Featured case: Glossier:
Co-Creating a Cult Brand with a Digital Community

Share this page:
The case

Who – the protagonist

Emily Weiss, Glossier founder and CEO.


Glossier is a digitally-native, direct-to-consumer beauty brand, which is valued at $1.2 billion.


Emily wasn’t content with her brand’s rapid growth in the form of sales increasing by 600% in 2017, and a customer portfolio growing threefold. Instead, she dreamed of creating the world's first socially-driven brand that inserted its community into the buying experience so that the company was merchandising people, their opinions, and their content, just as much as they were merchandising products.


Emily took the US by storm with Glossier, after serving as a styling assistant at fashion magazines W and Vogue. While Glossier is primarily an online business, it also has stores in New York and LA.


Glossier started life in 2010 as a beauty blog called Into the Gloss, where Emily cultivated a community of skincare and makeup fanatics. Fast forward to 2018 and the company was worth ten figures.

Key quote

“How can we create the first socially-driven brand, the first beauty brand that involves its community in its creative process? We want to do that by inserting people into the buying experience, so that we’re merchandising people’s opinions and stories just as much as we are merchandising products.” – Emily Weiss, Glossier founder and CEO.

What next?

In order to achieve Emily’s ‘socially-driven brand’ ambition, her team debated marketing strategies for 2018, with particular focus paid to whether the company's next phase of growth would need to be fuelled by a greater emphasis on paid peer-to-peer sales representatives, professional influencer marketing, paid media, and a physical market presence.

Interested in finding out more?

Download the case and teaching note

Educators can login to view a free educator preview copy of this case and its teaching note.

Glossier: Co-Creating a Cult Brand with a Digital Community
Ref 9-519-022

The author


Jill Avery

Jill discusses why Marketing is such an effective case subject, gaining access to a protagonist and the case editing process.

Blended lines

Jill said: “Marketing is a discipline that can’t effectively be learned via memorising a set of rules or algorithms – it is a true blend of science and art.

Blended lines

"Being a strong marketer relies heavily on managerial judgment, as for most marketing decisions, a manager is operating under complex, dynamic conditions. The case method is designed to help students learn how to make complex decisions – it strengthens their critical thinking and decision-making skills by forcing them to analyse data, generate solution alternatives, decide, recommend, persuade, constructively criticise, and debate with their classmates about how they would solve the marketing problems facing the case protagonist.”

Insider access

Jill continued: “Having insider access to a private company like Glossier is essential to understanding the managerial issues that the senior team is grappling with, and to be able to bring their philosophies and perspectives into the case so that students can truly walk in their shoes.

“We are always truly grateful when a company allows us access as a case writer to interview their teams and represent their positions. It helps keep us, as educators, on the cutting edge of what is happening in the real world."

Importance of learning objectivesImportance of learning objectives

She added: “A good case always starts with learning objectives – what is it that needs to be taught to students? Once these are specified, potential case sites can be identified – companies where the learning objective is playing out in a real-world setting.

“For example, the Glossier case was initiated when I was looking to teach students about online brand communities and influencer marketing.

“Being clear about the learning objectives upfront helps case writers structure field interviews with an end-game in mind. A lot of work must be done on a field case before the first interview even happens. A thorough review of all secondary materials available on the company and its industry can help case writers go into the interview more educated on the issues that might be facing the company, allowing more time for rich discussion with the case protagonists.”

Cutting a case down to size

She said: “One of the biggest challenges with writing the Glossier case is that there was so much potential material to include – so making choices about which issues stayed in and which stayed out was critical.

“I generally try to stick to 12 pages of text with a few supporting exhibits, but the Glossier situation is so interesting and complex that there was much more to say. Editing the final case is always difficult for me because I tend to mourn the information that doesn’t make it into the final draft.”

Case favourite

Jill concluded: “I’ve taught the Glossier case to both MBA students and executives in Executive Education and it is usually one of the favourite cases of the course. Students enjoy reverse engineering Glossier’s success, identifying potential weaknesses, and recommending a course of action for both distribution and promotion strategies. Glossier is an exciting company to analyse and many students are also consumers of the brand.”

About the authors

Jill Avery is a Senior Lecturer of Business Administration at Harvard Business School.


View a full list of featured cases