October 29, 2019
Joining us on the Marketing Mix Podcast is Eunice Byun, CEO & Co-Founder of Material Kitchen. In this episode, Eunice discusses the launch and development of her direct-to-consumer brand, the decision to start partnering with well-aligned third-party distributors, and how platforms like Pinterest are getting more consumers into the funnel. In describing the role customers play in building the brand’s credibility, Eunice discusses the value of organic influencer relationships, customer service insights and purchase reviews.
Jeff Ragovin: Eunice, you started your career in the financial world at Goldman Sachs. Can you tell us a little more about your career transition into marketing?
Eunice Byun: Overall it was following what I was interested in at the time and what I thought I’d learn the most from. I went to school at Northwestern, graduated and actually knew very little about finance. I think one of the most amazing things about Goldman Sachs is that they don't necessarily hire just economics or business majors, they hire to their culture and people they think will succeed there.
It was a great opportunity because I had always been afraid of math or anything super analytical, so I took it as a good challenge to learn in a completely different field, and I think that’s been a recurring theme throughout all of the professional decisions that I’ve made is to just challenge myself to try something new and to evolve through it.
When I was at Goldman Sachs I was a financial analyst, and it was through that process that the lightbulb went off for me that you really have to find things that interest you. Once I started to learn more of these analytical skills, I realized that I wasn't interested in picking up the Wall Street Journal or the Financial Times, and I still was always gravitating to the consumer space. For me, it came down to understanding people and brands and how they interact with one another. It didn't matter what industry it was in, but I was always just really fascinated by what motivates someone to buy something or to fall in love with a brand.
That’s when I made a dramatic shift from the financial world into the world of intimate apparel. I was at a company called Maidenform which at the time was around 85 years old, so very much a heritage brand, but really always rooted in innovation. I had the pleasure of working there for a little over 5 years meeting new growth initiatives and getting my feet wet in terms of coming up with new concepts and testing them, and ultimately incubating new opportunities for this company.
Around that time the markets crashed and everyone was figuring out new channels and what the world of digital was looking like and so I started to dive deeper into the early days of the New York startup scene. One of the startups I was at was L2, which was founded by Scott Galloway and Maureen Mullen - two great individuals who know so much about everything in the world of digital - and that’s where I started to make my way into the beauty and CPG world. From there, I continued to follow new opening doors and opportunities and making sure that every job I took was truly at a place where I could roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty. I really wanted to build something, and so I had the chance to go and be the first Head of Digital for Revlon and it was really my time there that inspired so many of the things that ultimately translated into Material.
Jeff Ragovin: Why a company like Material?
Eunice Byun: There were two big things looking back that really came together to form Material. One of them was very much my co-founder Dave and I’s love for good design. Dave comes from the world of luxury fashion. He was previously at Valentino and Chanel and both of us were really inspired by the respective industries that we came from where design was honored and prevalent. Because we were both avid home cooks, we recognized that there was a huge gap in the market where there were some brands that were affordable but very functional, and there were brands that you could say “Oh my gosh that’s so beautiful, but I’m not going to cook in that” so we tried to find a way how we could bring that form and function together and really delight our customers. We wanted to create a line that blended in your kitchen design and something that’s worthy of being displayed on your counter.
The second thing is a lot more personal to who we are as individuals and it speaks to the values we hold true to us as a company, which is we love food, we love cooking, but it’s really what cooking means to us. My dad owned restaurants growing up so I’ve spent countless days and weekends in a kitchen and that environment and knowing how food can bring people together was something that we really wanted to convey with the brand. Cooking is about what it does in terms of connecting people, but also what it does for the cook as the individual. I can tap into my creative side, and it almost gives me a momentary break from the craziness that exists in my day. For us, it’s about how do we connect the joy that comes from cooking throughout the whole cooking process with our kitchenware.
Jeff Ragovin: Can you tell us more about the Material Kitchen product line?
Eunice Byun: We just launched our cookware collection, it's called The 29 Collection. 29 is a nod to copper as its the 29th element on the periodic table, and why we wanted to highlight that particular material is because copper has such great heat properties. To have a really good pan you want to make sure that it has the ability to retain heat evenly. Copper can be very expensive and hard to upkeep so what we did is we layered the copper in the middle of our pan to create its core.
The coated pan is our take on a non-stick. What’s great about having the classic and the coated is that you are able to cook a variety of things using them. The coated pan is great for cooking eggs or anything that you really want to have that nice slick release on. What’s great about our non-stick is the fact that we’ve got a non-stick coating that is made without PFOAs which are the chemicals that gave non-stick a bad reputation for a while in the industry. It actually performs a lot better than most of the ceramics that are on the market.
Jeff Ragovin: Who is your target market?
Eunice Byun: The core of who we are focused on is the home cook. Every home is different. We wanted to make sure we were clear in who we are and what we stand for, but ultimately letting home cooks of varying levels of expertise and of different demographics be able to encounter and benefit from Material. We are about 60% female and 40% male, which is great because it shows such great diversity of who is cooking in homes noways. We are predominantly focusing on 25-44 year olds if we were to specifically talk about demographics, but that’s mainly because of the channels that we are currently marketing through.
One of the things that we often hear from our customers is that there is such a universal appeal to the designs themselves that it doesn't feel like its too “millenial” or trendy, but rather timeless and something that can last them a lifetime as it’s not going to go out of style, so that’s something that was important to us in the design process as well.
Jeff Ragovin: What have been some of the most effective ways to market the products since launch?
Eunice Byun: We have gone through a journey in marketing, and I think that any direct-to-consumer marketer that doesn't feel similarly is just not being honest or telling the truth because it has increasingly become a very complex world from a marketing perspective. You have to think much more holistically than 2 years ago where you could just funnel most of your marketing budget into the world of Facebook to get to your customer base and fuel your growth.
Today, just because there’s such an emergence of direct-to-consumer brands going after similar audiences, I think there’s a lot of ad fatigue from customers on Instagram and Facebook. We have had to really figure out what the role of other platforms play in getting people into the top of the funnel like we have done with Pinterest. We aren't seeing as much direct conversion from Pinterest, but they’re doing a really great job of getting people into the funnel and allowing us to retarget through Facebook. We have tested things like direct mail and certain markets it works really well and with other markets less so, so we are really trying to figure out where those pockets are that particular channels are going to be most effective in.
Jeff Ragovin: From a product perspective, do you sell through third party retailers or just through direct-to-consumer?
Eunice Byun: It's a super timely question because I think it's something a lot of direct-to-consumer companies are trying to figure out what their strategies related to third party retailers are. Our stance has always been very clear which is if the partner makes sense and there’s a way for us to create some level of exclusivity then we will do it. We have partnered with Zola from a wedding registry perspective because we do know weddings are a great trigger point for the purchase of new kitchenware. We have also partnered with very specific retailers like Huckleberry or Needs Supply. For us it's just trying to understand where these pockets of our target audience will be looking for products like ours. We are developing new partnerships with a couple of larger retailers, and it goes back to finding out whether there’s a nice alignment from a brand perspective and whether we can still control our brand in a way in which it won’t be disconnected from the majority of our business which is direct-to-consumer. I think there is a very nice blended model one can have, but it does require us to say no more than we would like to. The times and opportunities we say yes become a lot more meaningful and powerful because we can really have a seat at the table with the retailers and help guide and direct them on how we want our brand to be experienced through their shop doors.
Jeff Ragovin: Thank you for joining the Marketing Mix Podcast.
Please note, the above has been paraphrased for editorial purposes