How Startup Birchbox Uses Content To Sell Tons of Beauty Supplies

In 2010, two Harvard girls set out to create a subscription service for women who wanted to try beauty samples. Hayley Barna and Katia Beauchamp called their startup Birchbox, with the mission “to help women cut through the clutter of the beauty world to find products that really work for them.”

Birchbox’s first recruit was a Director of Content, Mollie Chen, an editor at Conde Nast Traveller. This was no accident; content is an integral part of the startup’s success at growing its customer base and upselling its subscribers on more products.

“Content was a major focus from the beginning,” Chen explains. “We had a Twitter handle and a blog before we had any customers.”

Not even a year later, the company is moving into its fourth office, in the Flatiron District of Manhattan. It keeps running out of space for its growing team and the thousands of pounds of beauty supplies being shipped to Birchbox’s skyrocketing customer base. The Birchbox blog, newsletters, and beauty tips guide The Haute Box, bring readers in from search and social channels and turn those readers into customers with trustworthy editorial content and solid advice.

We recently caught up with Mollie Chen to pick her brain on content:


Contently: What’s your philosophy regarding content and the Web business?

Birchbox: As someone who thought they wanted to be an editor-in-chief, I never had any doubts about the importance of content. But it’s nice to see that brands and startups are catching up and realizing that it’s not just about data and algorithms.

Content is the best way to differentiate your business and to create value — we give our customers useful articles, videos, and blogs in order to gain their trust, communicate with them, and keep them coming back to our site.

But you have to have a clear voice. Way back at the beginning, I wrote out a little description of the “Birchbox voice,” even though I was the only one writing anything for the site. Now everyone who writes for me gets a style guide that covers our philosophy, tone, and voice.


Contently: How does your content strategy integrate with your company?

Birchbox: At its core, Birchbox is about three things: a subscription service, original editorial content, and an online shop. Those three things work together. The content is there to add value to the BirchBox experience — to give members context for their products, to inspire and educate them, and to get them to engage with us.

We are a company built on trust and we gain that trust by giving people useful, relevant content that they can’t get anywhere else.

More specifically, we started out with a monthly roster of articles and videos, daily blog posts, and a Facebook and Twitter presence. We’ve grown the amount of content we post on all those channels, and have added other platforms like Foursquare, Pinterest, and vYou.


Contently: What’s been the most surprising thing you’ve experienced so far?

Birchbox: Our members are extremely vocal. I don’t think I was prepared for how engaged they would be — they definitely keep us on our toes.


Contently: What types of content have been the most well-received or gotten the best results? What’s flopped? And why?

BirchBox: Ah! On the blog, celebrities and hair coverage rule. Really. We balance trend and celeb items with personal product reviews, lifestyle posts, and behind-the-startup-curtain team items. Otherwise, we definitely have a lot of success with easy-to-digest lists (beauty no-nos etc.) and video tutorials (hair!).


Contently: How do you determine the effectiveness or the ROI on the content you produce?

Birchbox: It depends on the channel: For our videos, it’s views. For our blog, which is on Tumblr, it’s followers, unique views, and how many reblogs we get. For our Website, we use Google Analytics to track page views, time on page, and bounce rate — there is a lot more I’d like to do but we’re still getting there. And I still get really happy whenever members write in (which they do!) to tell us they love our articles and videos.



Image by Flickr

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