For this week’s Inner Circle Q&A, the folks at Custora, a Women in Retail Leadership Summit sponsor partner, interviewed an executive of one of its great customers, Winky Lux. Kate Fernandez is the global director of brand marketing and content at Winky Lux, an animal cruelty-free, non-toxic beauty brand born on Instagram and built with speed in mind. The interview is part of Custora’s ongoing series, where the provider of advanced customer analytics for the retail industry chats with its customers to learn more about the different ways they’re using customer data to drive growth.

Custora: Hi Kate! First, we’d love to hear what made you want to become a marketer?
Kate Fernandez: The power of persuasion. As a sophomore in high school, I was fortunate to take part in a program that allowed me to attend evening classes at my county’s community college based on academic achievement. I was particularly interested in my psychology classes, and a professor suggested I watch The Century of the Self in my spare time — a mini docu-series focused on the rise of psychoanalysis and the role it played in shaping modern consumerism. It struck me that working in advertising was almost like having a superpower. While I saw how this level of influence could be used in unsavory ways, I also felt there were positive use cases — e.g., standing in solidarity for the wave of inclusivity and diversity that’s rightly deserved in the beauty brand landscape. 

C: You have a varied background in advertising, e-commerce, international business, and now beauty. Data seems to be the common thread across these roles. What draws you to data when for so many it can be very intimidating?
KF: Understanding patterns and identifying outliers is the No. 1 way to get the most out of your marketing. Data synthesis paints a living, breathing image of your strategy and the segments you’re trying to hit. When you start to look at data as a direct connection to the soul of your brand rather than a cold aggregation of numbers, it gets a little less intimidating and much more fun. 

C: The beauty industry seems to be exploding lately, with tons of new brands challenging established giants like Estee Lauder and L’Oreal. What do you think consumers were missing?
KF: The happy factor. The Winky Lux mission statement is to “create joy through products, content and experiences,” and we take that mission very seriously. Early on, we knew our followers weren’t always passionate about the products they could afford (i.e., drugstore cosmetics) and they wanted makeup trends faster, with more availability. Being a speed-to-market brand with a special focus on branding and design, I think Winky Lux offers a more personal, transparent and joyful experience than the titans out there today.

C: What does it mean to be a social media-first brand?
KF: It means you’re putting your followers first and keeping the brand honest. When you’re born on social, the brand becomes very vulnerable. Your community is invested and helps shape brand decisions, but they’re also validating, and at times opposing, them in public for everyone to see. Being social-first allows us to be more nimble than more traditionally established brands by giving us a firsthand view of our consumers and fans that might get lost when you’re not prioritizing these channels. This level of intimacy affords us the opportunity to modify our messaging or even product formulas in real time as we receive feedback from the folks that matter most — our community of consumers and fans.   

C: How much of your product development is driven by data analytics vs. human intelligence and trend spotting?
KF: Oddly, we’re still fans of manual work over at Winky Lux — it’s the startup in us. But I want to say that we’re moving into more of a 60-40 split when it comes to data vs. intuition. Numbers don’t lie, but gut instincts are really what allows us to innovate. We don’t have data on things that don’t exist.   

C: Is social media exposure generally how Winky Lux thinks about success metrics for physical retail?
KF: We’re definitely tracking social media impressions as we’re still quite small and need all the brand awareness we can get. The Winky Lux Experience Stores started out as more of an acquisition play when we were testing back in 2017. We found that the customers who met us in person were three times more likely to return to our digital site and, after our first store opening in August 2018, we found that 82 percent of the folks that came through our doors were providing email addresses at checkout. As we grow our presence and expertise in this space our key performance indicators will continue to evolve. 

C: Where do you see your brand in the beauty landscape this time next year?
KF: We’ve made some aggressive moves in the past six months to eight months, and are continuing to expand across digital, wholesale and physical retail. I think the team hopes we get to a point where Winky Lux goes from a little-known Instagram beauty brand to a nationally known go-to cosmetics brand and destination for makeup lovers. That might just be me though 😉

Getting to Know Kate …

Kate likes …

  • Hybrid job roles (give me all the hats)
  • Interdepartmental brainstorming sessions
  • Talking about food … while I’m eating food

Kate dislikes …

  • The silo mentality
  • Corporate America
  • Sports (yes, all of them)

You can hear a more in-depth conversation with Kate Fernandez on the rise of Winky Lux in this Office Hours conversation with Custora. You can also listen to it on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, or Google Podcasts. Kate addresses the power of micro-influencers, and how Winky Lux approaches customer acquisition and retention of high-value customers as a social media-focused brand.