Inside e.l.f. Beauty’s Renegade Culture Courtesy of its Digital Power Couple

Lisa Johnston
Lisa Johnston profile picture
Kory Marchisotto
Kory Marchisotto

When your corporate culture includes language like superheroes, rocket ships, and elf-bombs, is it any surprise to find yourself in the middle of a pop culture moment?

While e.l.f. Beauty certainly did not manufacture the viral moment that landed it as the answer to a Jeopardy Daily Double, it was the company’s cultural and digital foundation that enabled it to seize the marketing opportunity. Providing a look behind the scenes during the Consumer Goods Sales & Marketing Summit — including insight into how tech plays a role within its renegade culture — were Kory Marchisotto, e.l.f. chief marketing officer, and Ekta Chopra, e.l.f. chief digital officer.

The dynamic duo kicked off the high-energy presentation with a preview of the viral Jeopardy moment last fall in which contestant Matt Amodio was asked to identify what the e.l.f. acronym stands for. While he got it wrong, citing “ears, lip, face” instead of “eyes, lip, face,” it nonetheless made people sit up and take notice.  

“There is probably no bigger cultural milestone, lighting up those blue squares,” noted Marchisotto, who was honored as a CGT 2021 CMO of the Year.  

To unpack the journey of how the 17-year-old beauty company evolved from a smaller brand to a pop culture sensation, Chopra and Marchisotto shared a window into the brand recharge the company underwent beginning nearly three years ago.

It was a process that started with a deep dive into e.l.f. consumers — it turned out that quite a few didn’t know the meaning behind the acronym — and resulted in the development of a new e.l.f. language, visual expression and soundtrack. It also translated into a “digital big bang” campaign that transformed into a cultural movement of self-expression, said Marchisotto. This big bang has since really taken on a life of its own, which the company steps in to fuel when needed.  

Case in point was the opportunity the Jeopardy moment offered. E.l.f. immediately engaged with Amodio, changed its branding across all of its social media handles within 24 hours, and subsequently presented the contestant with a check for the $8,000 he’d lost as a result of the error, which he donated to Dress for Success.

This quick action serves as just one example of the benefits e.l.f. reaps as a result of its new operating strategy. “[We] operate with a renegade spirit, a thirst for disruption, and a test-and-learn mindset,” said Marchisotto.  

“We build to disrupt norms, shape culture, connect communities through positivity, inclusivity and accessibility,” Chopra, a CGT Visionary, added. “But underneath it all, we're driven by purpose, and we live our purpose every single day.”  

[See also: CGT Sales & Marketing Report]

Ekta Chopra
Ekta Chopra

As part of the conversation, Marchisotto and Chopra detailed some of the ways they seek to stay true to e.l.f.’s roots of digital disruption. After all, the company was founded on the premise that you could sell premium cosmetics over the Internet — a radical notion in 2004 when the iPhone didn’t even exist yet.

First and foremost, it means having a consumer mindset and embedding the consumer within the culture. This involves developing a connected ecosystem that’s serving the full consumer decision journey. It also ensures the brand consistently appears everywhere its consumers are — whether that’s social media, retail, mobile apps or even gaming — and strives to reduce friction points.   

Second, it’s about accepting that using technology for the sake of it doesn't serve anyone; technology must truly be enabling the consumer and employee experiences.

To get this right, Chopra said, one must look at both enterprise and consumer needs with a 360-degree lens.

“It's the consumer-facing platforms, but it's also the foundational stuff that doesn't happen overnight,” she said. “It takes building blocks, and it's a journey. And those platforms have to have a flexible architecture — it has to have data pipelines that can be enabled and disabled as quickly as you want them to be. It has to have integrations that are on demand.”  

She noted that consumer-facing aspects are often the ones evolved because they can be easier to enable in an agile fashion. “But we forget about the foundation that still needs to evolve as your stack and your pipelines and your integrations evolve,” she said. “It's a maturity — it needs to be nurtured, cultivated over time. Our journey started really in 2014, and from there on, we're still on it, and it changes every single year.”

Finally, Chopra cited data as the currency e.l.f. uses to navigate the digital ecosystem, and she cautioned that anyone without a first-party data strategy today is lagging behind.

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