Here is a transcript generated by of The Content Mix podcast interview with Abigail Cruz, Global Head of Social for the beauty sector at The Hut Group, on creating a strong brand narrative:

Shaheen Samavati 0:13
Hi everyone I’m Shaheen from The Content Mix and I’m excited to be here with Abigail Cruz, an expert on social media in the fashion and beauty space and currently heading social media for The Hut Group’s (THG) beauty brands. Thanks so much for joining us, Abigail.

Abigail Cruz 0:26
Thanks so much for having me.

Shaheen Samavati 0:27
So could you just start out by telling us a bit more about your background and how you got into social media, particularly into beauty and fashion?

Abigail Cruz 0:34
Yeah, sure. So I’m originally from Sydney, Australia. So I went to university there and I studied business. I knew from the outset, though, that finance and accounting were definitely not for me, so I focussed more on the management and marketing side of things, which I really enjoyed. I loved how it really explored human behaviour and what drives people to think the way they do and that’s just something I naturally really enjoyed. So coming out of that, I had my first job as an editor and community manager at this online youth media publication, it was called Pedestrian TV in Sydney. It was very similar to Vice and BuzzFeed in the way that it ran and its format. I looked after the career section of the website and its social channels. That’s where I got my first taste of social media and how I started to see how useful social could really be for businesses and how as a brand, it was essentially a global avenue to have a two way conversation with your audience and hear what they have to say and give them the stories and information they need and whatever feels relevant to them. So I really enjoyed that part of social and that’s really what drove me to become more interested in it. I had so much fun working in that startup environment, being able to grow the channels organically by posting funny memes. The company still does that to this day, which is really exciting. It’s good that we paved the way for humor to come through as a marketing avenue or a marketing choice, which is really great. To be honest, I personally was always obsessed with fashion and beauty. So when the opportunity came for a social producer to jump on board for the publisher of Marie Claire and InStyle in Australia, I just jumped at the opportunity because I always read those magazines, I love the brands. So that’s when I became a social media producer over there. It was such a learning curve to be honest, because it was a traditional print company. They were just starting to build out their digital offering so when I came to the team, it felt like social was being a bit underutilized. It was just another afterthought, people didn’t really use social as a proper channel. So at that time, we were able to really build out a plan from scratch, we were able to test different assets and different ways to communicate on social. We had to be a bit reactive because the algorithm would literally change every few months or every few quarters, so we had to really be on the pulse when it came to what we were posting. We became one of the first publishers in the country to really properly commercialise social as well and sell it to advertisers, which I thought was a really exciting time. We really focused on storytelling, which I think is a big part of social and still the heart of it to this day. So that happened, then I always wanted to move over to client side and really work for a brand that I loved or really focus on a brand because after working on publisher side, you have to deal with a lot of brands and a lot of needs and different kind of objectives and socials. So I thought in 2018 that I’d try my luck and see what I could do in London. So I literally just finished up at Marie Claire and InStyle and just went overseas to London to see what was there. I actually did my final year of uni in London. So I fell in love with it back then and I still really wanted to come back to it now. So fortunately, even though I didn’t have a plan, I fortunately just found a role as the global social media lead at Ted Baker and I got some great exposure working at a scale within the premium fashion space, which was really great. Then I got offered this head of social role at THG and it’s a newly formed social team so we’re working from scratch again, but it’s exciting and now we’re pretty much here.

Shaheen Samavati 5:05
So for those who aren’t familiar with The Hut Group or THG, can you tell us a bit more about what the company does and what brands people might be familiar with?

Abigail Cruz 5:13
Yeah, so The Hut Group is a global digital powerhouse, it owns some of the world’s most well known brands in the health and beauty space. Most people will know lookfantastic and Myprotein as the bigger names in the company, but over the years they’ve also acquired some of their own brands. That includes ESPA, Illamasqua, and Perricone MD. So for skincare fans out there they’ll know that as well. On top of it all, they also actually have two separate arms of the business. They also act as a full service agency for other brands, some of the clients there are Mercedes Benz, Elemis and Nestle as well. The other side of the business also looks after hotels and health clubs in Manchester. So they’re quite a busy and big company, to be honest. It’s really amazing because they’ve actually come from humble beginnings, they actually just started in Manchester as a startup environment and now they’ve grown into this 5 billion pound business at the time of them going public in September this year. So it’s a really, really exciting story and I’m really glad to be part of it.

Shaheen Samavati 6:34
It started out as like an e-commerce business and it’s really pivoted and changed focus over that time?

Abigail Cruz 6:40
That’s it.

Shaheen Samavati 6:42
Yeah, super interesting. So what’s a typical day like at work for you now and what are you responsible for?

Abigail Cruz 6:49
I hate to say it, because it sounds so cliche, but it’s so true that no two days are really the same. But despite it all, I do like to have constants and a routine, especially now that I’m working from home and most people are as well. So that usually means that I’ll check in at 9am, with the senior marketing team, we’ll do our updates and announcements and then I make my first coffee of the day, which is always a staple. After that, it’s literally a balancing act, I just touch base with the social team, make sure that they’re well supported, that they’ve got everything they need. Then I’m off responding to emails, doing a bit of social listening, attending as much brand PR, marketing meetings that I can. It’s quite a busy day for me because we actually oversee nine brands. So that means that there’s quite a lot of balancing that needs to be done to make sure that the senior team and the execs are switched on and they’ve got everything that they need. But I’m really fortunate that I’ve got a team thats just passionate about social and that really loves what they do. So it really allows me to do most of what I really need to do, which is the forward planning, pushing for innovation and just making sure that we’re improving our internal processes and that we’ve got the lines of communication really open between marketing, social and brand and all the other key stakeholders in the company. So that’s pretty much the bulk of my role and bulk of my day.

Shaheen Samavati 8:34
I see. You just started in September. So what was it like starting a new role in 2020, a very strange time?

Abigail Cruz 8:41
It is. I mean, I feel like I’ve become quite used to this old new setup of working from home. But to be honest, it’s still so mad to think that I haven’t really technically met my team in real life. I’ve been working from home since March in my previous role, and then I moved over to Manchester and I started straight away. So I feel like with this, something that you need to keep in mind is always just check in with the team. I think that’s something that I’ve really learned over this period. Prior to this, I wasn’t really much of a phone call person. To be honest, I much prefer to have conversations just in person with people but now I’ve been more conscious about how this set up could be quite different for a lot of people. It might affect other team members differently from other people. Some might be very, very comfortable working from home, but some might feel that they need to have constant contact or don’t feel as supported. So I do really make an effort to make sure that I’m always checking in with my team, even if they don’t say they need anything if they’re okay, I just still make sure that we stick to our weekly one-to-ones. I make sure that I say good night or good evening or have a good weekend, just to make sure that they feel that I’m there and that I’m present.

Shaheen Samavati 10:11
So do you have different people? I’m just curious, who’s on your team? These are the people managing the social presence for the different brands?

Abigail Cruz 10:22
Yes. So the team is structured in that there is myself who oversees everything as the head of social over those nine brands. Then it’s cascaded down into categories. So we’ve got a cosmetics category, a haircare category and also a skincare category. Within those teams, there is a senior and a junior exec that looks after the day to day running of all the social channels and other platforms. They make sure that everything runs smoothly from a BAU perspective, but then they are also forward thinking from a monthly to a quarterly basis to make sure that everything is just in line with our trading objectives and our marketing objectives. We bounce off ideas with each other and brainstorm if there’s any bigger pieces that we want to really showcase on social. If we want to do a new IG live series, if we want to do a new YouTube tutorial series, how that looks and I just help make sure that we can facilitate that all.

Shaheen Samavati 11:31
I’m curious, do you think there’s any right number of pages to have? That’s a debate that I see come up a lot, there’s a lot of different opinions about it, I think in ways you could potentially organize it, I’ll leave it at that. Any right number of pages to have and number of platforms to be on and how do you put the right amount of resources on each thing?

Abigail Cruz 11:54
Yeah, I think to be honest it really boils down to knowing what your objective is on social, what you are wanting to say and what message you want to convey because I think there’s so many different platforms, but they serve very different purposes, right? So if you are able to really identify, what am I trying to say and how am I trying to reach my consumer or my audience? Then you’re able to plug which channels are right for you. I don’t think it’s a one size fits all solution when it comes to social and I don’t think that you should just jump on a new platform just because it’s trending and because everyone’s talking about it if you don’t actually have a plan to grow it or if you don’t actually see the value of it from a long term perspective, or if there’s not enough resource. There’s so many contingencies and things that we need to consider. It’s so easy to just be like, yep let’s just do a new Instagram page now or let’s just jump on TikTok. But there’s so much thought and there’s so much strategy that comes down to it and also resource, because you really need to be consistent on social. So, I don’t think that really answered your question but I feel like it differs between different industries, different brands and it just boils down to what you want to do and why you’re doing it really.

Shaheen Samavati 13:22
Yeah, there is no one right answer. Speaking of platforms, I wanted to ask you what’s your favorite platform personally, but also which is the most important for THG?

Abigail Cruz 13:35
Yeah, I mean personally I actually really love Reddit, there’s a sub-Reddit called Asian Beauty that I am actually obsessed with, I find all my tips. I just love listening to people’s opinions about what new product they’ve found or what new thing they want to try. I just think you can definitely spend a lot of time going through there. It’s just useful, lot’s of information. So yeah that’s personally for me. But I think for the company, we do have a two prong approach with it, where we still find the value of Facebook from a revenue perspective and from a reach perspective. I think also with what’s happened now, with the pandemic, there’s that need to be a bit more connected and find more connection in that way. So I think there’s a lot of value in Facebook groups and we’re exploring that for the beauty segment, because we’ve already launched that with Myprotein, which is the fitness side of the business, but that is something that we want to try out as well for beauty because there’s so much of the beauty community that we haven’t tapped into yet. There’s so many people that we haven’t spoken to. So I feel like that is an area of focus for the business. Also there’s Instagram, it’s still a major thing for our business as well. It’s the engagement driving force and with that comes reels and stories. Also, TikTok is starting to become a big force for us as well. Those are the two main areas that THG are focusing on. But as a whole, we are really seeing video content that spreads out to every single platform as a really key pillar for us this year and next year as well. We really want to strengthen our video offering, that is something that is really important for us to focus on from both a short form perspective, but also long form content in the form of video.

Shaheen Samavati 15:51
What do you think some brands or companies get wrong when it comes to social media marketing in general?

Abigail Cruz 15:57
I guess I think that companies have the tendency to use social media marketing as an afterthought or a place to prove that they can be reactive without actually considering what they’re saying or whether it’s true or authentic. I think it was early this year, that was really case in point of brands speaking up potentially without having any afterthought, or jumping off the bandwagon and thinking that they can be part of a social movement or have a social response, but not really realize, is this aligned with what we’ve been saying from the start as a brand? Have we been talking about equality and that message pre whatever happened in June with the Black Lives movement. I think that was a really eye opening experience working in a brand, but also something that I realized that a lot of companies just don’t get right sometimes, because they are just so involved in the moment and really think that they need to say something, because everyone else is saying something without actually thinking, you know, is this actually our brand ethos? Is this actually what we believe and are we actually going to do something about it after we say it on on social. I’m a really big believer that consistency is key, even though socials ever changing, there’s always something new and the media landscape or the marketing landscape is changing. Even though that’s the case, a brand should still definitely stick to what they believe in and what they’ve been saying from the start. I think it’s so easy to be swayed in social because of all of that quick changing things. But I think that the company should definitely still apply the whole think before you speak mentality, especially in social. I noticed that this year, a few companies were very quick to support equality and support the Black Lives Movement. Then soon after, nothing was really said, or there was no follow through, there was no afterthought. There was no action plan afterwards, which was really disappointing, but it’s just testament to how sometimes social can be used haphazardly in a way.

Shaheen Samavati 18:31
Absolutely. So could you share an example of a campaign or a piece of content that worked really well for you?

Abigail Cruz 18:37
Yeah, sure. So when I was actually at Marie Claire, Fiat the car brand, they approached us about wanting to tap into a younger demographic of car owners who would treat their cars as an extension of their own personality and lifestyle, essentially like a fashion accessory in a way. So we created this digital first, socially led series. We got an unknown Aussie influencer to be the host of this and she would drive around and talk to Australian creatives about what drives them, their passions. Really it was such a simple idea when you think about it in retrospect, but I just loved how Fiat were so on board, that they weren’t pushing too hard for their car to be featured, that they really got what native content actually means. I think as a result, we were able to really just capture these beautiful stories about some inspiring creatives that people knew in Australia and get to know more about them. It just was beautifully presented, it looked really good. It was made for social. So the video was actually not just a TV commercial and not just an ad in a way. It was just proof that story telling has its place in social advertising and nothing really beats a well told story in a way. So yeah that’s one example.

Shaheen Samavati 20:10
Yeah. So you mentioned before too about creating a strong narrative. So do you have any tips on how to do that?

Abigail Cruz 20:17
Yeah. I think it’s really crucial that you first identify your brand pillars and the messages you stand for. It’s not just what is your product related USP, it’s looking into the values of what your company stands for, whether it’s heritage, whether it’s good quality, whether it’s giving back to the community. I think those are the values that you are able to share with your audience and be able to really amplify on your channels, because it is authentic. I think that’s the thing that I want to touch back on, the whole authenticity piece and the whole consistency piece. I think a strong narrative really just boils down to being able to communicate that brand ethos, but actually believe in it, not just be like, “Oh, yeah, we’re into cruelty free products now because that’s the new thing that’s trending”, but that it has always been something that’s part of the company. For example, Illamasqua is very big on cruelty free products but also expression through artistry because they’re a makeup brand that’s built from beginnings of real makeup artists and artistry in that way. We really want to continue that story through social by not just showcasing makeup artists and their work, but actually talking about the narratives that happened behind London Fashion Week, for example. Why and how makeup can be a form of expression, I think that’s really cool and that’s something that is really integral in our social. So I think it really definitely boils down to being able to just be authentic and consistent with the brand messages and the brand pillars really.

Shaheen Samavati 22:10
So in beauty, fashion and retail there’s tons of brands out there on social media, a lot of competition in a sense. So how do you stand out? Anything that you need to keep in mind in particular, if you’re running social in this area?

Abigail Cruz 22:26
Yeah. I think it really helps to be on the pulse of what other people are doing. I’m not saying that you should just look for it and then copy it, but it’s really good to be aware of what’s happening around you. A lot of brands tend to be a bit insular when they get into the habit of things and just think my way is the only way that’s being done and sometimes get a bit of a rude awakening, when someone joins the business or when something happens and they’re like “Oh, I didn’t know that you could see that on social or I didn’t know that this was what was trending”. I think the good thing about social is that there is that human side of getting to analyze and hear what people have to say or reviews and personal opinions, but there’s also the data side of things. Social listening is such a good and valuable tool because it either informs your decisions or it confirms what you’ve been thinking about your audience. So I think that’s a really good place to start to just identify the things that your target demographic or target audience are involved in. Their interests, their hobbies, what they’re talking about and social and then seeing how that makes sense for your brand in particular and if that’s a conversation that you can have because it is aligned to your brand ethos, then what sort of conversation should you have around it? What does that look like, is that a video content series, is that a range of Instagram flatlays that actually represent things? The sky’s the limit in terms of what you can do on social but as long as it actually stays and sticks with what you believe in as a brand, that will really stand out. I think the one thing that I’ve always asked my team to do or not be afraid of is to just test, I think that’s the biggest and most important thing. Sometimes in the testing moments and the testing phases you strike a really cool balance, strike a really great balance or a great idea. That can end up being the thing that makes you stand out from the crowd. Or sometimes you can test something and it completely flops but that’s okay because you’ve learnt that it’s not the right thing for you or it’s not the right thing for the brand and it’s a learning thing and you move on. It’s really important that you do test and that you’re aware of your surroundings and you’re aware of what’s happening, but also just to have a bit of fun with it. To be honest, I think people take it a bit too seriously sometimes with marketing media, just everything sometimes takes too much of a really serious lens. Sometimes obviously things call to be serious but there’s also some things, advertising campaigns or some things that a company just wants to do to just incite joy. I think that’s a great attitude to have as well. As a person and as a brand, it’s okay to have fun and it’s okay to enjoy what you’re doing.

Shaheen Samavati 25:36
Absolutely. So how do you stay up to date on social media and marketing trends?

Abigail Cruz 25:43
I’m subscribed to a lot of newsletters to start off with. I subscribe to Social Media Today, The Business of Fashion, Beauty of Business, The Drum, LinkedIn—the sky is the limit with all of this. I definitely love to just subscribe because I get it quite frequently on a weekly basis. Sometimes you do get really busy and don’t have time to Google or even go to your favorite website. So I definitely recommend just subscribing to the newsletters that you know will give you that daily dose or weekly dose of what you need. So that’s how I stay up to date. Then I’m always obviously on social, it’s part of the job. Obviously you can’t not be on social and work in social, it’s just kind of part and parcel. But when I do look, I’m really aware of when things are organic posts, when things are advertising and it’s just really interesting to see the different formats and different layouts of what new brands are using, what sort of content they’re using, whether it’s video or still imagery. Also, I get to see the cadence of which influencers are starting to become more popular and in beauty, who people are using more often and social listening helps with that as well. So that’s how I stay up to date with all the trends and what’s happening.

Shaheen Samavati 27:16
Do you have any favorite marketing or business book?

Abigail Cruz 27:19
Actually it’s a business book, I’m not actually the biggest fan of business books to be honest. I never really read too much of them apart from being at uni. But I actually found one and it was the Shopify CEO’s recommendation. He recommended a few books and one of them was Influence: The Power of Persuasion and I heard about it and I was like, okay, I’ll give it a go and listen to it. So I actually got the audible ebook version of the book and every night I’d just put on my LED face mask, which is that new thing that everyone’s using. I just listened to half a chapter or chapter about it and I just found it really thought provoking because I personally don’t consider myself innately persuasive, especially in business. I hate to think that I’m the type of person that would manipulate to get my way or that sort of stuff. So the book really touched more on the psychology of why people say yes and what really drives people. So I think that’s what became the interest in me and I’d recommend that to people to read or listen to because it’s just a really thought provoking book about influence in general and especially influence in that business sort of setting.

Shaheen Samavati 28:46
Yeah that sounds very relevant. Psychology is such a big part of everything we do in marketing, communications and social media. So who’s your professional role model, or source of inspiration?

Abigail Cruz 28:59
I love Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I feel like I was quite late to the game to be honest in discovering her, but I’m so glad that I did because she’s just so worthy of being a role model on not just a professional perspective, but also like a life model really. I actually heard about her for the first time on a podcast on a plane trip from Sydney back to London earlier this year. I just fell in love with her, just the way that she spoke, the way that she described her experiences it was so elegant, so poised but just so humble as well considering all the achievements that she’s had in her lifetime and all the contribution she’s made for America’s legislation and her fight for equality and justice. I think that was amazing to hear. Then I obviously watched her documentary on Netflix and just fell in love with her even more. So that’s definitely one of my main professional role models. But I also do think of the other women in the workplace that are especially in the Exec capacity and I really admire them. Everyone from Sue Nabi who’s the CEO of Coty, Ukonwa Ojo she was a marketing head at Mac Cosmetics and moved over to Amazon. Also Rihanna because I love her, just as a boss in her our own right and what she’s done with her brand and her personal brand and made it into a business. That’s just been amazing to see. Those people are the type of people that really inspire me.

Shaheen Samavati 30:54
There’s some great ones. Well, so for a less inspirational question, what’s your favorite software tool or app right now?

Abigail Cruz 31:03
Yes, I actually really like this new app called Agora. It’s basically an app that you download and you can actually review beauty products and get rewarded for them every time you review. I think it’s really great because it pretty much brings that old school, word of mouth referral method of marketing, but then it just makes it much more engaging and much more relevant and modern. I feel like it’s a great space because you just learn so much and you get so much honest opinions come out of the app. It’s literally just fueled by UGC, it’s literally just user generated content. I think that’s great, it’s a good place for you to discover, but it’s also a good place for brands to look at because their products are being tested without their input in it which is really good. So it’s quite objective in that way and it’s really honest. I’m really enjoying that and I’m really curious to see what will happen with the app moving forward because I think it is quite early days, I don’t know whether it will become more commercialised in a few years or whether advertising will come into it. But right now it’s a really interesting place.

Shaheen Samavati 32:32
Very cool. So do you recommend any other resources for marketers, whether that’s an online community, publication, podcast, anything like that?

Abigail Cruz 32:41
I would actually recommend definitely looking into LinkedIn and The Dots, which are career focused places and resources because they host a lot of events but they also help with the whole networking side of things as well. When I was younger I used to actually just reach out to people via LinkedIn, to sit down and have a coffee with them or speak to them on the phone and just hear about their experiences, quite similarly to what this is really. I found it so interesting and so insightful, it was just really great to be able to connect with people in industries that I wasn’t necessarily part of yet but somewhere that I could see myself being. So yeah, if I could recommend it would definitely be to look at places like that and find either familiar or relevant people that are in your industry or people that you want to aspire to become or be part of one day.

Shaheen Samavati 33:51
So we’re reaching the end of the interview. So I just wanted to give you a chance to share any parting advice or final takeaways for other marketers in Europe?

Abigail Cruz 34:00
Yeah, just to reiterate to be consistent and be authentic. Always have a two way conversation between yourself as a brand, but also to your audience and to not just consider your audience as a customer but as a part of the conversation. They’re to me the co-authors of what you’re trying to say on whichever platform that may be. Whether it’s social or whether it’s CRM, whether it’s on the website. Just remember to stay true to what you believe in and stay true to what the company stands for and I feel like the rest will follow. Especially for European marketers or marketers based in Europe. I feel like there’s so much rich behavior, cultures and all that side of things in Europe and having that localized insight is so powerful and really necessary for not just companies there, but global companies as well. I think it really benefits having that localized insight and feedback in that regard. Never forget that you make sense in the bigger puzzle, it could be global thinking but we’re all in it together wherever we are.

Shaheen Samavati 35:38
Yeah. That’s a great note to end on. Thank you so much for sharing your insights with us today, Abigail.

Abigail Cruz 35:44
Thank you so much for having me.

Shaheen Samavati 35:47
Thanks everybody for listening in. For more perspectives on content marketing in Europe, check out and keep tuning into the podcasts for daily interviews with content experts. See you next time. Bye.

Transcribed by