As part of our Brand Story Hero series, we shine a spotlight on storytelling around a brand we admire. Today we’re looking at Irish tan and beauty company Cocoa Brown.
Brand: Cocoa Brown
Founder: Marissa Carter
Year founded: 2012
Mission: Be well, be kind and be beautiful
Cocoa Brown marked their fifth birthday in November 2017 and the team certainly have reason to celebrate. With 15,000 stockists in 23 countries and a bottle of the tan being sold every three minutes, Cocoa Brown is a phenomenal Irish success story.
The popularity of the iconic hot pink bottles is down to CEO Marissa Carter – a determined entrepreneur who founded a beauty salon in the height of the recession and established her product as an industry leader in a saturated market. She’s amassed numerous awards, including a spot on the Women’s Executive Network’s (WXN) ’25 most powerful women in Ireland’ list.
But like any brand founder, Marissa had to start somewhere.
Her journey with Cocoa Brown had its roots in studying the Beauty Specialist Diploma course at The Galligan Beauty College in Dublin. Unable to afford the fees, operators Lorraine and Careena Galligan offered Marissa the opportunity to work part-time work during the day, and to study in the evenings. In true Marissa fashion, she qualified with honours and then taught beauty therapy for two years before opening her own salon in 2006.
The salon had humble beginnings in the laundry room of the house she was renting, but after saving, getting a bank loan and a few relocations, Carter Beauty Salon moved to its final home in Blackrock.
It was here, in Carter Beauty Salon, that she gathered feedback from clients on what they wanted from spray tans. She still has the same ethos of staying in touch with what customers want and using social media to ask for people’s thoughts on new products.
Three weeks after giving birth to her first child, Charlie, Marissa treated herself to a spray tan, and as anyone who has ever had a spray tan knows, she had to wait overnight for the tan to show up. When Marissa woke up she was beautifully bronzed, but the tan had also transferred onto Charlie! This was the Eureka moment, she decided to work with a team of cosmetic chemists to create the world’s first 1-hour tan.
Less than a year later, Cocoa Brown hit Irish shelves and the success story and product range has only grown from there.
A 1 Hour Tan for every occasion and every skin tone! pic.twitter.com/tyYIH4wbql
— Cocoa Brown (@CocoaBrownTan) January 17, 2018
They currently have 18 products, including different shades of the tan, shimmer oils, exfoliators – basically, whatever you need to be bronzed, Cocoa Brown have you covered.
In 2014, they were chosen as the official tan for the Pre-Oscars Luxury Suite in the Beverly Hilton Hotel. They’ve enjoyed a cult-status amongst celebrities, beauty editors and your average Irish girl popping in for a bottle in Penneys.
Their storytelling lessons
Lesson #1 Be a face for your brand
Marissa has never been afraid to put herself out there and represent Cocoa Brown. She has done her fair share of media interviews – from RTÉ’s This Business podcast to an exclusive with TheIndependent.ie about selling her salon Carter Beauty.
The logo features, “By Marissa Carter” ensuring that people know within seconds who the person behind the success story of Cocoa Brown is.
Lesson #2 Put people first
Cocoa Brown is really focused on what customers want. In Carter Beauty Salon, Marissa noticed that people were spending the same, but expected more for their money, so she took this into account when pricing her tan.
The brand often uses social media to gauge what people are looking for and when determining their next product.
Lesson #3 Be determined
The eldest of eight children, founder Marissa Carter puts her ambitious nature down to the way her parents raised her. She said: “I grew up being taught by my parents that hard work, tenacity and a kind spirit would take me as far in life as I wanted to go.”
When Laura Kennedy, of the Irish Times, interviewed Marissa in November, she said she got a distinct sense that she was dealing with an unusually determined person.
People always have a real sense of admiration and love hearing stories about people who built their business from scratch. Marissa’s ability to put in the hard work required to attend beauty college, open her own salon and launch her own tan has clearly paid off and people respect that level of determination.
Their story tools
More than ever, consumers are valuing the story and people behind the products. Social media is a perfect tool to tell that story as Marissa Brown realised early on. Although she quit all her personal social media accounts last month due to the fact that she wanted to concentrate on life outside her phone, social media played a big role in growing the business. Fans of the brand could enjoy exclusive videos, news about upcoming products and a glimpse of life in CocoaBrownHQ.
Of course, the Cocoa Brown team are still managing the company’s Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Snapchat accounts. Unlike some brands, Cocoa Brown interact with their customers in a personable way – encouraging and retweeting people’s photos of them using the products. By staying in touch with customers needs through social media, Cocoa Brown ensures their client base feels valued.
— Cocoa Brown (@CocoaBrownTan) February 23, 2018
Cocoa Brown is synonymous with a hot pink colour and their packaging and logo are consistent across all products. Their tone online is bubbly and positive, and their social media and website all heavily feature the iconic shade of pink.
Marissa herself represents the brand by being perfectly tanned, and more often than not donning pink clothes. She is happy to pose for photos holding the products. Her signature “Hello lovelies”, and charm which she deals with clients personifies the fun and warmth that Cocoa Brown embodies.
Whether you’re a fan of the Kardashians or not, there’s no denying that they are some of the most powerful influencers in the world right now. Speaking to RTÉ, Marissa revealed her calculated decision to pay Kardashian make-up artist Joyce Bonelli to become a brand ambassador.
The move paid off as Joyce used the Golden Goddess shimmer oil on Khloe Kardashian for a shoot for Shape magazine and gave Marissa Carter a shout out in an Instagram post. Cocoa Brown sold out in the US within 24 hours of younger sibling Kylie posting an Instagram of the products, turning Cocoa Brown into an internationally recognised brand.
— Kylie Jenner (@KylieJenner) June 18, 2015