connection and have a better understanding of the brand’s story and what they stand for.
The last thing is understanding your data and what your KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) are. You need to be collecting your data, tracking it and understanding it weekly, if not daily to see what’s important and what you need to focus on. For example, there are times when we’ve relied on other people to tell us how certain things, we do will give us better performance, but then that doesn’t happen. If you track your own data, it’s much easier for you to see what’s performing, what isn’t and why.
Super. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
There are too many people in this world that don’t feel good about themselves. If there is a way where everyone could look in the mirror and love themselves then I think that would solve a lot of the world’s problems because they would start to look outward and serve others instead of looking inwards. There are too many people that suffer from just being tough on themselves and not loving themselves. Solving that and everybody having brilliant confidence would be the biggest movement for me and continues to be my driving force every day.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Elon Musk is so intriguing to me because he just thinks so big! He’s thinking about space travel and beyond. It’s funny because I’m not necessarily interested in space travel, but Elon is so inspiring because he helps me see that I can think better and do more to change the world and make a difference. It takes the big dreamers and doers like Elon to inspire entrepreneurs and other people to believe. He’s so far out there, that it just helps me believe that I can do more and reach for the stars. He always leaves me thinking, “Wow” because he’s so passionate with his ideas, he truly believes in them and then he goes out and does it. We need people like that. He inspires us to see that we can close that deal and jump that hurdle.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.