Very Good Light’s Co-Founder and President Michael Engert on the Power of Blending Editorial and E-Commerce

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Published on
Jan 19, 2023
Written by
Kasey Hickey
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How Very Good Light’s community informs and supports a skincare line that takes beauty beyond the binary.

Humans have been slathering our skin with weird and wonderful mixes for millennia—yet today, skincare and makeup are widely considered feminine interests, at least in the Western world. Writer and entrepreneur David Yi and seasoned marketer Michael Engert set out to change those assumptions. 

The pair co-founded the editorial platform Very Good Light to start conversations about gender-inclusive beauty and redefining masculinity. In 2021, with the support of their growing community, they co-founded the skincare line good light, donating 1% of sales to True Colors United, an organization that helps LGBTQIA+ youth experiencing homelessness.

The editorial side continues to inform the commercial brand, serving as a focus group, a fanbase, and a marketing channel. It’s allowed good light to carefully craft their product range while staying true to their core belief in beauty beyond the binary.

Very Good Light Co-Founder and President Engert shared how the company thinks about the relationship between content and commerce, building a brand around products people love, and which feedback is worth changing for (and when you should trust your instincts).

To build a strong brand, build a strong product

As any makeup-lover knows, the most double-take-worthy looks start with a strong foundation. Branding can draw customers in with a cool logo or witty ad campaign, which might secure a one-time purchase. But it won’t build loyalty if your products don’t live up to your promises. Customers come back over and over to products that work, and it’s through those repeated purchases that they start to value your brand.

“If we really pull back, a brand is a connection to a product,” Engert says. “Most brands think they're more important to consumers than they actually are. I think there are very few brands that consumers truly care about and love. People love products.”

To build a product your customers can’t resist, you need to listen and understand what they want. “The sooner the consumer can participate in your brand’s evolution, the more successful you're going to be—but a lot of folks are hesitant to give consumers that power,” Engert says.

good light regularly sends customers surveys to get first-hand insights into the products they’re interested in, which ensures the products they ultimately make already have an eager audience. It makes the customers happy—and happy customers are loyal customers—and limits the risk of a new product flopping, saving the small brand time and money.

good light also includes some customers in the hands-on development process, having them try and review samples. But they don’t just want their superfans. “It's the people who come in through customer support, who have taken the time to communicate something to us about the product—whether they're happy or unhappy,” Engert says. “That’s the kind of feedback we want, so those are the people we bring into that process.”

Why editorial content is good for business

Before Yi and Engert started good light, they amassed a following of like- and open-minded beauty and makeup fans through their editorial work on Very Good Light. “Creating content is critical to being a successful brand today, and we had a real expertise in creating content and telling stories that connected with readers,” Engert says. 

This editorial aspect has become an integral piece of good light’s branding and marketing strategy. Rather than only promoting products, good light and Very Good Light craft pieces that resonate with their audience on an emotional level. Engert says that their most opened email is a daily affirmation that doesn’t mention products. “It’s about letting people know that they're not alone and there are other people out there like them,” he says.

Having an established editorial wing gave good light a head start in several ways. Unlike many new brands, they had a built-in fanbase of readers to test new products with. For example, the team tested the waters of a commerce wing by putting out an Asian Social Skincare Club hoodie—a nod to those made by apparel brand Anti Social Social Club. “That did incredibly well and gave us a sense of the size of the audience that may actually be willing to purchase something we produced,” Engert says.

good light also looks to the Very Good Light community for guidance on what products to make. “We can create content about different products, ingredients, or trends, etc., and follow how those stories perform,” Engert says. “That helped inform our thinking about our launch products, and to this day informs our product roadmap.”

With the skincare line now ready for sale on good light’s digital shelves, Very Good Light continues to inspire a steady stream of interested customers. Very Good Light readers support every product launch, and the teams have found ways to connect them to the good light store. “Even though good light is now growing very quickly, we're still getting a meaningful amount of traffic coming in from Very Good Light,” Engert says.

In addition to sending customers good light’s way, Very Good Light’s network of beauty influencers and VIPs is a source of collaborations that feel more organic than your typical beauty line-influencer transactional relationship. “We can reach out to creators and influencers as Very Good Light and strike up a relationship very authentically,” Engert says. “And then if we have a shoot for good light or we're launching a new product, the fact that we've already got to know them allows us to work with them on both sides of the business.”

Commit to your vision for the long haul

Crafting a brand with core values, a clear vision, and a loyal following takes time. Good light didn’t take off overnight. Yi spent years building a readership for his writing—before and on Very Good Light—and Yi and Engert took even more time translating that into e-commerce success. 

To survive and thrive in the long term, you have to be willing to evolve. The fast-moving world of social media marketing is a key example of an area where an open-minded, trial-and-error approach pays off. “The most successful brands on TikTok right now are the ones who are iterating—and they're willing to spend the next year iterating to find what works,” Engert says.

That said, not all feedback is worth changing for. You also need to know when to stand your ground. At the core of Very Good Light and good light is the concept of beauty beyond the binary. It’s not just a tagline, it’s the foundational belief that makeup and skincare products should be accessible and enjoyable for people of all genders. “Beauty beyond the binary is that North Star in everything we do, and all of our channels should ladder up to that,” Engert says.

But many investors initially struggled to see the opportunity in this core value, believing it would only appeal to a small market. “You'd have all these conversations and start to think, ‘Maybe it is small and maybe we should be trying to appeal to more people,’” Engert says. “Of course, with hindsight, we’ve recognized that we need to be very true to who we are and what got us here, and let people come to us.”

With the support of their readers and customers, Very Good Light and good light plan to keep reaching more people who’ve been excluded from beauty conversations. “In our world, everyone is beautiful,” Engert says. “In our world, there's reason to be really hopeful about the future.” It’s a message that is more than skin deep.

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