An Interview with Cristin McGrath of Algenist

This month’s Client Spotlight is shining brightly on Cristin McGrath with Algenist. Cristin’s experience as a master of brand storytelling via social media made her a natural choice to lead the brand’s social media and public relations team. An emerging skincare and beauty brand, Algenist’s marketing strategy is now one informed by insights and tailored creative for a unique, granularly targeted approach.

SpotRight: Algenist is such a unique brand with an interesting story. Can you tell us a little bit about it and what drew you to the company?

Cristin: It’s such an inspiring story. When I first joined the team and heard our CEO tell the story, the passion and innovation were unable to be ignored.

Our CEO, Frederic and his team were researching alternative fuel sources in 2011 when they discovered Alguronic Acid. This ingredient is  the protective layer that provides unprecedented protection for microalgae, allowing it to thrive in the harshest conditions. Microalgae is the one organism that can survive everywhere because of this protective layer, so why not explore skincare? A bunch of guys in a room (literally in a garage in Silicon Valley) realized that when you take Alguronic Acid and combine it with other key anti-aging actives , like Hyaluronic acid and collagen, the results increase exponentially. This is how we’re able to deliver our guaranteed claim of 10-day results because our patented Alguronic Acid is such a catalyst. Long story short – that’s how we’re here today.

The reason I was drawn to Algenist is that the company was born out of a desire change the game! They wanted to disrupt that industry; they were doing it because of passion, not a drive to make money. I never want to join a team that sells just to sell. I love working at a company that we are actually improving peoples’ self-confidence. We’re improving their face. We’re improving the texture and the tonality of their skin. At risk of sounding crazy, we’re improving their lives.

When I’m on social and I can see people sharing their results, they are so happy. I had a woman tell me that we changed her life. That’s the reason why I got into the field of social media. Algenist is starting to make waves. We’re becoming a power-player. We’re catching the attention that we want to be catching, winning awards, and it’s all actually justified. It’s a real, life-changing product.

I actually use our products every night, and I was NEVER a skincare girl. I probably should’ve been since I’m not getting to the age where I’m showing some wrinkles but I had never moisturized, I never used eye cream. I was very much a drug store makeup kind of person. The moment I put this on my face and started to see forehead wrinkles disappearing, I lost my mind.

SpotRight: So it sounds like social is a key channel. With today’s empowered consumers, why do you think social plays such an important part in marketing?

Cristin: I might be biased, but I think social media’s actually the most important piece of a marketing ecosystem right now. Not only do companies now have the opportunity to mass-reach, but we have the opportunity to mass-reach with the most granular targeting. We literally can take a look at third-party data and identify who this person is. It’s crazy!

There’s also the opportunity, which is what gets me excited, for never-before-seen fan affinity building. Being able to add personality to a brand, becoming the voice of the brand, that’s something that you’ve not seen before. The TV commercials, sure, for that one commercial, you have a brand personality and then your next commercial it’s gone and you’re on to a different campaign.

I think with the explosion of digital marketing and social media, there are now sustaining campaigns. When you think of Taco Bell, you immediately know what that personality is. Same thing with Red Bull and all of those “millennial” companies that are killing it on social. You know exactly who they are, what they stand for, who their consumer is supposed to be, and I think we should attribute that success to social media.

The reason why social is so important is that every market, no matter what industry, is so cluttered with competitive products. Everything from cars to food to alcohol – I mean, skincare is also crazy, beauty is crazy, and everyone’s making unproven claims. So, consumers are just tuning it out at this point. When it’s on TV and they’re saying it’s the best X, Y, and Z, consumers stop paying attention.

But with social, I fully believe in the ability to take in a person who knows nothing about your brand, they don’t even know you exist, and convert them into an advocate in literally just a few tweets. That’s what I do almost on a day-to-day basis. I engage one-to-one, basically witnessing a brand introduction, which then turns into a conversion.

So again, that’s something that we haven’t been able to do before. Obviously, you can run banner ads and hope that somebody clicks through and buys your product, but after that, there’s no affinity. They just like the product. But with social, it becomes more of a conversation. It becomes more of, at risk of sounding cheesy, a friendship.

SpotRight: How are you bringing your vision about social into Algenist’s growth plans?

Cristin: Because I think engagement is literally the most important thing on my agenda on a day-to-day, I always try to make time for conquesting and conversing. I make brand introductions to people, pull share of voice away from our competitors, and also show our fans that we genuinely care about their results.

I’ll frequently set up monitors for ‘facemask’ or ‘eye cream’ and scan through conversations, identifying opportunities to either 1.) build the brand personality, so basically create a sense of relatability that brings our very scientific brand back down to earth. So, if somebody is saying, “I can’t wait to go home, drink wine, and put on a facemask,” we’ll jump into that conversation and be like, “Girl, you do you. That sounds like the best Friday night.” At least it starts to create a personality around a very scientific product.

And 2.) I can actually start to intercept frustrated customers with our competitors. So for instance, somebody’s putting on a painful peel-off mask , or they got cream in their eye and their eye is burning. That’s the opportunity for us to jump in; I can introduce any product from our line that’s gentler, less painful, more efficient, just so that they can start to see that they don’t need to stick with their go-to. They can venture out and try something new. So, that’s obviously very one-to-one.

On a larger scale, helping to move the business, we now do paid media. We turned on paid media, but we don’t blanket target, and I think that’s something from my past life being in paid media at one of the best media agencies in the country, I really have an emphasis on super-granular targeting.

I do realize that’s more expensive, but when you get that targeted, you are reaching the right people at the right time, and you’re keeping their attention. At any given moment, I might have so many campaigns in my dashboard running that my head is spinning, but I know for a fact that I am sending the right message, the right product to the right person because they fall within the right persona of that product line, instead of just blanket targeting for people who care about skincare, because obviously, every person’s skin is different. So, it really comes down to the personalization that social offers.

It completely changes the game when you actually know about your audience versus what you think you know.

SpotRight: Couldn’t agree more. Like you said earlier, we’re all bombarded with so many messages. When you don’t target, you’re just part of the noise and somebody may or may not actually notice. Does this have anything to do with why you chose to partner with SpotRight?

Cristin: Sure! Honestly, throughout my career, the biggest missed opportunity, and even when I was fresh out of college, I would sit at conference tables and listen to executives swear by a secret “target audience” that an agency sold to them; one day, a creative agency tells them that their target is Maria, she’s 50, and she drives a mini-van, and all of a sudden, that’s who their consumer is. I don’t understand how that’s still a way of thinking. It’s so alienating to literally take your entire brand and force-feed it down to one audience.

So, with a tool like SpotRight, specifically with Algenist in mind, each and every one of our product lines not only has an aspirational target based on like-brands, purchasing behaviors, age, affinities, all of that, but now we have actual customer data that we’ve not had before. So, we had a huge CRM database that we were kind of just sitting on and we weren’t able to analyze why there was drop-off, why there was cart abandonment, and now we’re starting to actually see really stark differences between who’s buying and who we want to buy.

Here, initially the thought was they’d heard who our consumer is or who our target consumer should be and then we just sit on it. Now, I’m starting to show everyone that sure that we can keep that person in our consideration set, but there are so many different opportunities to steal market share away from our competitors, to actually create marketing collateral that speaks to these people, not just ‘here’s a bottle with our logo on it, go buy it.’

I think it presents the opportunity for us to actually talk more about passion points versus ‘okay, you have wrinkles, here’s your solution.’ I think that’s the smartest way to complete an advertising marketing campaign is when you add in that level of empathy and that level of relatability. So that’s what we’re working on.

For the past six years, we had sort of ignored the male consumer. We started to see that 22% of our buyers were male and I said,  “Alright, that’s a hefty portion, so what can we do with that?” I ran a small paid media spend against that male audience and low and behold, the audience had the highest click-through rate, lowest cost per click, and actually converted at a higher frequency than we had seen before with our female audiences.

Now, I’m taking that information and basically reforcasting our entire Q2, Q3, Q4 plans to include that male audience. That impacts every department. It impacts public relations, which publishers are we reaching out to, which editors, how are we talking about the products, all the way down to influencer marketing. Instead of just beauty, let’s reach out to moms and dads. Let’s add in LGBT. So, it completely changes the game when you actually know about your audience versus what you think you know.