Stay True to Your Values and Your Mission: Build what your brand stands for, stay true to it, and evolve your story in an authentic way. At eSalon, we know that the time of “one-size-fits-all” brands is over. We believe that if you are trying to be everything to everyone, you risk being nothing to anyone. We took this belief to heart when recently launching Colorsmith, the first truly custom home hair color designed for men. Rather than trying to stretch the very feminine look and feel of the eSalon brand to fit the needs of male clientele, we decided to launch a completely separate brand with a consumer experience tailored to men’s unique and individual hair color needs.
Asa part of our series about “Five Things You Need To Know To Succeed In The Modern Beauty Industry”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Vera Koch.
With over 15 years of professional experience, Vera Koch is Vice President of Global Marketing at eSalon and Colorsmith, leading global marketing, brand strategy and campaign development. Vera has been instrumental in leading the creative redesign for eSalon, its expansion into new markets, and the brand’s strategic pivots in response to a significant increase in demand during the COVID-19 pandemic. Leveraging her wealth of creative and analytical expertise, Vera drove the marketing strategy and execution for the recent launch of Colorsmith — a first-to-market salon-grade, at-home hair color solution for men. Prior, she served as Vice President of Global Marketing for PRAVANA where she was responsible for spearheading the creative campaign for one of the company’s fastest color line rebrands, and she also was Head of Marketing for Schwarzkopf Professional USA.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve always had a passion for storytelling and marketing, and I knew early on that it is what I wanted to do. While studying at the European Business School, I participated in a marketing workshop with L’Oréal where we were asked to create a new beauty brand. Following the workshop, I was offered to join the team. After working for L’Oréal for a few years, I accepted an international marketing position with Henkel Beauty Care. It had always been my goal to live abroad, so the opportunity to join their Professional Beauty Division in Los Angeles was a dream come true. I led the Schwarzkopf Professional and Pravana marketing efforts before eventually joining the eSalon team in 2019 as VP of Global Marketing. Throughout my career, I’ve developed marketing campaigns for both beauty retail and salon hair color. My experience has given me a unique perspective which has been very helpful as the eSalon business combines the best of both worlds.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
One of my most memorable career highlights to-date was the opportunity to join the Schwarzkopf Professional team in Los Angeles. The small, previously family-led U.S. business had just been fully integrated into the global Henkel organization. Coming from a large corporation, it was very interesting to experience the benefits and challenges that come with the culture of a small, independently run business. The team was very passionate, and decisions were made and executed quickly. At the same time, I remember personally building some of my own office furniture (which was actually a lot of fun). A few years later, Henkel decided to acquire Alterna, Kenra Professional, Sexy Hair and Pravana. I had the opportunity to support the marketing strategy for the post-acquisition integration of the independently run businesses into the Henkel Beauty Care #under1roof organization. I have yet to find a business case study where several beauty brands are combined under one organization simultaneously, while keeping their distinctive team culture, innovation and brand identity separate. Having the opportunity to learn about and be part of fostering the unique spirit and standout qualities of each brand team was an amazing experience.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
Yes. I have always been a perfectionist, to the point where I waited too long to voice my opinion and was too careful to take risks. In one of my first jobs, I was told that I was “invisible”. That feedback was not easy for me. I realized that in order to be seen, being a perfectionist would not work. I had to dare to voice my opinion and face the challenge to be seen and heard, and accept that it may come with risks and criticism. Once I made that change, success came very quickly.
The first important takeaway is that feedback can be tough, but as long as it comes from a good place it is a true gift and you can learn a lot from it. The second lesson is that there will always be people who will tell you that you are too inexperienced to have an opinion. Sadly, there are still people who judge based on gender, race, age, looks and other factors. If we stay silent and don’t voice our opinion, we miss our opportunity to add value, to make an impact and to prove our critics wrong.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are so many wonderful people I could list here. I have great mentors and I am very thankful for all of the valuable advice I have received over the years. There is one woman who had a very special impact on my journey. It had always been my dream to live abroad. Building the foundation for this career path was one of the many reasons I joined a global corporation. However, I was not the only one with this goal — there were more candidates than available positions. She encouraged me to be persistent and to pursue my goals. I’m very thankful that I had the opportunity to work on her team as she was a true role model for female managers and led by example. She’s a very strong, inspiring woman who taught me to negotiate and to stand up for myself. She also taught me that, as female leaders, we have a responsibility to act as role models and to help promote the professional and personal growth of our team members.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. The global beauty industry today has grown to more than a half a trillion dollar business. Can you tell us about the innovations that you are bringing to the industry? How do you think that will help people?
A good hair day is much more than aesthetics — science has shown us that feeling good about our hair can give us a psychological boost to take on the day. In an age when customization is king and self-care is more critical than ever before, eSalon is helping clients achieve salon-worthy hair color results at home.
Rooted in technology and color theory, eSalon is the first and only at-home hair color company that is truly custom. Never premixed or premade, we develop (truly) custom, salon-quality home hair color for our clients, shipped to their doors with everything they need to color at home, including personalized instructions. The process begins with our clients visiting esalon.com to complete a brief online questionnaire where they answer questions about their hair history and ultimate color goal. eSalon’s expert colorists will then individually craft the custom color formula utilizing our patented color mixing technology. After clients receive their color, we connect with them for feedback on their hair color and overall experience with eSalon. This constant “feedback loop” allows us to optimize the client experience and color selections for more client satisfaction in real-time.
Since our launch 10 years ago, and with more than 8.5M orders shipped and over 229,000 unique color formulas to-date, eSalon has become the leader in custom home hair color and personalization. Recently, we expanded our portfolio and launched Colorsmith, the first truly custom men’s home hair color line. We have leveraged our custom color expertise to develop a Gray Reduction Program that is the first of its kind, designed for men who wish to maintain their salt and pepper look or gradually cover grays over time.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the modern beauty industry?
1) Social responsibility: The modern beauty industry is taking a stand to make the world a better place. It is inspiring to see how many companies in our industry are using their voice to support important issues affecting our society. Brands can no longer stay silent. When eSalon posted our support for the #BlackLivesMatter Movement on social media, we received so much positive feedback from our followers. But we also received feedback from a few who advised us to “go back to hair color.” I disagree with the latter. With an audience of followers comes a responsibility.
2) Personalization & customization: D2C brands that can create consumer experiences that are truly personalized and customized to individual needs have a huge opportunity. I expect that connected beauty systems will take customization to the next level.
3) Tech innovation: New technologies have always revolutionized our industry and will continue to do so. I am excited to see how innovations like AI personalization, big data analytics, voice assistance and smart tools for skin, hair and makeup will continue to shape our industry.
Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to improve the industry, what would you suggest?
1) Lack of diversity, equality & inclusion: These topics are being discussed more and many companies are making great efforts. However, looking at boardrooms, advertising campaigns and product portfolios, the industry is not where it needs to be. My biggest concern is that many efforts still feel forced and are missing authenticity. I am hopeful that recent events will lead to real change. To improve the industry, we should not avoid “difficult” conversations around these topics. In this case, ignorance is not “bliss” and the most authentic way forward is to address the situation and to take action.
2) Sustainability needs more attention: While I would like to acknowledge that our industry has made progress in this field, we still have a long way to go. Our industry is incredibly creative and it’s incumbent on us to innovate further in order to help future generations. It is great to see that brands and companies like Henkel, who have made sustainability, transparency and higher ethical standards a priority, are winning in the marketplace.
3) Negative effects on body image and self-esteem: This is not a new subject, yet I think more needs to be done to celebrate beauty in all its forms. It is great to see brands, media outlets and influencers embrace more realistic looks, imperfections, and overall body positivity. I also expect that self-care and mental health will become an even bigger topic in beauty soon.
You are an expert about beauty. Can you share a few ideas that anyone can use “to feel beautiful”?
1. Self-care and setting healthy boundaries is key. Have you ever seen a stressed person that looked truly beautiful? 😉
2. Exercise. Find a way to work out that you truly enjoy, and you will not perceive it as a burden. Don’t force yourself into what everyone else does.
3. Take time to find the right hair color, hair care & style. I have seen so many magical transformations over the years. It is worth the effort.
4. Smile. It is scientifically proven that your smile will not only make you feel better, but it can also positively affect the people around you.
5. Be yourself. This point is so simple, yet not always easy. But it is important. We have to take the time to get to know ourselves in order to be ourselves.
Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, Can you please share “Five Things You Need To Know To Succeed In The Modern Beauty Industry”. Please share a story or an example, for each.
Have an Open Mind for Change:
We have never seen a faster rate of change than in today’s world. I believe the only way to manage this complexity and pace is to always have an open mind for the “new” and to accept that strategies and tools that led to success in the past may no longer apply in the future. The rules of the game change every day. You can choose to drive change, to adapt or to hang on to the past and fall behind. A perfect example is social media. What started as a small platform has revolutionized the beauty industry and the ways we market. As new platforms evolve this will change at an even faster pace.
Empathy is Key:
Take the time to listen to your customers and see the world from their perspective. No matter how excited you are about your brand or an idea, always challenge yourself. Is this relevant for your current or potential new clients? Does this matter from their perspective? Does this identify and solve a problem? Is your message clear or could it be confusing? One of the benefits of marketing in the D2C world is that we can constantly utilize real-time feedback on our platform to improve the experience for our customers. But of course, the opportunities go beyond that. At eSalon we utilize trend research companies, social media and dedicated surveys to ensure that we stay connected with our audience. If you work in a business with a customer service team, I highly recommend staying closely connected with them as they always get feedback first-hand and unfiltered. Join their calls if you can. I personally find it very valuable to listen to our clients and the questions they have during a one-on-one consultation with one of our eSalon colorists.
Create Space for Creativity:
Make the time. Find the right place. Look for new inspiration always, and in places where you expect it the least. Challenge yourself. The beauty industry is not new, but it has always re-invented itself. The only way to tell a story that has been told many times is to push creative boundaries. The same applies to creative iterations. Successful brands and businesses are usually not born overnight. They take a lot of brainstorming, iteration and evolution. eSalon is the perfect example. While we celebrate our 10-year anniversary this year, the brand and the business have never stopped evolving. It is a priority for us to reserve time to discuss trends we observe, share learnings and brainstorm together.
Get Comfortable with Taking Risks and Bounce Back Fast:
Your creative idea won’t have an impact unless you have the courage to put it into action. And while taking a chance on something new may seem overwhelming, rewards come from taking risks. Rewards can also come from failures — some of the world’s greatest innovations exist because of outcomes that were considered failures at that time. If you can get comfortable with failures and accept that not every idea will be a win, you will win. In today’s saturated beauty market which operates at lightning-fast speed, being able to quickly and efficiently bounce back from a setback is key. In one of my previous positions, getting funding for new ideas was challenging, as budgets were planned out and assigned well in advance. To solve this issue, we proposed an “innovation” fund. We optimized the costs of some of the brand’s traditional expenses in order to be able to allocate a share of the annual budget to new ideas. The fund empowered team members to pitch innovative concepts to drive the brand forward. This creative solution proved us right and paid off.
Stay True to Your Values and Your Mission:
Build what your brand stands for, stay true to it, and evolve your story in an authentic way. At eSalon, we know that the time of “one-size-fits-all” brands is over. We believe that if you are trying to be everything to everyone, you risk being nothing to anyone. We took this belief to heart when recently launching Colorsmith, the first truly custom home hair color designed for men. Rather than trying to stretch the very feminine look and feel of the eSalon brand to fit the needs of male clientele, we decided to launch a completely separate brand with a consumer experience tailored to men’s unique and individual hair color needs.
You are a person of great influence. 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. 🙂
I would love to inspire a movement that speaks up against prejudice, entitlement and discrimination. Every individual human being has their own story and their own beauty. If we gave each other the respect to listen to each other’s stories, learn with an open mind and focus on the positive qualities we have in common instead of what makes us different, the world would be a much better place.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The Magic Happens outside of the Comfort Zone.” This quote by Roy T. Bennett has inspired me every step along the way. Whenever I have to make an important decision in my life and have to evaluate between a safe and more adventurous or challenging opportunity, I will choose the latter. If I had stayed within the comfort zone, I would have never had the courage to study or move abroad, join new teams, or take over more challenging responsibilities. On a personal note, I never would have had the courage to fall in love, travel the world or have a daughter. I owe the most magical moments in my life to this quote.
How can our readers follow you online?
I like to connect and share learnings and inspiration on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/vera-koch-a4004391
To learn more about eSalon readers can visit www.eSalon.com and follow us @esalon.
To learn more about Colorsmith, our new custom hair color for men, readers can visit www.colorsmith.co or follow us @colorsmithco.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.